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Johnson v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

December 4, 2017

ERIC LAMONT JOHNSON, Defendant-Petitioner,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Respondent.



         THIS MATTER is before the Court on United States Magistrate Judge Carmen E. Garza's Proposed Findings and Recommended Disposition (the “PFRD”), (CV Doc. 30), filed June 27, 2017; Petitioner Eric Lamont Johnson's Objections to Magistrate PF&RD (the “Objections”), (CV Doc. 32), filed July 10, 2017; Petitioner's Writ of Mandamus (the “Petition”), (CV Doc. 34), filed June 30, 2017; and Petitioner's Motion to Supplement (the “Supplement”), (CV Doc. 35), filed July 10, 2017.[1] In the PFRD, Judge Garza construed Petitioner's Motion to Amend (the “Motion”), (CV Doc. 26), filed May 1, 2017, as a motion to reconsider under Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 59(e) and recommended denying the Motion. (CV Doc. 30 at 2-4).

         The parties were notified that written objections to the PFRD were due within 14 days. (CV Doc. 30 at 4). Petitioner responded by filing his Objections, the Writ, and the Supplement. Respondent did not object or respond to any of Petitioner's filings. After a de novo review of the record and the PFRD, the Court will adopt the Magistrate Judge's PFRD, overrule Petitioner's Objections, and deny Petitioner's Motion.

         I. Background

         On October 21, 2004, Petitioner pled guilty to possessing a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A). (CR Doc. 144). Petitioner qualified as a career offender under the United States Sentencing Guidelines (“U.S.S.G.” or “Guidelines”) based on prior convictions for crimes of violence. (CR Doc. 235 at 3). Specifically, the Court found Petitioner's convictions for voluntary manslaughter and being a prisoner in possession of a weapon qualified as crimes of violence under the residual clause in Guidelines § 4B1.2(a)(2), which defined a crime of violence as any crime that “involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” (CR Doc. 235 at 3); U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(a)(2) (2008). Because of Petitioner's career offender status, his Guideline sentence range was 360 months to life imprisonment. (CR Doc. 246 at 7, 10, 29, 32-33). Ultimately, Petitioner received a 180 month sentence. (CR Doc. 246 at 37, 40).

         On June 9, 2016, Petitioner filed a Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody (the “Motion under § 2255”), (CV Doc. 1), arguing he was unconstitutionally sentenced following the Supreme Court of the United States' ruling in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). (CV Doc. 9 at 3-5). In Johnson, the Supreme Court held that the residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) was unconstitutionally vague and may not be used to increase a defendant's sentence. 135 S.Ct. at 2557. Petitioner argued that, under Johnson, the residual clause in the Guidelines was also unconstitutionally vague; therefore, he argued, his sentence is unconstitutional. (CV Doc. 9 at 8).

         On March 6, 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Beckles v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 886 (2017), holding that the Guidelines are not subject to vagueness challenges and that the residual clause in § 4B1.2 is not unconstitutionally vague. 137 S.Ct. at 891-92. Specifically, the Court reasoned that “[b]ecause they merely guide the district courts' discretion, the Guidelines are not amenable to a vagueness challenge.” Id. at 894. Thus, Johnson is inapplicable to the Guidelines. Id. at 892 n.2. Accordingly, on April 27, 2017, the Court denied Petitioner's Motion under § 2255. (CV Doc. 24).

         Four days after the Court entered judgment, Petitioner filed the instant Motion. (CV Doc. 26). In the Motion, Petitioner states he wishes to amend the pleadings to reflect the Supreme Court's ruling in Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016). (CV Doc. 26 at 2). Petitioner argues that because the ACCA and Guidelines should be interpreted similarly, his convictions for being a prisoner in possession of a weapon are no longer crimes of violence. Id. at 2-3. Petitioner “continues to contend that he is actually innocent of the career offender application.” Id. at 2.

         Because Petitioner did not seek to amend his Motion under § 2255, and given how soon after judgment Petitioner filed the Motion, the Magistrate Judge construed Petitioner's Motion as a motion for reconsideration under Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 59(e). (CV Doc. 30 at 2-3). The Magistrate Judge explained that motions to reconsider are typically granted on three grounds: (1) to account for an intervening change in controlling law; (2) to consider new, previously unavailable evidence; and (3) to correct clear error or manifest injustice. (CV Doc. 30 at 3). The Magistrate Judge found the Mathis decision did not fit into any of these three categories; therefore she recommended Petitioner's Motion be denied. Id. at 4.

         Three days after the PFRD was filed, Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of mandamus. (CV Doc. 34). In the Petition, Petitioner argues his prior conviction for voluntary manslaughter in California is not a crime of violence. (CV Doc. 34 at 2); see (CR Doc. 246 at 12; 32-33). Petitioner references his Motion and states he has no alternative for relief except a writ of mandamus. (CV Doc. 34 at 3).

         Petitioner then timely objected to the PFRD. (CV Doc. 32). Petitioner reiterated that his underlying claim is based on Johnson and Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257 (2016), in which the Supreme Court held Johnson applied retroactively to cases on collateral review. (CV Doc. 32 at 2). Further, Petitioner argues his case is distinguishable from Beckles because in Beckles, the defendant's crime of violence was listed as a crime of violence in the Guidelines' commentary. Id. at 2-3; see Beckles, 137 S.Ct. at 891. Petitioner again claims that the analysis of whether a crime is a crime of violence is the same under the ACCA and Guidelines; therefore he is not a career offender. (CV Doc. 5-7).

         Finally, Petitioner filed a Motion to Supplement his Motion. (CV Doc. 35 at 1). In this Supplement, Petitioner represents that his Motion alleges ineffective assistance of counsel that resulted in him being illegally sentenced as a career offender, and that he wishes to supplement the Motion with more authority. Id. at 1. Petitioner argues a meritorious claim of ineffective assistance of counsel overcomes a procedural bar. Id. at 2 (citing U.S. v. Harms, 371 F.3d 1208, 1211 (10th Cir. 2004)). Finally, Petitioner cites Quijada-Aguilar v. Lynch, 799 F.3d 1303 (9th Cir. 2015), for the proposition that California voluntary manslaughter is not categorically a crime of violence. Id. at 3. The Court considers the Objections, Petition, and Supplement collectively as Petitioner's objections to the Magistrate Judge's PFRD.

         II. Analysis

         Pursuant to Rule 8 of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings for the United States District Courts, a district judge may, under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), refer a pretrial dispositive motion to a magistrate judge for proposed findings of fact and recommendations for disposition. Within fourteen days of being served, a party may file objections to this recommendation. Rule 8(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings for the United States District Courts. A party may respond to ...

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