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Watson v. United States

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

September 25, 2019

MARQUISE DESHAWN WATSON, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          ORDER

          Frank D. Whitney, Chief United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Petitioner’s Motion to Vacate Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 [CV Doc. 1][1] and the Government’s Response by United States to Motion to Vacate, Correct, or Set Aside Conviction and Sentence [CV Doc. 7]. Petitioner is represented by Joshua Carpenter of the Federal Defenders of Western North Carolina.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 16, 2012, Petitioner Marquise Deshawn Watson (“Petitioner”) was charged, along with 27 co-defendants, in a Bill of Indictment with one count of participating in a racketeering conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d) (Count One); one count of conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 (Count Two); one count of illegal use of a communication facility, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(b) (Count Three); one count of Hobbs Act robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1951, 2 (Count Twenty-Two); one count of using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to the Hobbs Act robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 924(c) (Count Twenty-Three); one count of conspiracy to commit a Hobbs Act robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1951, 2 (Count Twenty-Four); and one count of using and carrying a firearm in furtherance of the Hobbs Act conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (Count Twenty-Five). [CR Doc. 280: Superseding Indictment].

         On February 28, 2013, Petitioner and the Government entered into a Plea Agreement, pursuant to which Petitioner agreed to plead guilty to Counts One, Twenty-Two, Twenty-Four and Twenty-Five. [CR Doc. 352: Plea Agreement at 1]. The Petitioner faced a maximum term of 20 years’ imprisonment for Count One, see 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d); a maximum term of 20 years’ imprisonment for Count Twenty-Two, see 18 U.S.C. § 1951; a maximum term of 20 years’ imprisonment for Country Twenty-Four, see 18 U.S.C. § 1951; and a minimum term of five years to life imprisonment for County Twenty-Five, see 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).

         On March 6, 2013, Petitioner pleaded guilty in accordance with the plea agreement. [CR Doc. 370: Acceptance and Entry of Guilty Plea]. In preparation for sentencing, a probation officer prepared a Presentence Report (PSR). In the PSR, the probation officer noted the mandatory 5 years to life consecutive sentence for Petitioner’s § 924(c) conviction. [CR Doc. 697 at ¶ 131]. The probation officer found the Total Offense Level to be 25 and the Criminal History Category to be II, yielding a Guidelines Range calling for a term of imprisonment between 63 and 78 months, with the statutory term on Count Twenty-Five to run consecutively. [Id. at ¶¶ 94, 102, 131-32].

         The Petitioner was sentenced on January 28, 2014. At the hearing, the Court adopted the probation officer’s findings and sentenced Petitioner below the advisory Guideline range to a term of imprisonment of 37 months on each of Counts One, Twenty-Two, and Twenty-Four, to all run concurrently, and a consecutive term of 60 months on Count Twenty-Five, for a total term of 97 months’ imprisonment. [CR Doc. 43: Judgment; CR Doc. 794: Statement of Reasons]. Petitioner did not file a direct appeal from this Judgment.

         On June 18, 2016, the Petitioner filed the present motion to vacate sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, arguing that his conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) is invalid under Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). [CV Doc. 1]. Upon the request of the Government, this matter was stayed pending the Fourth Circuit’s decision in United States v. Ali, No. 15-4433, or United States v. Simms, No. 15-4640. The Fourth Circuit then ordered that Ali would be held in abeyance pending the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Davis, No. 18-431. On the Government’s request, this matter was in turn stayed pending Davis. [CV Doc. 5]. The Supreme Court decided Davis on June 24, 2019. The Government timely filed its response motion and moved to dismiss Petitioner’s § 2255 motion to vacate. [CV Doc. 7]. The Petitioner responded to the Government’s motion to dismiss. [Doc. 8].

         Having been fully briefed, this matter is ripe for disposition.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 4(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings provides that courts are to promptly examine motions to vacate, along with “any attached exhibits and the record of prior proceedings” in order to determine whether the petitioner is entitled to any relief on the claims set forth therein. After examining the record in this matter, the Court finds that the motion to vacate can be resolved without an evidentiary hearing based on the record and governing case law. See Raines v. United States, 423 F.2d 526, 529 (4th Cir. 1970).

         III. DISCUSSION

         In Johnson, the Supreme Court struck down the Armed Career Criminal Act’s (ACCA) residual clause, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii), as unconstitutionally vague and held that enhancing a sentence under the ACCA’s residual clause violates due process. Johnson, 135 S.Ct. at 2563. The ACCA residual clause defined a “violent felony” to include any crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year that “otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B). Accordingly, under Johnson, a defendant who was sentenced to a statutory mandatory minimum term of imprisonment based on a prior conviction that satisfies only the residual clause of the “violent felony” definition is entitled to relief from his sentence. The Supreme Court has held that Johnson applies retroactively to claims asserted on collateral review. Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257, 1265 (2016).

         Here, in his Section 2255 Motion to Vacate, the Petitioner argues his § 924(c) conviction is invalid under Johnson. [Doc. 1 at 1]. Section 924(c) criminalizes the use of a firearm in furtherance of a “crime of violence.” Under § 924(c), a crime is one of violence if it either “has an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, ” (the “force clause”) or “by its nature involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or ...


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