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Sampson v. United States

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

July 31, 2019

ERIC CREIGHTON SAMPSON, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          ORDER

          MAX O. COGBURN JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Petitioner's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. [Doc. 1]. Also pending is Petitioner's Motion to Amend/Correct Petitioner's Motion to Vacate. [Doc. 21]. Petitioner is represented by Noell Tin of the law firm of Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, PLLC.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Petitioner's offense conduct

         Between 1992 and 1995, Petitioner participated in a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute powder and crack cocaine in the Charlotte area. [Doc. 11 at ¶ 8: PSR]. The conspiracy was responsible for the distribution of more than 19 kilograms of crack cocaine, and members of the conspiracy, including Petitioner, regularly carried firearms during drug transactions. [Id. at ¶¶ 8-10]. Additionally, members of the conspiracy obtained some of the powder and crack cocaine they distributed by robbing other drug dealers. [Id. at ¶¶ 8, 12].

         B. Petitioner's conviction and sentence

         Petitioner was indicted by the grand jury and charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute powder and crack cocaine within 1, 000 feet of a protected area, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 846, and 860. [Criminal No. 3:95-cr-00031-MOC-1, [1] CR Docs. 1, 8: Indictment]. Petitioner was convicted of the conspiracy offense after a jury trial. [CR Doc. 190: Jury Verdict]. The probation officer prepared a Presentence Report and began with a base offense level of 38 based on Petitioner's responsibility for more than 1.5 kilograms of crack cocaine. [Doc. 11 at ¶ 19]. The probation officer recommended a two-level enhancement based on Petitioner's possession of a firearm during the drug-trafficking conspiracy, a three-level enhancement based on Petitioner's role as manager or supervisor in the conspiracy, and a two-level enhancement because Petitioner was responsible for the distribution of cocaine within 1, 000 feet of playgrounds and schools, resulting in an adjusted offense level of 45. [Id. at ¶¶ 20, 22, 24, 25]. Based on Petitioner's two prior convictions for assault on a female, the probation officer concluded that Petitioner was a career offender under Sentencing Guidelines § 4B1.1. [Id. at ¶ 28]. However, because application of the career-offender guideline resulted in an adjusted offense level of 37, below the otherwise-applicable adjusted offense level of 45, the probation officer calculated a total offense level of 45. [Id. at ¶¶ 28-29]. This offense level was automatically reduced to a level of 43, which resulted in a Sentencing Guidelines term of life in prison. [Id. at ¶ 64]. Adopting the PSR, this Court sentenced Petitioner to life in prison. [CR Doc. 217: Judgment].

         C. Petitioner's post-conviction background

         Petitioner appealed, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed this Court's judgment. United States v. Sampson, 140 F.3d 585 (4th Cir. 1998).[2] On April 5, 1999, Petitioner filed his first motion to vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. [Civil No. 3:99-cv-127, Doc. 1]. This Court dismissed Petitioner's motion on the merits with prejudice on July 25, 2001. [Id., Doc. 21]. On April 17, 2009, Petitioner filed a motion for a reduced sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) and Amendment 706 to the United States Sentencing Guidelines. [CR Doc. 308]. This Court determined that a two-level reduction in Petitioner's total offense level based on Amendment 706 would result in a total offense level of 42. [Id. at 318]. Based on this determination, this Court granted Petitioner's § 3582(c)(2) motion, reducing Sampson's sentence to 360 months in prison. [Id. at 318]. On October 5, 2012, this Court denied Petitioner's motion for a sentence reduction based on Amendment 750 to the United States Sentencing Guidelines.[3] [Id. at 368].

         On June 15, 2015, a North Carolina state-court judge granted Petitioner's motion for appropriate relief and vacated one of his two prior convictions for assault on a female. [Doc. 1 at 14-16]. Two weeks later, Petitioner filed the pending motion to vacate, arguing that he was improperly designated a career offender and seeking relief from his sentence. [Doc. 1].

         On August 17, 2015, the probation office submitted a Supplemental Presentence Report addressing Petitioner's eligibility for a sentence reduction under § 3582(c)(2) based on Amendment 782 to the United States Sentencing Guidelines. [CR Doc. 393]. The probation office noted in its Supplemental PSR that Sampson's total offense level, even with the reduction, was a level 38, below the level 37 that applied based on his career-offender designation. [Id.]. One month later, on September 18, 2015, this Court denied Petitioner a reduction based on Amendment 782. [Id. at 401].

         On November 18, 2015, the Government filed a response in opposition to Petitioner's motion to vacate and a motion to dismiss this action. [Doc. 7]. On December 23, 2015, Petitioner filed a Reply to the Government's response, asserting for the first time that he was improperly classified as a career offender because North Carolina's offense of assault on a female does not qualify as a “crime of violence” under Sentencing Guidelines § 4B1.2 and that he did not otherwise have two prior convictions for a crime of violence or controlled substance offense. [Doc. 10 at 11-13; see also U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1 (defining a career offender as a defendant who has “at least two prior felony convictions of either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense”)]. To support this argument, Petitioner relied on the Fourth Circuit's decision in United States v. Vinson, 805 F.3d 120 (4th Cir. 2015). [Doc. 10 at 1]. Petitioner also sought to add an alternative claim for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. [Id. at 13]. This Court permitted the amended claims. [Doc. 12]. The Government filed a response in opposition to Petitioner's amended claims, arguing that they were procedurally defaulted, not cognizable under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, and failed as a matter of law under § 2241. [Doc. 13].

         Six months after the Government filed its response, this Court ordered Petitioner to supplement his amended reply to the Government's response to his motion to vacate and ordered the United States to file a surreply. Seven months later, Petitioner filed an amended reply and a motion to further amend his motion to vacate. [Docs. 21, 22]. For the first time, Petitioner asserted a claim that his sentence was imposed in violation of the Due Process Clause, pursuant to the Supreme Court's holding in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), in which the Court held that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), is unconstitutionally vague.[4] [See id.]. The Government filed a response and surreply. On May 11, 2017, this Court stayed this action pending the Fourth Circuit's decision in United States v. Brown. [Doc. 24]. On March 12, 2018, Petitioner filed a supplemental memorandum, conceding that Brown forecloses his Johnson claim. [Doc. 25]. On November 30, 2018, the Court stayed this action pending resolution of the Government petitioner for certiorari to the Supreme Court in United States v. Wheeler, 734 Fed.Appx. 892 (4th Cir. 2018). [Doc. 29]. In March 2019, the Supreme Court denied certiorari in Wheeler. Thereafter, on April 5, 2019, the stay was lifted on Petitioner's motion to lift stay and for order granting relief under Wheeler. The parties responded and replied, respectively [Docs. 34, 36], and the matter is now ripe for disposition.

         II. ...


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