Davis vs. United States 924(c)(3)(b)

United States v Davis was handed down on June 24, 2019

As many of you have heard, the Supreme Court has finally decided the much-anticipated case of United States v. Davis, No. 18-431. In Davis, the Court held that the residual clause of 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)(B) is unconstitutionally vague in the wake of Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015) and Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S.Ct. 1204 (2018).

While this is great news for many, I know that a lot of you have plenty of questions about Davis. I want to take this opportunity to discuss what exactly the holding in Davis means, how we got here, and what it might mean for your individual case.

How Did We Get Here?

Back in 2015, the Supreme Court held in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), that the residual clause of 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B) was unconstitutionally vague and a violation of Due Process. Under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), a “violent felony” was defined as a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year that (i) has an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another; or (2) is burglary, arson, extortion, involves use of explosive, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another. 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B)(i)-(ii). The language found to be void for vagueness by the Supreme Court was the clause “or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.”

While Johnson was focused primarily on the language of section 924(e), many noticed the inescapable similarities between the ACCA and other criminal statutes. One such example was the definition “crime of violence” in 18 U.S.C. 16. Under that statute, a crime of violence is defined as (a) an offense that has an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or (b) any other offense that is a felony and 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. 18 U.S.C. 16(a)-(b).

Shortly after Johnson, the Ninth Circuit held that 18 U.S.C. 16(b) was equally unconstitutionally vague. The case went up to the Supreme Court and the Court held that a plain application of Johnson to 18 U.S.C. 16 required a finding that 16(b) is also void for vagueness. Dimaya v. Sessions, 138 S.Ct. 1204 (2018).

Following Dimaya, other courts noticed the similarities between 18 U.S.C. 16 and 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3). Under the latter statute, a “crime of violence” is defined as (A) having as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, 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. 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)(A)-(B). Due to its nearly identical wording, some courts of appeals held that 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)(B) was unconstitutional in light of Johnson and Dimaya. However, the First, Second and Eleventh Circuits disagreed, finding that 924(c)(3)(B) is distinguishable because it requires a “case-specific” approach as opposed to the categorical approach.

The Supreme Court rejected this notion in Davis, finding that 18 U.S.C. 924(c), like 924(e) and 16, requires the use of the categorical approach. Accordingly, the Court has held that the language under 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)(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”) can no longer stand.

How Does United States vs. Davis Work?

Now that Davis has finally been decided, what does that mean for individuals with a 924(c) conviction?

First, Davis did not rule the entire portion of the 924(c) statute unconstitutional. Only the residual clause under 924(c)(3)(B) is affected. This means that those with a 924(c) conviction that is in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime are unaffected by Davis. Likewise, if the crime of violence underlying the 924(c) conviction “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another,” then that, too, is not impacted by Davis.

Whether a crime of violence falls under subsection (A) or (B) of 924(c)(3) is critical in determining whether an individual may receive relief under Davis. An example of a crime falling under the now-void subsection (B) would be conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery, as discussed in Davis.

The next question is, how does one apply for relief under Davis? The answer all depends on the procedural posture of your case. If you are in pre-trial or pre-sentencing, you need to discuss with your attorney immediately any possible effect of Davis on your case. For appellate and post-conviction individual, I will address each separately.

What If My Case is on Direct Appeal?

If you are currently on direct appeal and raised a Johnson/Dimaya 924(c) claim, then it is possible that your case has been stayed or placed in abeyance pending a decision in Davis. Now that Davis has been decided, it may be advisable to file a letter under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 28(j) alerting the court of the decision. The same is true if your appeal is currently pending but the court has not ordered a stay.

Similarly, your case may be waiting on a circuit case that was stayed pending Davis. For example, many cases in the Fourth Circuit are currently placed in abeyance pending a decision in United States v. Simms, No. 15-4640. Although Simms was decided back in January, the mandate was stayed pending Davis. If your case is stayed based on a circuit case that was also stayed pending Davis, then you will need to wait for a decision in the circuit case before your appeal can move forward.

If you are looking for assistance with your appeal, please contact me at [email protected] to discuss your appeal.

What if I have filed a motion under 28 USC § 2255?

Likewise, there are many of you out there with a 2255 motion that has been stayed awaiting a decision in Davis. If that is the case, now is the time to supplement your motion with the Court’s decision.

