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Hanson v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

July 31, 2017

JAMES B. HANSON, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant. Criminal No. 09-cr-40003-JPG-06



         This matter comes before the Court on petitioner James B. Hanson's motion to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. 1). Pursuant to Administrative Order 176, counsel was appointed to represent the petitioner because his motion was based on the theory that Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), applied to the career offender (“CO”) sentencing guideline (Doc. 2). Counsel has moved to withdraw on the basis that, in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Beckles v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 886 (2017), she can make no non-frivolous argument in support of § 2255 relief for Hanson (Doc. 5). The Government has not responded to counsel's motion. Hanson objects to counsel's withdrawal and maintains he is entitled to § 2255 relief under Johnson and Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016) (Doc. 8).

         I. Background

         On December 10, 2009, Hanson pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to manufacture more than 500 grams of methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A). At sentencing on April 15, 2010, the Court found that Hanson was a career offender under United States Sentencing Guidelines Manual (“U.S.S.G.”) § 4B1.1 based on one prior Kentucky felony residential burglary conviction and one prior Illinois felony drug conviction. Hanson's career offender status established a base offense level of 37. His offense level was reduced by three points under U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1(a) and (b) to 34 because Hanson timely demonstrated acceptance of responsibility for his offense. Considering Hanson's criminal history category of VI, established by his career offender status under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1 as well as his accumulation of criminal history points, this yielded a sentencing range of 262 to 327 months in prison. The Court imposed a sentence of 262 months and entered a written judgment on April 20, 2010. Hanson appealed his sentence, but on August 25, 2010, the Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal pursuant to Hanson's motion for voluntarily dismissal.

         Hanson filed the pending § 2255 motion on April 18, 2016. The Court conducts its preliminary review of his § 2255 motion pursuant to Rule 4(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings for the United States District Courts and its evaluation of counsel's motion to withdraw at the same time. Because it is plain from the motion and the record of the prior proceedings that Hanson is not entitled to relief based on Johnson, the Court will deny his § 2255 motion in that regard for the reasons set forth below. Because counsel was appointed primarily for the purpose of assessing Hanson's prospects for relief under Johnson, which, as explained below, are non-existent, the Court will also grant counsel's motion to withdraw (Doc. 5).

         However, it appears Hanson has also raised, albeit obliquely, an argument that he is entitled to § 2255 relief based on the theory discussed in Mathis. The Court will not dismiss that ground at this time.

         II. § 2255 Standard

         The Court must grant a § 2255 motion when a defendant's “sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255. However, “[r]elief under § 2255 is available ‘only in extraordinary situations, such as an error of constitutional or jurisdictional magnitude or where a fundamental defect has occurred which results in a complete miscarriage of justice.'” United States v. Coleman, 763 F.3d 706, 708 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Blake v. United States, 723 F.3d 870, 878-79 (7th Cir. 2013)). It is proper to deny a § 2255 motion without an evidentiary hearing if “the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively demonstrate that the prisoner is entitled to no relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b); see Sandoval v. United States, 574 F.3d 847, 850 (7th Cir. 2009).

         III. Analysis

         A. Johnson

         Hanson filed this § 2255 motion arguing that his due process rights were violated when the Court applied the residual clause of the CO guideline to find his prior residential burglary conviction was a “crime of violence” supporting CO status and increasing his guidelines sentencing range.[1] At the time, the CO guideline stated, in pertinent part, that a prior offense is a crime of violence if it “is burglary of a dwelling, arson, or extortion, involves use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(a)(2) (2009) (enumerated offenses clause is in regular type; residual clause is italicized).

         The petitioner's argument relies on Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), which held that the use of the identical residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), to increase the statutory sentencing range is unconstitutional. Id. at 2563. This is because the vagueness of the clause denies fair notice to a defendant of his potential punishment and invites arbitrary enforcement by judges. Id. at 2557. In United States v. Hurlburt, 835 F.3d 715 (7th Cir. 2016) (en banc), the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals applied the same rationale to hold that use of the CO residual clause to support CO status, thereby increasing the guideline sentencing range, is also unconstitutional. Id. at 725.

         Hurlburt, however, was overruled by Beckles v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 886, 892 (2017), which held that sentencing guidelines are not amenable to vagueness challenges. This is because, unlike the statute at issue in Johnson, advisory guidelines “do not fix the permissible range of sentences” but “merely guide the exercise of a court's discretion in choosing an appropriate sentence within the statutory range.” Id.

         Even if the Court had relied on the residual clause to find Hanson's residential burglary conviction was a crime of violence, Beckles forecloses the petitioner's argument that he is entitled to ยง 2255 relief. There was nothing unconstitutional about the Court's using the CO residual clause to find Hanson's prior convictions were crimes of violence supporting CO status. This is because the Court's guideline range findings did not fix the sentencing range but merely ...

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