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Lee v. United States

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 30, 2019

DARNELL LEE, Movant/Defendant,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent/Plaintiff.

          Tieffa N. Harper, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Office of the Federal Public Defender, District of Delaware, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorney for Movant.

          Alexander Ibrahim, Assistant United States Attorney, United States Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorney for Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          STARK, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Darnell Lee ("Movant") Sled a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (D.I. 26) The United States ("Respondent") filed an Answer in Opposition. (D.I. 32) For the reasons discussed, the Court will deny Movant's § 2255 Motion without holding an evidentiary hearing.

         II. BACKGROUND

         In May 2012, Movant pled guilty to possessing a firearm as a person prohibited, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(e). (D.I. 17 at 1) In the Plea Agreement, Movant stipulated that the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA") (18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(A)) applied to his case and to the existence of three prior convictions for a violent felony or serious drug offense: (1) a 1994 Delaware conviction for possession with intent to deliver a narcotic schedule II substance; (2) a 2003 Delaware conviction for possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance; and (3) a 2007 Delaware conviction for aggravated menacing in violation of 11 Del. C. § 602(b). (D.I. 17 at 1-2) The Honorable Sue L. Robinson sentenced Movant to the mandatory minimum 180-month term of imprisonment because Movant's three prior felonies qualified him for enhanced penalties under the ACCA. (D.I. 19; D.I. 20; D.I. 23)

         Movant filed the instant § 2255 Motion in June 2016, asserting that his 2007 Delaware conviction for aggravated menacing no longer qualifies as a "violent felony" under the ACCA after Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). (D.I. 26 at 6) Respondent filed an Answer in Opposition to Movant's § 2255 Motion, arguing that the Motion should be dismissed as meritless because Movant's 2007 conviction still constitutes a "violent felony" under the ACCA. (D.I. 32 at 1-2)

         III. DISCUSSION

         A person convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) faces a maximum sentence of 10 years. See 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(2). The ACCA substantially increases the sentence to a mandatory minimum term of 15 years if the person has three previous convictions for a "violent felony or a serious drug offense, or both." See 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). A prior offense qualifies as a "violent felony" under the ACCA if it is "punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year" and it:

(i) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another; or
(ii) is burglary, arson, or extortion, involves use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.

18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B) (emphasis added).

         Subsection (i) above is known as the "elements clause" or "force clause;" the first portion of subsection (ii) - "burglary, arson, or extortion" - is known as the ACCA's "enumerated clause;" and the remainder of subsection (ii) is known as the ACCA's "residual clause." See Stokeling v. United States, 139 S.Ct. 544, 556 (2019). In 2015, the Supreme Court held that the ACCA's residual clause definition of a "violent felony" is unconstitutionally void for vagueness under the Due Process Clause. See Johnson, 135 S.Ct. at 2556-60. The Supreme Court made Johnson retroactively applicable on collateral review in Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257, 1264 (2016). However, "Johnson did not disturb the other parts of the ACCA, including the ACCA's other two means of determining whether a potential predicate crime is a crime of violence: namely, the 'elements' [force] clause at § 924(e) (2) B)(i) dealing with the use or threatened use of force, and the 'enumerated offense' clause at § 924(e)(2)(B)(h)." United States v. Parks, 237 F.Supp.3d 229, 235 (M.D. Pa. 2017). The issue in this case is whether Movant's predicate crime of aggravated menacing under Delaware law is a "violent felony" under the ACCA's elements/force clause.

         A. Categorical/Modified Categorical Approach

         Courts apply what is known as the "categorical approach" to determine if a prior conviction qualifies as a predicate violent felony under the ACCA's elements/force clause. See Descamps v. United States,570 U.S. 254, 257 (2013); Taylor v. United States,495 U.S. 575, 600 (1990). Under this approach, a federal "sentencing court may look only to the elements of a defendant's prior conviction, not to the particular facts underlying those convictions." United States v. Abbott, 748 F.3d 154, 157 (3d Cir. 2014). The relevant question is "whether die least culpable conduct covered by the statute at issue" forming the basis of the defendant's predicate conviction has as an element die use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force. See Stokeling, 139 S.Ct. at 556. In order to determine what a statute covers under the categorical approach, federal courts rely on the interpretation of the offense issued by the courts of the state in question. Id.; see also United States v. Winston, 850 F.3d 677, 684 (4th Cir. 2017). "If the elements of die prior conviction are identical to (or narrower than) the elements of die []ACCA crime, die prior conviction can serve as an ACCA predicate." United States v. Daniels,915 F.3d 148, 150 (3d Cir. 2019). "But if the statute sweeps more broadly than the [] [ACCA's 'violent felony' definition], a conviction under that law cannot count as an ACCA predicate, even if die defendant actually committed the offense in its generic form." Descamps v. ...


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