If you have not filed a 2255 motion, but believe Davis applies to your case, please reach out to me at [email protected] to discuss your case further.

What about a 2241 motion?

For those who missed the statutory deadline to file under Johnson, a 28 U.S.C. 2241 Petition may be a viable option if Davis applies to you. However, there are quite a lot of nuances involved with a 2241 Petition. Whether you can seek 2241 relief is going to depend on the circuit law in your place of confinement, as well as a number of other factors. If you are interested in discussing the potential merits of a 2241 petition, please email me at [email protected]

What if My Appeals and Motions Have been Denied?

Sadly, there are many, many defendants who had their appeal and/or collateral motions denied because the court found that Johnson and Dimaya had no impact on 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)(B). Clearly, those courts were wrong. But there may now be ways to reopen your case or seek other remedies. The possibilities depend on the unique facts of your case and will need to be discussed further. But such options would include a motion to recall the mandate if an appeal was denied, or a motion for reconsideration or possibly a Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) motion. Again, there are factors in each case that affect the viability of certain avenues. If your appeal or motion was denied because the court found 924(c)(3)(B) to be constitutional, please contact me at [email protected] or here to discuss your loved one’s case.

The law firm of Jeremy Gordon has been practicing federal criminal appeals and post-conviction law since 2012. We have had successful outcomes in more than 60 cases in the past three years. Our entire staff is committed to providing excellent service to our clients and their families. We encourage you to contact our office today to visit with us on how we might be able to help you or your loved one get the representation they deserve.

584 U. S. ____ (2018), No. 16–1027.


The Supreme Court handed down an important search and seizure case in Collins vs. Virginia.  


Officers from the Albemarle County Police Department observed the same motorcycle driver commit a traffic infraction in two separate incidents.  In both situations, the cyclist got away from the officers. In both situations, he was driving the same motorcycle.


The officers investigated and determined that the motorcycle was stolen and in the possession of Collins.  The motorcycle had an extended frame. Collins’ facebook page showed the motorcycle that was used in the traffic infractions at the top of the driveway of a house.  The officer went to the house and parked on the street. From his position, he saw a motorcycle that had an extended frame covered with a white tarp at the same location and angle on the driveway as the facebook photograph.  The officer took a picture of the motorcycle from the street and then walked up to them to where the motorcycle was parked. In order to “investigate further” he pulled off the tarp and observed the same motorcycle that eluded them earlier, and that was in the facebook photos.  The officer ran the plates and found that it was stolen. When Collins returned him, he admitted that he bought the motorcycle without a title. He was charged with receiving stolen property.


Collins filed a motion to suppress the evidence that was obtained as a result of the warrantless search of the motorcycle.  He argued that the officer trespassed on the curtilage to conduct an investigation in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The trial court denied the motion.  The Court of appeals affirmed because the officer had probable cause and that there were numerous exigencies that justified the officer’s entry. The Supreme court affirmed saying that the Fourth Amendment’s Automobile Exception and that the motorcycle was contraband.  


The Supreme Court noted that “When a law enforcement officer physically intrudes on the curtilage to gather evidence, a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment has occurred.”  Furthermore, the court determined that the part of the driveway where the motorcycle was parked and searched was curtilage. In this case, it was because it was “an area adjacent to the home and ‘to which the activity of home life extends,” thus being in the curtilage and requiring a warrant.  This is because “A visitor endeavoring to reach the front door of the house would have to walk part way up the driveway, but would turn off before entering the enclosure and instead proceed up a set of steps leading to the front porch” and “When [the officer] searched the motorcycle, it was parked inside this partially enclosed top portion of the driveway that abuts the house.”  


Because of this, the officer’s actions were an encroachment on the fourth amendment in the item searched (the motorcycle) but also in the encroachment of his home.  So the next question was if the automobile exception justified the invasion of the curtilage. Writing for the court, Justice Sotomayor used the following hypothetical:


“Applying the relevant legal principles to a slightly different factual scenario confirms that this is an easy case. Imagine a motorcycle parked inside the living room of a house, visible through a window to a passerby on the street. Imagine further that an officer has probable cause to believe that the motorcycle was involved in a traffic infraction. Can the officer, acting without a warrant, enter the house to search the motorcycle and confirm whether it is the right one? Surely not.


