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Velleff v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

April 20, 2018

RANDY D. VELLEFF, Movant,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Joan H. Lefkow U.S. District Judge.

         Randy D. Velleff moves to vacate his conviction and sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (Dkt. I.)[1] On July 10, 2003, a jury found Velleff guilty of conspiracy to commit a robbery affecting interstate commerce in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951 (Hobbs Act conspiracy) (count 1); conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute in excess of five kilograms of cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 (count 2); possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence (specifically identified as Hobbs Act conspiracy as laid out in count 1) in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(a) (count 3); attempted robbery affecting commerce in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951 (count 4); and attempted possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (count 5). (Cr. dkt. 83.) Velleff was initially sentenced to 430 months in prison. (Cr. dkt. 105.) The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals remanded his case following United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), and his sentence was subsequently reduced to 300 months: 240 months' imprisonment on the robbery and drug convictions and a consecutive 60 months' imprisonment on the § 924(c) conviction. (Cr. dkt. 130.) Velleff s 300- month sentence was affirmed on appeal. In 2010, Velleff filed a collateral attack on his sentence pursuant to § 2255 that was denied. According to the Bureau of Prisons' website, https://www.bop.gov/inmateloc, Velleff is scheduled to be released from custody on March 26, 2024.

         On May 31, 2016, Velleff moved the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for leave to file a second petition, seeking to use Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S.__, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 192 L.Ed.2d 569 (2015), to challenge his designation as a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1. The Seventh Circuit denied that request but granted Velleff leave to challenge his conviction under § 924(c).[2] (Dkt 2 at 2.) Having considered the submissions of the parties, the court grants the motion to vacate the conviction.[3]

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Section 2255 allows a person held in federal custody to petition the sentencing court for an order vacating, setting aside, or correcting his sentence. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Relief under § 2255 is "reserved for extraordinary situations." Hays v. United States, 397 F.3d 564, 566 (7th Cir. 2005 (quoting Prewitt v. United States, 83 F.3d 812, 816 (7th Cir. 1996). A petitioner must establish "that the district court sentenced him in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law or is otherwise subject to collateral attack." Id. at 566-67 (quoting Prewitt, 83 F.3d at 816). 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).

         ANALYSIS

         Velleff was sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 60 months' imprisonment on the § 924(c)(1)(A) conviction, which applies to a defendant who uses or carries a firearm during the commission of any "crime of violence." A "crime of violence" is defined as a felony that either "has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, " 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3)(A) (force clause), or "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 [felony], " id. § 924(c)(3)(B) (residual clause). Here, as stated in the indictment, the specific underlying crime of violence was count 1, Hobbs Act conspiracy. (See cr. dkt. at 7.)

         In Johnson \. United States, 576 U.S.__, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 192 L.Ed.2d 569 (2015), the Supreme Court found unconstitutionally vague the residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(2)(b)(ii). Velleff argues that his five-year sentence under § 924(c) cannot be sustained because Johnson renders that statute's similar residual clause unconstitutionally vague. The government disputes this assertion and further argues that Velleff s Johnson claim is untimely and has been procedurally defaulted for failure to raise it on direct appeal as well as that Hobbs Act conspiracy is a crime of violence under 924(c)'s force clause.

         I. Section 924(c)'s Residual Clause Is Unconstitutional

         Much of the government's opposition is dedicated to the argument that § 924(c)'s residual clause is not unconstitutional post-Johnson. Addressing that issue first allows the court to more easily explain why Velleff s petition is neither time barred nor procedurally defaulted. In Johnson, the Supreme Court held that ACCA's residual clause, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2), is unconstitutionally vague. Johnson, 135 S.Ct. at 2557. Applying the new constitutional rule announced in Johnson, [4]the Seventh Circuit has held § 924(c)(3)(B) to be unconstitutionally vague. United States v. Cardena, 842 F.3d 959, 996 (7th Cir. 2016); United States v. Jackson, 865 F.3d 946, 952 (7th Cir. 2017). While the government argues strenuously against that holding, the court must follow Seventh Circuit precedent, which unequivocally states that § 924(c)'s residual clause is unconstitutionally vague.

         II. Velleff s Motion Is Not Untimely

         Generally, the statute of limitations for filing a successive motion is one year from the date the petitioner's conviction becomes final. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(1). A motion, however, may also be filed within one year after a right is newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(3). Johnson was decided on June 26, 2105. The government argues that Velleff did not file his petition with the court until January 20, 2017, more than one year after Johnson, and therefore he has not complied with § 2255(f)(3). The court acknowledges that certain docket entries could be seen as supportive of this interpretation. But Velleff sought leave to file a successive § 2255 petition on May 31, 2016, and the Seventh Circuit, in granting that request, specifically stated "The clerk of court will transfer the papers to district court for filing as a § 2255 action." (Dkt. 2 at 3.) Therefore, Velleff s motion was filed June 17, 2016.[5] (See dkt. 1.) Because that date is within one year of the decision in Johnson, Velleff s motion is not untimely.

         III. Velleff s Motion Is Not Procedurally Defaulted

         The government argues that Velleff has procedurally defaulted his claim by not raising it on appeal. Generally, a defendant is barred from raising an argument on collateral review that was not raised on direct appeal. See Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon,548 U.S. 331, 350-51, 126 S.Ct. 2669, 2682, 165 L.Ed.2d 557 (2006). The court may, however, excuse procedural default if the defendant can demonstrate either "(1) both good cause failure to raise the claims on direct appeal and actual prejudice from the failure to raise those claims; or (ii) that the district court's refusal to ...


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