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Gadsen v. United States

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

January 12, 2017

Robert James Gadsen, Petitioner,
United States of America, Respondent.


          PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner Robert James Gadsen's motion to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (ECF No. 166). Gadsen challenges his de facto career-offender designation under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. The United States (the “Government”) has moved to stay proceedings on Gadsen's § 2255 motion (ECF No. 169). Having thoroughly reviewed the parties' briefs and the record, the Court finds this matter suitable for disposition without a hearing. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court denies both motions.


         In 1997, a jury convicted Gadsen of interfering with commerce by threats or violence, see 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a), and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, see 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). Gadsen had an extensive criminal history that included convictions in South Carolina state court for, inter alia, an attempted armed robbery, two armed robberies, and an assault with intent to kill (“AWIK”). Those convictions did not technically qualify Gadsen as a career offender under the Sentencing Guidelines because they were related. See U.S.S.G. §§ 4A1.2, 4B1.1 (1995).[1] However, the Court found that Gadsen's calculated criminal history score substantially underrepresented the seriousness of his criminal history and the likelihood that he would commit other crimes. See U.S.S.G. § 4A1.3. Accordingly, the Court departed upwardly, treating Gadsen as a de facto career offender, and sentenced him to twenty-five years in prison-twenty years on the § 1951(a) conviction, and five consecutive years on the § 924(c) conviction. The Fourth Circuit affirmed Gadsen's sentence. See United States v. Gadsen, 178 F.3d 1287 (4th Cir. 1999) (table).

         A South Carolina state court later vacated Gadsen's AWIK conviction on the basis that the State obtained it through an invalid guilty plea. In 2001, he filed a § 2255 motion in this Court, arguing that, without the AWIK conviction, it was no longer proper to treat him as a career offender. The Court rejected that argument. Noting that it could still rely on the AWIK conviction for the purposes of § 4A1.3, the Court concluded that, even without the AWIK conviction, Gadsen's two armed robbery convictions and one attempted armed robbery conviction warranted treating Gadsen as a de facto career offender. The Court therefore denied Gadsen's § 2255 motion.

         Between 2009 and 2016, Gadsen filed three more challenges to his sentence. The Court dismissed each one for lack of jurisdiction.

         Gadsen filed his current § 2255 motion[2] in June 2016. In his motion, Gadsen asserts that his sentence is constitutionally infirm under Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). The Government has responded to Gadsen's § 2255 by asking the Court to stay proceedings pending the Supreme Court's decision in Beckles v. United States, 616 F.App'x 415 (11th Cir. 2015), cert. granted, 2016 WL 1029080 (U.S. June 27, 2016) (No. 15-8544). These motions are ripe for consideration.


         Gadsen 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).


         As mentioned, the Court sentenced Gadsen as though he were a career offender. Under the Sentencing Guidelines, a defendant is a career offender if

(1) the defendant was at least eighteen years old at the time the defendant committed the instant offense of conviction; (2) the instant offense of conviction is a felony that is either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense; and (3) the defendant has at least two prior felony ...

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