The reason is that the scope of the automobile exception extends no further than the automobile itself.”


Sotomayor noted that “Nothing in our case law, however, suggests that the automobile exception gives an officer the right to enter a home or its curtilage to access a vehicle without a warrant.”  Further, “The Court already has declined to expand the scope of other exceptions to the warrant requirement to permit warrantless entry into the home.” The court went on to say that “searching a vehicle parked in the curtilage involves not only the invasion of the Fourth Amendment interest in the vehicle but also an invasion of the sanctity of the curtilage[ ]” for the same reason that officers may not enter a home to make an arrest without a warrant even when they have probable cause.  She also said that “The automobile exception does not afford the necessary lawful right of access to search a vehicle parked within a home or its curtilage because it does not justify an intrusion on a person’s separate and substantial Fourth Amendment interest in his home and curtilage.”


The court denied Virginia’s request to make a bright-line rule saying that “the automobile exception does not permit warrantless entry into ‘the physical threshold of a house or a similar fixed, enclosed structure inside the curtilage like a garage’” so that the officers wouldn’t have to make case by case determinations.  The court stated that the officers already have to do this because the curtilage has already been afforded constitutional protection. Also, Virginia’s proposed rule mistakenly places emphasis on visibility. Sotomayor said, “So long as it is curtilage, a parking patio or carport into which an officer can see from the street is no less entitled to protection from trespass and a warrantless search than a fully enclosed garage.”  Finally, “Virginia’s proposed bright-line rule automatically would grant constitutional rights to those persons with the financial means to afford residences with garages in which to store their vehicles but deprive those persons without such resources of any individualized consideration as to whether the areas in which they store their vehicles qualify as curtilage.”


The Supreme Court held that the automobile exception did not allow the officer to enter a home or its curtilage in order to search a vehicle.  The Supreme Court of Virginia reversed the decision on the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Hughes v. United States, No. 17–155, 584 U. S. ____ (2018)

Eric Hughes accepted a plea deal in 2013 after being accused of four charges related to drug conspiracy. He pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and being a felon in possession of a gun in return for the dismissal of the other two charges and the withholding of information regarding previous drug felonies. For the two guilty charges, Hughes agreed to serve a term of 180 months.

In his plea deal, no reference was made to the Guidelines range, however, upon accepting the deal, the District Court noted that the deal was “compatible” with the Guideline ranges. At the time, the recommended range for Hughes’s crimes was set at 188-235 months. Such a consideration by the District Court is required before accepting any plea deal.

Upon the adoption of amendment 782 to the Sentencing guidelines, a crime like Hughes’s would have a recommended range of 151-188 months. Hughes petitioned the court for a reduction in sentence under Amendment 782. The court denied Hughes a reduction on the grounds that Hughes’s plea agreement did not reference the guideline ranges and, therefore, his sentence was not based on the guidelines in a way that would warrant a reduction.

The Court indicated that “the controlling issue here is whether a defendant may seek relief under §3582(c)(2) if he entered a plea agreement specifying a particular sentence under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C).”  This is also called a “type-c” agreement.


Writing for the Court, Justice Kennedy said that “a sentence imposed pursuant to a Type-C agreement is ‘based on’ the defendant’s Guidelines range so long as that range was part of the framework the district court relied on in imposing the sentence or accepting the agreement.”


“In the typical sentencing case there will be no question that the defendant’s Guidelines range was a basis for his sentence. The Sentencing Reform Act requires a district court to calculate and consider a defendant’s Guidelines range in every case.”  


The Court went to say that “a defendant’s Guidelines range is both the starting point and a basis for his ultimate sentence” and that agreed sentences under 11(c)(1)(C) were no different.  “Although in a Type-C agreement the Government and the defendant may agree to a specific sentence, that bargain is contingent on the district court accepting the agreement and its stipulated sentence.”  Further, the court noted that “the Sentencing Guidelines prohibit district courts from accepting Type-C agreements without first evaluating the recommended sentence in light of the defendant’s Guidelines range.”  Thus, although the plea deal did not directly reference the Guidelines, they are understood to have played a role in the sentence given that the Court is required to consider the guidelines before accepting a plea deal.

