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Peltier v. United States

United States District Court, D. North Dakota

May 4, 2017

Stacey Lee Peltier, Petitioner,
v.
United States of America, Respondent. United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Stacey Lee Peltier, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO VACATE, SET ASIDE, OR CORRECT SENTENCE

          Daniel L. Hovland, Chief Judge United States District Court

         The Defendant is serving concurrent federal sentences stemming from two unrelated cases. See Case Nos. 1:99-cr-005 (drug case) and 1:00-cr-043 (gun case). The cases were consolidated for sentencing and on appeal. See United States v. Peltier, 276 F.3d 1003 (2002). On June 24, 2016, the Defendant filed a “Motion to Vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Johnson v. U.S.)” in both cases. See Docket No. 74 in Case No. 1:99-cr-005 and Docket No. 89 in Case No. 1:00-cr-043. The Defendant's motions are based on the United States Supreme Court's holding in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). After an initial review of the motions, and after the Defendant received permission from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to file a successive Section 2255 motion in both cases, the Court ordered the Government to file a response to the Defendant's motions. Both motions have now been fully briefed and are ripe for a decision. See Docket Nos. 79 and 80 in Case No. 1:99-cr-005 and Docket Nos. 98, 101, 102, and 103 in Case No. 1:00-cr-043. For the reasons set forth below, the motion in Case No. 1:99-cr-005 is denied and the motion in Case No. 1:00-cr-043 is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In the gun case, a jury found Stacey Peltier guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2), and 924(e), and of receiving a firearm and ammunition while under felony indictment in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(n) and 924(a)(1)(D) on October 11, 2000. In the drug case, Peltier pled guilty, pursuant to a plea agreement, to possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) on October 16, 2000. A consolidated sentencing hearing on the two cases was held on December 21, 2000, at which time it was determined that because Peltier had eighteen prior convictions in North Dakota for class C burglary, he qualified as an armed career criminal under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). While the sentencing judge found the eighteen burglaries were violent felonies for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), no specific finding was made as to whether the burglaries qualified under the “enumerated offenses clause, ” the “residual clause, ” or both. The sentencing judge's finding that Peltier was an armed career criminal triggered a mandatory minimum sentence of 180-months in the gun case. The Sentencing Guideline range in the gun case was determined to be 360-life. The Sentencing Guideline range in the drug case was found to be 210-262 months. After finding Peltier's criminal history was overstated, the Court departed downward in the gun case and sentenced Peltier to 292-months on the gun charge and a concurrent 210-months on the drug charge. An appeal was taken and the sentence was affirmed. United States v. Peltier, 276 F.3d 1003 (8th Cir. 2002).

         In 2003, Peltier filed a Section 2255 motion relating to both the gun and drug cases. The Court denied the motion on January 27, 2004. Peltier did not appeal the denial of his Section 2255 motion. Peltier filed a petition for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 in August 2013, which was also denied.

         On June 24, 2016, Peltier filed Section 2255 motions in both cases citing the recent opinion of the United States Supreme Court in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), as the basis for the motions. Peltier contends that in the wake of Johnson, he no longer qualifies as an armed career criminal. Peltier obtained permission from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to file a successive Section 2255 motion in both cases challenging his sentence under the ACCA. It is undisputed that Johnson has no application to Peltier's conviction in the drug case. Therefore, no reduction in the 210-month sentence imposed in the drug case is sought, and the Section 2255 motion in the drug case is denied. Peltier's Section 2255 motion in the gun case has been fully briefed and is ripe for a decision.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “28 U.S.C. § 2255 provides a federal prisoner an avenue for relief if his ‘sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or . . . was in excess of the maximum authorized by law.'” King v. United States, 595 F.3d 844, 852 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a)). This requires a showing of either constitutional or jurisdictional error, or a “fundamental defect” resulting in a “complete miscarriage of justice.” Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333, 346 (1974); Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428 (1962). A 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion is not a substitute for a direct appeal and is not the proper way to complain about simple trial errors. Anderson v. United States, 25 F.3d 704, 706 (8th Cir. 1994). A 28 U.S.C. § 2255 movant “must clear a significantly higher hurdle than would exist on direct appeal.” United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 166 (1982). Section 2255 is “intended to afford federal prisoners a remedy identical in scope to federal habeas corpus.” Davis, 417 U.S. at 343.

         In a case involving an ACCA conviction based on Johnson, “the movant carries the burden of showing that the Government did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his conviction fell under the ACCA.” Redd v. United States, No. 4:16-CV-1665, 2017 WL 633850, at *2 (E.D. Mo. Feb. 16, 2017) (quoting Hardman v. United States, 149 F.Supp.3d 1144, 1148 (W.D. Mo. 2016)). The movant need not show he was sentenced under the residual clause to maintain a Section 2255 claim under Johnson. United States v. Winston, 850 F.3d 677, 682 (4th Cir. 2017) (noting sentencing judges are not required to specify under which clause of 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B) an offense qualified as a violent felony). A movant may rely on the new rule of constitutional law announced in Johnson if his sentence may have been predicated on the now void residual clause.

         On a Section 2255 motion, the determination of whether a prior conviction qualifies as a predicate violent felony under the ACCA is subject to de novo review. Id. at 683; In re Chance, 831 F.3d 1335, 1338-39 (11th Cir. 2016). The court's review is not constrained to the law as it existed when the movant was sentenced, but should be made with the assistance of binding intervening precedent which clarifies the law. In re Chance, 831 F.3d at 1340; Winston, 850 F.3d at 683-84 (applying intervening case law); Redd, No. 4:16-CV-1665, 2017 WL 633850, at *4 n. 3. (noting decisions which clarify or apply existing law or a settled rule apply on collateral review). The burden remains on the movant to show that his sentence, in the wake of Johnson, is no longer authorized by the ACCA. In re Chance, 831 F.3d at 1341.

         III. LEGAL DISCUSSION

         The ACCA's 180-month mandatory minimum penalty applies when a defendant has at least three prior felony convictions for a “serious drug offense” or a “violent felony, ” as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2). Absent the armed career criminal finding, the maximum sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm is ten years. See 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(2). Peltier has eighteen prior felony convictions for burglary under North Dakota law. The question before the Court is whether Peltier's eighteen burglary convictions qualify as violent felonies under the ACCA's enumerated offenses clause. The ACCA defines “violent felony” as follows:

(B) the term “violent felony” means any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, or any act of juvenile delinquency involving the use or carrying of a firearm, knife, or destructive device that would be punishable by imprisonment for such term if committed by an adult, that--
(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). The portion of this definition in bold is known as the “force clause” or “elements clause.” The underlined portion of this definition is known as the “enumerated offense clause.” The ...


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