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Taylor v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

August 18, 2017



          Frank D. Whitney, Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court upon Petitioner Donnell Alexander Taylor's pro se Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. No. 1), and “Motion to Supplement” his § 2255 Motion to Vacate (Doc. No. 5).

         I. BACKGROUND

         On December 4, 2006, a federal jury convicted Taylor of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine and aiding and abetting the same, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 851 and 18 U.S.C. § 2 (Count One); possession of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (Count Two), and possession of a firearm by a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) (Count Three). Verdict, Doc. 48.[1] Prior to sentencing, a presentence report (“PSR”) was prepared using the 2006 United States Sentencing Guidelines (“U.S.S.G.”) Manual, and the probation officer concluded Taylor qualified for an enhanced sentence as a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1. PSR, Doc. 69 ¶¶ 20, 32, 34-35. According to the PSR, Taylor qualified as a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1, based on his prior North Carolina convictions for Assault with Deadly Weapon Inflicting Serious Injury (“AWDWISI”), Possession With Intent to Manufacture, Sell or Deliver Marijuana, and Possession With Intent to Sell and Deliver Cocaine. Id. at ¶ 20.

         The probation officer calculated a guidelines sentencing range of 420 months to life in prison for all three counts. Id. at ¶ 64. The statutory term of imprisonment for Count One was 120 months to life in prison, while Count Two carried a mandatory consecutive sentence of at least five years. Id. The statutory term for Count Three was a maximum of 10 years. Id.

         This Court sentenced Taylor to 480-month and 120-month concurrent prison terms for Counts One and Three, respectively, and to a term of 60 months' imprisonment for Count Two, to run consecutively to Counts One and Three. Judgment 2, Doc. 54. Judgment was affirmed on appeal. United States v. Taylor, 283 F. App'x 172, 176 (4th Cir. 2008) (unpublished).

         Taylor filed a timely § 2255 motion to vacate, which this Court dismissed. Order, Taylor v. United States, No. 3:09-cv-00089-FDW (W.D.N.C July 20, 2009), Doc. No. 2. Thereafter, he filed several unauthorized successive motions to vacate, which were dismissed.[2]

         On June 20, 2016, Taylor sought authorization to file a successive motion to vacate in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, contending that under the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), made retroactive to cases on collateral review, Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257 (2016), he no longer qualifies as a career offender under the federal sentencing guidelines and should be resentenced. (Pet., Doc. No. 1.) The Fourth Circuit granted Taylor's motion and authorized him to file a successive § 2255 motion based on Johnson. (4th Cir. Order, Doc. No. 1-1.) Taylor filed the instant Motion to Supplement his § 2255 Motion to Vacate on November 14, 2016. (Doc. No. 5).


         Pursuant to Rule 4(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings in the United States District Court, sentencing courts are directed to examine motions to vacate, along with “any attached exhibits and the record of prior proceedings” in order to determine whether a petitioner is entitled to any relief. If it plainly appears that the petitioner is not entitled to relief, the court must dismiss the motion. See id. After conducting its initial review, the Court finds that the claims presented in the Motion to Vacate can be resolved based on the record and governing case law. See Raines v. United States, 423 F.2d 526, 529 (4th Cir. 1970).


         A. Johnson Claim

         In Johnson v. United States, the Supreme Court held that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), is unconstitutionally vague under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. 135 S.Ct. at 2558. The ACCA provides for a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison for a defendant convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), if the defendant has at least three prior convictions for serious drug offenses or violent felonies. See § 924(e)(1). “Violent felony” is defined in the ACCA as “any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” 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.” § 924(e)(2)(B) (emphasis added).

         The italicized closing words of § 924(e)(2)(B) constitute the ACCA's residual clause. Johnson, 135 S.Ct. at 2556. The Court left intact the remainder of the ACCA's “violent felony” definition, including the four enumerated offenses and the “force clause.” Id. at 2563. Thus, a defendant who was sentenced under the ACCA to a mandatory minimum term in prison based on a prior conviction that satisfies only ...

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