For these reasons, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals and the case was remanded for further consideration.  No. 17–155, 584 U. S. ____ (2018)

No. 16–9493. Argued February 21, 2018—Decided June 18, 2018

Each year, district courts sentence thousands of individuals to imprisonment for violations of federal law. To help ensure certainty and fairness in those sentences, federal district courts are required to consider the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines. Prior to sentencing, the United States Probation Office prepares a pre-sentence investigation report to help the court determine the applicable Guidelines range. Ultimately, the district court is responsible for ensuring the Guidelines range it considers is correct. At times, however, an error in the calculation of the Guidelines range goes unnoticed by the court and the parties. On appeal, such errors not raised in the district court may be remedied under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 52(b), provided that, as established in United States v. Olano, 507 U. S. 725: (1) the error was not “intentionally relinquished or abandoned,” (2) the error is plain, and (3) the error “affected the defendant’s substantial rights,” Molina-Martinez v. United States, 578

  1. S. ___, ___. If those conditions are met, “the court of appeals should exercise its discretion to correct the forfeited error if the error ‘ “seriously affects the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings.” ’ ” Id., at ___. This last consideration is often called Olano’s fourth prong. The issue here is when a Guidelines error that satisfies Olano’s first three conditions warrants relief under the fourth prong.


Petitioner Florencio Rosales-Mireles pleaded guilty to illegal reentry into the United States. In calculating the Guidelines range, the Probation Office’s presentence report mistakenly counted a state misdemeanor conviction twice. As a result, the report yielded a Guidelines range of 77 to 96 months, when the correctly calculated range would have been 70 to 87 months. Rosales-Mireles did not object to the error in the District Court, which relied on the miscalculated Guidelines range and sentenced him to 78 months of imprisonment. On appeal, Rosales-Mireles challenged the incorrect Guidelines range for the first time. The Fifth Circuit found that the Guidelines error was plain and that it affected Rosales-Mireles’ substantial rights because there was a “reasonable probability that he would have been subject to a different sentence but for the error.” The Fifth Circuit nevertheless declined to remand the case for resentencing, concluding that Rosales-Mireles had not established that the error would seriously affect the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings because neither the error nor the resulting sentence “would shock the conscience.”


Held: A miscalculation of a Guidelines sentencing range that has been determined to be plain and to affect a defendant’s substantial rights calls for a court of appeals to exercise its discretion under Rule 52(b)to vacate the defendant’s sentence in the ordinary case. Pp. 6–15.


(a) Although “Rule 52(b) is permissive, not mandatory,” Olano, 507

  1. S., at 735, it is well established that courts “should” correct a forfeited plain error affecting substantial rights “if the error ‘seriously affect[s] the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings,’ ” id., at 736. Like the narrow rule rejected in Olano, which would have called for relief only for a miscarriage of justice, the Fifth Circuit’s shock-the-conscience standard too narrowly confines the extent of the court of appeals’ discretion. It is not reflected in Rule 52(b), nor in how the plain-error doctrine has been applied by this Court, which has reversed judgments for plain error based on inadvertent or unintentional errors by the court or the parties below and has remanded cases involving such errors, including sentencing errors, for consideration of Olano’s fourth prong. The errors are not required to amount to a “powerful indictment” of the system. The Fifth Circuit’s emphasis on the district judge’s “competence or integrity” also unnecessarily narrows Olano’s instruction to correct an error if it seriously affects “judicial proceedings.” Pp. 6–8.


(b) The effect of the Fifth Circuit’s heightened standard is especially pronounced in cases like this one. An error resulting in a higher range than the Guidelines provide usually establishes a reasonable probability that a defendant will serve a prison sentence greater than “necessary” to fulfill the purposes of incarceration, 18 U. S. C. §3553(a). See Molina-Martinez, 578 U. S., at ___. That risk of unnecessary deprivation of liberty particularly undermines the fairness,integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings in the context of a plain Guidelines error because Guidelines miscalculations ultimately result from judicial error, as the district court is charged in the first instance with ensuring the Guidelines range it considers is correct. Moreover, remands for resentencing are relatively inexpensive proceedings compared to remands for retrial. Ensuring the accuracy of Guidelines determinations also furthers the Sentencing Commission’s goal of achieving uniformity and proportionality in sentencing more broadly, since including uncorrected sentences based on incorrect Guidelines ranges in the data the Commission collects could undermine the Commission’s ability to make appropriate revisions to the Guidelines. Because any exercise of discretion at the fourth prong of Olano inherently requires “a case-specific and fact-intensive” inquiry, Puckett v. United States, 556 U. S. 129, 142, countervailing factors may satisfy the court of appeals that the fairness, integrity,and public reputation of the proceedings will be preserved absent correction. But there are no such factors in this case. Pp. 8–11.


