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Bethel v. United States

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

June 15, 2018

VICTON Y. BETHEL, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          OPINION

          RICHARD MILLS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On August 24, 2015, Petitioner Victon Y. Bethel filed a motion to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.

         Initially, the motion was denied.

         Pending before the Court is the Petitioner's motion for reconsideration.

         I.

         On August 27, 2015, the Court entered an Opinion denying the motion. On September 16, 2015, the Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration, claiming he is entitled to relief under Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). On October 13, 2015, the Court appointed the Federal Public Defender to assist the Petitioner in determining if he may qualify for habeas relief. At the time, it was uncertain whether the rule in Johnson addressing certain language in a statute would be extended to the guidelines. The Parties filed briefs pertaining to the issues raised in the motion for reconsideration.

         Initially, the Government did not contest the Petitioner's claim that Johnson applies to the guidelines. The Government instead contended Johnson is not retroactively applicable to guidelines cases on collateral review and, further, that Petitioner had waived his right to file a § 2255 motion and also procedurally defaulted his claim because he had failed to challenge his career offender designation on direct appeal.

         Soon thereafter, the United States Supreme Court decided Beckles v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 886 (2017). The Court concludes that the Petitioner's habeas claim is foreclosed by Beckles, wherein the Court held that the advisory sentencing guidelines are not amenable to vagueness challenges. See id. at 892.

         II.

         On March 25, 2008, the Petitioner was determined to be a career offender and sentenced to 168 months imprisonment. See United States v. Victon Y. Bethel, No. 07-30080. In his motion, he sought to challenge his sentence under Johnson, wherein the United States Supreme Court held that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act is unconstitutionally vague. The Seventh Circuit later held that because Johnson announced a new substantive rule of constitutional law, it has retroactive application to cases on collateral review. See Price v. United States, 795 F.3d 731, 734 (7th Cir. 2015).

         The Petitioner was sentenced under the post-Booker advisory guidelines scheme. At sentencing, the Petitioner was determined to be a career offender based on a prior felony drug conviction and a felony aggravated battery conviction. The Petitioner's presentence investigation report relied on two previous convictions in determining he qualified as a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1. One was an aggravated battery conviction from Morgan County, Illinois, Case Number 98-CF-128. The aggravated battery conviction was determined to be a qualifying conviction for the career offender guideline pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(a), which defines “crime of violence.” In this supplemental memorandum, the Petitioner contends that the determination his prior conviction for aggravated battery involved conduct that presented a serious potential risk of physical injury to another amounts to an unconstitutionally vague standard.

         In Johnson, the United States Supreme Court held that “imposing an increased sentence under the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act violates the Constitution's guarantee of due process.” Id. at 2563. This Court appointed counsel based on the possibility that the Petitioner's sentence may be incompatible with Johnson, which the Seventh Circuit determined to be a new rule of constitutional law. See Price, 795 F.3d at 734. In 2017, however, the United States Supreme Court held that the advisory Guidelines are not subject to vagueness challenges under the Due Process Clause. See Beckles, 137 S.Ct. at 890. Unlike the statute that was before the Court 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. at 892. Accordingly, the rule in Johnson does not apply to the guidelines. See id.

         Beckles was decided by the Supreme Court on March 6, 2017. Prior to that decision, the Seventh Circuit held in United States v. Hurlburt, 835 F.3d 715 (7th Cir. 2016) that vagueness challenges against the guidelines were permissible. See id. at 725. The Supreme Court then in Beckles overturned Hurlburt. See United States v. Cook, 850 F.3d 328, 333 (7th Cir. 2017) (“This week, the Supreme Court overturned that decision, holding that ‘the Guidelines are not subject to a vagueness challenge under the Due Process Clause.'”). Accordingly, the rule in Beckles forecloses the Petitioner's vagueness challenge.

         The Petitioner's § 2255 motion depends entirely on the premise that the advisory Guidelines may be attacked as unconstitutionally vague. However, the Supreme Court has now determined that the reasoning of Johnson does not extend to the career offender guideline's residual clause (or any other allegedly vague guideline provision). Therefore, the determination that Petitioner's aggravated battery conviction involved conduct that ...


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