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Brown v. United States

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

November 30, 2016

George Alden Brown, Petitioner,
United States of America, Respondent.


          PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY United States District Judge

         George Brown moves to vacate, set aside, or correct his federal prison sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (ECF Nos. 31 and 42). The United States (“Government”) has filed a motion to dismiss (ECF No. 35). Having thoroughly reviewed the motions and the record in this case, the Court finds this matter suitable for disposition without a hearing. For the reasons stated herein, the Court grants the Government's motion in part and, consequently, dismisses Brown's § 2255 motion in part. Proceedings on the remaining portion of Brown's § 2255 motion are stayed.


         In 1999, Brown pled guilty to five charges: two counts of Hobbs Act robbery, see 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a) (Counts 1 and 4); two counts of use of a firearm during and in relation to those robberies, see 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (Counts 2 and 5); and one count of possession of a firearm after a felony conviction, see 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) (Count 3). When Brown pled guilty, his criminal history included two convictions in North Carolina for robbery with a dangerous weapon and three convictions in South Carolina for strong arm robbery. Based on that criminal history, Brown was subject to a fifteen-year mandatory minimum sentence on his felon-in-possession charge under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”). See 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). That criminal history also warranted designating Brown as a career offender under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. See U.S.S.G. § 4A1.1(a). Finally, because Brown's two Hobbs Act robberies constituted “crime[s] of violence” under § 924(c), Brown faced an additional mandatory prison term for each of his § 924(c) charges. The Court sentenced Brown to 622 months in prison-262 months for Count 3; 240 months each as to Counts 1 and 4, to be served concurrently with the sentence on Count 3; 60 consecutive months on Count 2; and 300 consecutive months on Count 5.

         In 2001, Brown filed a § 2255 motion asserting several constitutional violations. The Court rejected most of his arguments but found merit to his claim that his 300-month sentence on Count 5 violated the Constitution's Ex Post Facto clause. Accordingly, the Court reduced his sentence on that charge to 240 months. Brown appealed. The Fourth Circuit dismissed the appeal. Brown v. United States, 65 F. App'x 467 (4th Cir. 2003) (per curiam).

         After receiving authorization from the Fourth Circuit to file a second or successive § 2255 motion, see In re Brown, No. 16-902 (4th Cir. June 6, 2016), Brown filed his current § 2255 motion in June 2016. In it, he argued that his sentences for his two § 924(c) convictions are unconstitutional under Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). The Government responded by filing a motion to dismiss. Brown replied by amending his § 2255 motion to add challenges to his ACCA enhancement and to his career-offender designation. As the Government's time for responding to those new claims has expired, this matter is now ripe for consideration.


         Brown proceeds under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, which provides, in relevant part:

A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress claiming the right to be released upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States . . . may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.

28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). On a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence under § 2255, the petitioner bears the burden of proving the grounds for collateral attack by a preponderance of the evidence. Miller v. United States, 261 F.2d 546, 547 (4th Cir. 1958). In deciding a § 2255 motion, the district court need not hold a hearing if “the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b).

         In conducting the § 2255(b) review in this case, this Court is mindful that pro se filings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), and that federal courts must construe such pleadings liberally to allow the development of potentially meritorious claims, see Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980) (per curiam). The liberal construction requirement, however, does not mean courts can ignore a clear failure to allege facts that set forth claims cognizable in federal district court. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).


         As explained below, Brown's challenges to his ACCA enhancement and his career-offender designation are without merit. His challenge to his § 924(c) convictions raises questions that the Fourth Circuit is preparing to answer.

         I.ACCA ...

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