(c) The Government and dissent maintain that even though the Fifth Circuit’s standard was inaccurate, Rosales-Mireles is still not entitled to relief. But their arguments are unpersuasive. They caution that granting this type of relief would be inconsistent with the Court’s statements that discretion under Rule 52(b) should be exercised “sparingly,” Jones v. United States, 527 U. S. 373, 389, and reserved for “exceptional circumstances,” Meyer v. Kenmore Granville Hotel Co., 297 U. S. 160. In contrast to the Jones remand, however, no additional jury proceedings would be required in a remand for re-sentencing based on a Guidelines miscalculation. Plus, the circumstances of Rosales-Mireles’ case are exceptional under this Court’s precedent, as they are reasonably likely to have resulted in a longer prison sentence than necessary and there are no countervailing factors that otherwise further the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings.


The Government and dissent also assert that Rosales-Mireles’ sentence is presumptively reasonable because it falls within the corrected Guidelines range. But a court of appeals can consider a sentence’s substantive reasonableness only after it ensures “that the district court committed no significant procedural error, such as failing to calculate (or improperly calculating) the Guidelines range.” Gall v. United States, 552 U. S. 38, 51. If a district court cannot properly determine whether, considering all sentencing factors, including the correct Guidelines range, a sentence is “sufficient, but not greater than necessary,” 18 U. S. C. §3553(a), the resulting sentence would not bear the reliability that would support a“presumption of reasonableness” on review. See 552 U. S., at 51. And regardless of its ultimate reasonableness, a sentence that lacks reliability because of unjust procedures may well undermine public perception of the proceedings.


Finally, the Government and dissent maintain that the Court’s decision will create an opportunity for “sandbagging” that Rule 52(b) is supposed to prevent. But that concern fails to account for the realities at play in sentencing proceedings, where it is highly speculative that a defendant would benefit from a strategy of deliberately forgoing an objection in the district court, with hopes of arguing for reversal under plain-error review later. Pp. 12–14.


SOTOMAYOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS,

  1. J., and KENNEDY, GINSBURG, BREYER, KAGAN, and GORSUCH, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which ALITO, J., joined.

United States v. Fleming, No. 17-3954

Fleming was convicted of possessing cocaine with intent to distribute.  His total offense level was 21, and his criminal history category was II.  He was thought to be a career offender, but his priors did not qualify. His range of punishment was 41 to 51 months, but his mandatory minimum was 60 months.  


At the beginning of the hearing the district court provided the parties with copies of a local news article that had been published on about an Ohio State report documenting an increase in overdose deaths in the state.  The article focused on opiod overdoses mainly, only mentioning cocaine briefly and only in connection with opioids. The article was a little over 200 words. The article observed that “ there are indications that cocaine is increasingly being used with fentanyl and other opiates,” and that 80.2% of all cocaine overdose deaths in 2016 also involved an opiate.  


There was no suggestion that there would be a variance at the beginning of the hearing or that the court was considering one.  Both the government and the defense made arguments and asked a sentence of 60 months. Neither side mentioned the article or community harm by opioids.  


The court varied upward and imposed a sentence of 120 months in prison.  The court said that “the Guidelines were not ‘sufficient to address the kind of issues that we’re now having with this type of trafficking in these large amounts of cocaine.’”  The district court said that the article was “[i]n large part . . . some indication of why long, lengthy sentences are necessary to try and deter” cocaine trafficking.” The court made no reference to Fleming’s near-status as a career offender.  Fleming appealed stating that his sentence was procedurally and substantively unreasonable.


The court noted that a sentence can be procedurally unreasonable when “the facts or issues on which the district court relied to impose a variance came as a surprise and [the defendant’s] presentation to the court was prejudiced by the surprise.”  The court also said that the reliance on information from the article from was a surprise and prejudicial to Fleming’s sentencing presentation and as such the sentence was procedurally unreasonable. Fleming’s case was possession of cocaine, not the opioids that were discussed in the article.  Plus there was no evidence of opioids in his case.


