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Brown v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

July 10, 2017




         BEFORE THE COURT is the [50] Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct a Federal Sentence Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 filed by Defendant Will Robertson Brown. Having reviewed the applicable law and the submissions of the parties, the Court finds that Brown's Motion should be denied because at least three of his previous state court convictions qualify as violent felonies under the “elements clause” of 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(i).


         Brown was convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) of being a felon in possession of a firearm. This conviction resulted in an enhanced sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1), part of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), to 188 months and five years supervised release. Specifically, § 924(e)(1) sets a mandatory 15 year (180 months) minimum sentence for a person who violates § 922(g) and has three previous convictions for a violent felony. At the time of Brown's sentence, a crime could qualify as a violent felony under the “elements clause, ” the “enumerated crimes clause, ” or the “residual clause” of § 924(e)(2)(B). Because the Court found that Brown had at least three previous convictions for a violent felony, Brown was subject to the minimum sentence set out in § 924(e)(1).

         In 2015, after Brown's sentencing, the United States Supreme Court held that the “residual clause” of § 924(e)(2)(B) violated the Constitution's guarantee of due process. Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 2563 (2015). Brown then filed this Motion arguing that his previous Mississippi state court convictions qualified as violent felonies only under the “residual clause” and should no longer be considered violent felonies under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B). For the reasons discussed below, Brown's Motion is denied.


         Section 2255 provides four grounds for relief: (1) “that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States;” (2) “that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence;” (3) “that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law;” and (4) that the sentence is otherwise “subject to collateral attack.” 28 U.S.C. § 2225(a). Brown contends, based on the Supreme Court's Johnson (2015) ruling, that his prior state court convictions for burglary and larceny, aggravated assault, and aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer are not violent felonies under the ACCA, and thus that he is entitled to a sentence correction. The Court discusses each conviction in turn below.

         Aggravated Assault and Aggravated Assault Against a Law Enforcement Officer

         Courts employ a categorical approach when classifying a prior conviction for sentencing enhancement purposes. See Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575, 602 (1990). Under this approach, “the analysis is grounded in the elements of the statute of conviction rather than a defendant's specific conduct.” United States v. Rodriguez, 711 F.3d 541, 549 (5th Cir. 2013) (en banc). In Johnson v. United States, 559 U.S. 133 (2010), the United States Supreme Court clarified that in order for a statute to qualify under the elements clause, the statute must have an element of “physical force, ” that is, “violent force” capable of causing physical pain or injury to another person. Id. at 140.

         If “a statute contains multiple, disjunctive subsections, ” courts apply a modified categorical approach. See United States v. Sanchez-Espinal, 762 F.3d 425, 429 (5th Cir. 2014). Under this approach, “courts may ‘look beyond the statute to certain conclusive records made or used in adjudicating guilt in order to determine which particular statutory alternative applies to the defendant's conviction'” and apply the categorical approach to that version of the crime. Id. (quoting United States v. Bonilla-Mungia, 422 F.3d 316, 320 (5th Cir. 2005)). “[A court] may review ‘the statutory definition, charging document, written plea agreement, transcript of plea colloquy, and any explicit factual finding by the trial judge to which the defendant assented'” in order to determine under which subsection the defendant was charged. See United States v. Elizondo-Hernandez, 755 F.3d 779, 781 (5th Cir. 2014) (quoting Shepard v. United States, 125 S.Ct. 1254 (2005)). A criminal statute must be divisible-that is, the statute must “comprise[ ] multiple, alternative versions of the crime”-in order for the modified categorical approach to apply. Descamps v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2276, 2283-84 (2013).

         The Mississippi aggravated assault statute under which Brown was convicted states in pertinent part:

A person is guilty of aggravated assault if he:
(i) attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another, or causes such injury purposely, knowingly or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life; or
(ii) attempts to cause or purposely or knowingly causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon or other means likely to ...

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