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Roberts v. United States

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

February 2, 2017

Patrick Jermaine Roberts, Petitioner,
v.
United States of America, Respondent.

          ORDER

          PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY United States District Judge

         Federal prisoner Patrick Jermaine Roberts moves to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (ECF Nos. 104 & 111). The United States (“Government”) has filed a motion to dismiss (ECF No. 109). For the reasons stated herein, the Court denies the Government's motion and grants Roberts' § 2255 motion.

         BACKGROUND

         In 2004, Roberts pled guilty to possessing marijuana with intent to distribute and for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. See 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1); 21 U.S.C. § 841. Roberts' criminal history included convictions in South Carolina state court for distribution of crack cocaine, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, discharging a firearm into a dwelling, and robbery.[1] That criminal history triggered the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), which raises the prison sentence for certain felon-in-possession defendants from a maximum of ten years to a minimum of fifteen. See 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(2), (e)(1). The Court therefore sentenced Roberts to 212 months in prison for felon in possession and 60 concurrent months on the drug charge. Roberts appealed his conviction and the ACCA enhancement in his sentence. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. United States v. Roberts, 166 F. App'x 80 (4th Cir. 2006) (per curiam).

         Roberts filed his § 2255 motion[2] in June 2016, contending that after Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), his ACCA-enhanced sentence is unconstitutional and therefore he must be resentenced. The Government responded in August by filing a motion to dismiss in which it argued that Johnson did not affect Roberts' sentence.

         In its initial review of the parties' submissions, the Court determined that the result of United States v. Doctor, a then-pending appeal in the Fourth Circuit, had the potential to affect the outcome in Roberts' § 2255 motion. Accordingly, the Court stayed proceedings until the Fourth Circuit issued a decision in Doctor. As the Fourth Circuit has since issued that decision, see 842 F.3d 306 (4th Cir. 2016), this matter is ripe for consideration.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Roberts 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, . . . or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum allowed by law, . . . 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).

         DISCUSSION

         Under the ACCA, a defendant convicted of felon in possession must be sentenced to at least fifteen years in prison if he has at least “three previous convictions . . . for a violent felony or a serious drug offense, or both, committed on occasions different from one another.” 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). Roberts argues that under Johnson, he no longer has three previous convictions that can count as either violent felonies or serious drug offenses.

         The ACCA's definition of “violent felony” includes any crime, punishable by more than a year in prison, that-

i. has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the ...

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