The court also noted that “the weight the court ultimately assigned to [unexpected] considerations” may contribute to the surprise.  In this case, the court clearly stated that the article was important to the decision. Fleming’s inability to contest the veracity or relevance was part of the prejudice:  He was not able to test the veracity or relevance of the information in the article because it was given to him at the beginning of the hearing.


Further, although this was presented to the parties at the beginning of the sentencing hearing they didn’t know how it was going to be used until after counsel made his argument.  


The government claimed that the plain error doctrine applied to this case.  Plain error is “(1) error (2) that was obvious or clear, (3) that affected [his] substantial rights and (4) that affected the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the judicial proceedings.”


The court stated that the case was error for the reasons already stated.  The court stated that it was obvious because he district court should have realized that the article contained information that the parties might reasonably not have anticipated would be relevant. The district court should also have been aware that the structure of the sentencing hearing—in which the parties were given the article only at the start of the hearing, the underlying state report was not provided at all, and the district court did not explain why the article was relevant until after the parties’ arguments—would prevent Fleming from commenting on that information in a meaningful way.”  


The court also said that Fleming’s substantial rights were affected.  “A sentencing error affects a defendant’s substantial rights when there is a reasonable probability that, but for the error, she would have received a more favorable sentence.”  If the judge had given notice of the court’s intent to use the, article then counsel would have been able to persuade that the article was unreliable.


The Court determined that the error “affected the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the judicial proceedings.”  because “Fleming may serve an additional five years in prison based on potentially unreliable and extraneous information that was interjected into the proceedings in a way that ensured no meaningful adversarial testing.”  


Because the court determined that the case was procedurally unreasonable by a plain error standard the court determined that it was not necessary to consider substantive unreasonableness.  


Fleming also asked that the case be reassigned to a different judge on remand but the court indicated that was not justified in the record.  The court uses three factors to determine whether reassignment is warranted:


(1) whether the original judge would reasonably be expected to have substantial difficulty in putting out of his or her mind previously expressed views or findings;

(2) whether reassignment is advisable to preserve the appearance of justice; and

(3) whether reassignment would entail waste and duplication out of proportion to any gain in preserving the appearance of fairness.


Fleming said that reassignment of the case to a different judge was necessary because the judge stated that Fleming had good fortune in avoiding career offender status and that showed that the judge was predisposed to giving Fleming a higher sentence.  However, the district judge also noted that he could not and would not consider Fleming’s “close call” in escaping the career offender enhancement against him. And while Fleming also points out that the Judge indicated the strong likelihood that Fleming would qualify as a career offender, that was before it was determined that he was not a career offender.  Thus the Circuit court declined to hold that Fleming’s case should be reassigned to a different Judge.


The Sixth Circuit vacated the sentence and remanded the case for resentencing.  No. 17-3954

United States of America v. Jose Prisciliano Gracia-Cantu, No. 15-40227, 2018 WL 2068684

Gracia-Cantu pled guilty to being an alien unlawfully present in the United States after previously being deported. He also had a prior conviction for Assault Family Violence under Texas Penal Code 22.01(a)(1) and 22.01(b)(2). The presentence report recommended an eight level increase for this under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(F) and U.S.S.G. § 2L1.2(b)(1)(C), calling the family violence conviction an “aggravated felony.” Gracia-Cantu argued that the Texas Assault Family Violence is not a “crime of violence” under 18 USC § 16 and as such, the conviction did not qualify as an aggravated felony. The district court found that the Texas Family violence conviction was an aggravated felony under U.S.S.G. § 2L1.2(b)(1)(C), by looking at the judgment conviction that stated that the injury occurred by “striking said Maria Garcia on or about the head with an object: to wit, a can.” The district court then stated that it would require force to strike someone in the head with a can. Gracia-Cantu was sentenced to 41 months and appealed his sentence.

