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United States v. Woods

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 27, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
GARY WOODS

         SECTION F

          ORDER AND REASONS

          MARTIN L.C. FELDMAN U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Gary Woods's successive motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 pursuant to United States v. Davis, 139 S.Ct. 2319 (2019). For the reasons that follow, the motion is GRANTED.

         Background

         On May 24, 2007, Gary Woods pled guilty to three counts of a superseding bill of information charging: conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a)(Count 1), brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a “crime of violence, ” namely, conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(ii)(Count 2), and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2)(Count 3). At that time, “crime of violence” was defined as an offense that is a felony and either “(A) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another [known as the ‘force clause'], ” or “(B) that by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense [known as the ‘residual clause'].” 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3). Additionally, at the time of conviction, conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery qualified as a “crime of violence” under the residual clause, making it a valid predicate for a § 924(c) offense.

         On February 14, 2008, Mr. Woods was sentenced to serve an imprisonment term of 218 months, which consisted of a 134-month sentence for the conspiracy conviction, along with a concurrent 120-month sentence for the Count 3 felon-in-possession of a firearm conviction, plus a consecutive 84-month sentence for the 924(c) conviction.[1] Mr. Woods did not directly appeal his conviction or sentence.

         Mr. Woods filed a prior § 2255 habeas petition, which was denied on the merits on May 28, 2014. Mr. Woods appealed, but then withdrew his appeal. Mr. Woods later filed three motions seeking authorization from the Fifth Circuit to file a successive § 2255 motion to challenge the constitutionality of his § 924(c) conviction. In the first two requests, Woods invoked United States v. Johnson, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). In his third request, he invoked Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S.Ct. 1204 (2018). Because the Supreme Court had not yet made Johnson retroactive to cases on collateral review, the Fifth Circuit denied Woods's first request. The Fifth Circuit denied his second and third requests for authorization based on its determination that § 924(c)(3)(B) was not invalidated by the Supreme Court's decisions in Johnson or Dimaya and, therefore, Woods failed to make the requisite showing under 28 U.S.C. § 2255(h)(2).

         On June 24, 2019, reviewing a case appealed from the Fifth Circuit, the Supreme Court held that the residual clause in § 924(c)'s “crime of violence” definition (§ 924(c)(3)(B)), is unconstitutionally vague. United States v. Davis, 139 S.Ct. 2319, 2336 (2019). The Fifth Circuit decision underlying Davis additionally held that, in light of the invalidation of the residual clause, conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery does not qualify as a crime of violence under § 924(c). See United States v. Davis, 903 F.3d 483, 485 (5th Cir. 2018); see also United States v. Lewis, 907 F.3d 891, 894-95 (5th Cir. 2018). Invoking Davis, Woods requested appointment of counsel. The Court granted the request and counsel was appointed. In October 2019, the Fifth Circuit authorized Woods to file a successive habeas petition. Woods now moves to vacate his § 924(c) conviction; he submits that his § 924(c) conviction based on the now-unconstitutional residual clause is no longer valid and his 84-month sentence is unconstitutional because the predicate offense of “conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery” does not qualify as a “crime of violence” under the remaining portion of the definition, § 924(c)(3)(A), the “force clause.”

         I.

         A.

         A petitioner may file a habeas corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, claiming that his conspiracy-predicated § 924(c) conviction and resulting 84-month sentence "was imposed in violation of the Constitution or the laws of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2255.[2] “Relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is reserved for transgressions of constitutional rights and for a narrow range of injuries that could not have been raised on direct appeal and would, if condoned, result in a complete miscarriage of justice.” United States v. Gaudet, 81 F.3d 585, 589 (5th Cir. 1996)(citations and internal quotation marks omitted). A claim of error that is neither constitutional nor jurisdictional is not cognizable in a section 2255 proceeding unless the error constitutes a “fundamental error” that “renders the entire proceeding irregular or invalid.” United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979).

         The Court "may entertain and determine such motion without requiring the production of the prisoner at the hearing." 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Having considered the record, the motion, and the government's response, the Court finds that the record is adequate to address the petitioner's claims and to resolve them as a matter of law. Accordingly, no evidentiary hearing is necessary. See United States v. Walker, 68 F.3d 931, 934 (5th Cir. 1995)(“if on th[e] record we can conclude as a matter of law that [the petitioner] cannot establish one or both of the elements necessary to establish his constitutional claim, then an evidentiary hearing is not necessary....”).

         A habeas petitioner has the burden of establishing his claims by a preponderance of the evidence. Wright v. United States, 624 F.2d 557, 558 (5th Cir. 1980)(citations omitted). If the Court finds that the petitioner is entitled to relief, it “shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the prisoner or resentence him or ...


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