The Fifth Circuit began by addressing whether the family violence case applied under 18 USC § 16(a). Section 16(a) defines a crime of violence as “an offense that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another.” Prior Fifth Circuit precedent held that Texas Assault Family Violence was not a crime of violence under 16(a). While the government argued that precedent had been overruled by United States v. Castleman, 134 S. Ct. 1405 (2014), and Voisine v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2272 (2016), the Fifth Circuit disagreed. The Fifth Circuit held that the government’s argument had no merit because of the “rule of orderliness,” which states that one panel of the court may not overrule another unless a “Supreme Court decision ‘expressly or implicitly’ overrules one of our precedents.”  Further, this was confirmed in cases after Castleman, such as United States v. Reyes-Contreras, 882 F.3d 113, 123 (5th Cir. 2018). Therefore, the Fifth Circuit’s prior precedent stood and Gracia-Cantu’s conviction was not a crime of violence under 16(a).

Next the court looked at whether the crime of violence was a crime under § 16(b). The Fifth Circuit noted that § 16(b) was unconstitutionally vague after the Supreme Court’s decision in Sessions vs. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. 1204 (2018). But since this was not objected to at the time of sentencing it was subject to plain error review. “To obtain relief under plain-error review, an appellant must show: (1) an error or defect that was not affirmatively waived; (2) the legal error is clear or obvious; (3) the error affected the appellant’s substantial rights; and (4) if the first three prongs are satisfied, that the court should exercise its discretion to correct the error because it “seriously affects the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings.”

Dimaya established that it is error to use § 16(b) to show that an offense is a crime of violence. But there were cases that came out before this that would have kept this argument from succeeding at that time. The first two prongs having been met, the court then looked to see if this violated his substantial rights. The court determined that it did because his sentence of 41 months was 11 months above the applicable guidelines for his case without the eight-level increase for the crime of violence. This satisfied the third prong. The court then determined that the disparity between the imposed sentence and the applicable guidelines range can warrant the court’s exercise of discretion. Further, the fact that the higher sentence came from applying a statute declared unconstitutional void by the Supreme Court while the claim was on direct appeal also was considered. The court looked at the totality of the circumstances and determined that the error should be corrected.

The Fifth Circuit vacated Gracia-Cantu’s sentence and remanded the case back down for resentencing. No. 15-40227, 2018 WL 2068684

The law firm of Jeremy Gordon has been practicing federal criminal appeals and post-conviction law since 2012. We have had successful outcomes in more than 60 cases in the past three years. Our entire staff is committed to providing excellent service to our clients and their families. We encourage you to contact our office today to visit with us on how we might be able to help you or your loved one get the representation they deserve.

United States v. Bethea, Seventh Circuit, No. 17-3468, 2018 WL 1959638

Bethea was charged with using fraudulently obtained credit cards to purchase merchandise at retailers. He had a combined guilty plea and sentencing hearing. The judge was in his courtroom in Madison, WI. Bethea was in Milwaukee because of his health issues and limited mobility. The judge sentenced Bethea to 21 months imprisonment, which is at the bottom of his guideline range. Bethea appealed on the basis that his plea via video conference could not be taken.

The court noted that Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 43 governs that “the defendant must be present at … the initial appearance, the initial arraignment, and the plea.” The court found while there are exceptions to this, none of them applied here. The court also found that while other circuit courts haven’t answered this question, four circuit courts have held that Rule 43 requires the judge and the defendant to be there. Further, they pointed out that several circuits have indicated that there were intangible benefits to the judge and defendant being physically in the courtroom including the Sixth, Fourth, Third, Seventh, and the Tenth Circuits, which hold that this is per se error, meaning that automatic reversal should be granted.

The Seventh Circuit Vacated the Judgment of the District Court and remanded the case. No. 17-3468, 2018 WL 1959638

The law firm of Jeremy Gordon has been practicing federal criminal appeals and post-conviction law since 2012. We have had successful outcomes in more than 60 cases in the past three years. Our entire staff is committed to providing excellent service to our clients and their families. We encourage you to contact our office today to visit with us on how we might be able to help you or your loved one get the representation they deserve.

McCalla pled guilty to conspiracy to possess at least five kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute. The Mandatory minimum, in that case, was ten years. His range of punishment was 136 to 168 months. He was sentenced to 126 moths and the court found that a sentence below the advisory guideline range would be sufficient but not greater thank necessary to comply with the requirements of section 3553. McCalla was informed that he had the right to appeal. He did not file a direct appeal. In his 2255 motion he alleged that he would have appealed his sentence if counsel had consulted him and that counsel knew that McCalla was unhappy with the indictment and sentence. McCalla also stated that he “expressed his desire to challenge [this] unbelievable result” and requested an evidentiary hearing.

The magistrate replied that he McCalla’s motion should be denied, that McCalla did not ask counsel to file an appeal, that counsel did not have a duty to consult McCalla and that “no rational defendant would have wonted to appeal.” The magistrate ruled that McCalla was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing because his claim was meritless. The District court adopted the recommendation of the Magistrate’s court and denied the certificate of appealability.

On appeal the court started by stating that both a direct appeal and effective assistance of counsel are rights. Further, the accused has the authority to make certain decisions regarding the case such as whether to take the appeal. Counsel is to advise the defendant about the advantages and disadvantages of taking an appeal and make a reasonable effort to discover the defendant’s wishes. When a defendant has not instructed counsel to file a notice of appeal there is a constitutional duty to consult when a defendant reasonably demonstrated to counsel that he was interested in appealing. When counsel’s performance deprives a defendant of an appeal that he would have otherwise taken then that is prejudice even if the appeal would not have won.

McCalla’s statement that he wanted to challenge his sentence showed that he was interested in appealing. Counsel was to advise McCalla about the advantages of taking an appeal. Counsel did not. If counsel had done their duty then McCalla would have asked his attorney to appeal the sentence. This showed that McCalla had alleged facts, that, if true, established a successful ineffective assistance of counsel claim entitling him to an appeal Neither the fact that he not have been successful nor the fact that the sentencing judge notified Thompson that he had a right to appeal changes the conclusion of the court. This means that the district court abused their discretion when they denied his evidentiary hearing on this.

The Eleventh circuit reversed with orders to schedule an evidentiary hearing.

McCalla v. United States. No. 16-15623, 2018 WL 1747722

The law firm of Jeremy Gordon has been practicing federal criminal appeals and post-conviction law since 2012. We have had successful outcomes in more than 60 cases in the past three years. Our entire staff is committed to providing excellent service to our clients and their families. We encourage you to contact our office today to visit with us on how we might be able to help you or your loved one get the representation they deserve.

In United States v. Ricky Davis, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated and remanded a conviction for attempted sex trafficking of a minor. The defendant was accused of brining a minor to his house and discussing the possibility of the minor making money by going on dates, taking photos and assisting her in getting the photos online to a known escorting website.

Davis was arrested and indicted for sexual exploitation of a minor (18 U.S.C. 2251) and attempted sex trafficking either by for or of a minor (18 U.S.C. 1591(a), 1594).

The indictment alleged that Davis:

“knowingly attempted to recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide, obtain, and maintain by any means, a person to engage in a commercial sex act, to wit: a minor female victim, . . . knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that the person had not attained the age of 18 years[.]”

However, at trial the jury instruction as to the section 1591 violation charged:

“The elements of sex trafficking are: . . . (2) knowing that [the minor] had not attained the age of 18 years, or recklessly disregarded that fact, or the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe [the minor], and that [the minor] would be caused to engage in a commercial sex act . . . .”

The above was also reiterated by the prosecutor in closing argument. On appeal, Davis alleged that the inclusion of the phrase “or the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe [the minor]” was a constructive amendment to the indictment.

The Ninth Circuit held that a constructive amendment occurred because “the crime charged [in the indictment] was substantially altered at trial, so that it was impossible to know whether the grand jury would have indicted for the crime actually provided.” The court further held that this was a constructive amendment and not a variance, stating that:

“An amendment of the indictment occurs when the charging terms of the indictment were altered, either literally or in effect, by the prosecutor or a court after the grand jury has last passed upon them. A variance occurs when the charging terms of the indictment are left unaltered, but the evidence at trial proves facts materially different from those alleged in the indictment.”

The appellate court indicated that the district court’s jury instructions and the government’s argument had the effect of altering the terms of the amendment.

The Ninth Circuit reversed. See United States v. Davis, No. 15-10402

The law firm of Jeremy Gordon has been practicing federal criminal appeals and post-conviction law since 2012. We have had successful outcomes in more than 60 cases in the past three years. Our entire staff is committed to providing excellent service to our clients and their families. We encourage you to contact our office today to visit with us on how we might be able to help you or your loved one get the representation they deserve.