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Stallworth v. United States

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

November 5, 2019

ISAIAH DEVON STALLWORTH, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          ORDER

          FRANK D. WHITNEY CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on initial review of the Petitioner's Motion to Vacate Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. [CV Doc. 1].[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 16, 2017, Petitioner Isaiah Devon Stallworth (“Petitioner”) was charged in a Sealed Bill of Indictment, along with 82 co-defendants, with one count of Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d) (Count One); one count of aiding and abetting Hobbs Act robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1951 and 2 (Count Twenty); one count of aiding and abetting the use and brandishing of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, that is Hobbs Act robbery as set forth in Count Twenty, all in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c) and 2 (Count Twenty-One); and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349 (Count Sixty-Six). [Doc. 3: Sealed Indictment].

         On December 28, 2017, Petitioner and the Government entered into a Plea Agreement, pursuant to which Petitioner agreed to plead guilty to Counts One (RICO conspiracy) and Twenty-One (§ 924(c) with an aiding and abetting Hobbs Act robbery predicate) and the Government agreed to dismiss Counts Twenty and Sixty-Six. [CR Doc. 939: Plea Agreement]. On January 5, 2018, Petitioner pleaded guilty in accordance with the Plea Agreement. [CR Doc. 956: Acceptance and Entry of Guilty Plea].

         Petitioner's sentencing hearing was held on September 6, 2018. The Court sentenced Petitioner to 27 months on Count One and 84 months on Count Twenty-One to run consecutively to the term for Count One, for a total term of 111 months' imprisonment. [CR Doc. 2117 at 2: Judgment]. Judgment on this conviction was entered on September 26, 2018. [Id.]. Petitioner did not file a direct appeal from this Judgment.

         On October 1, 2019, Petitioner filed the pending Motion to Vacate Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, arguing that his conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) is invalid under Davis v. United States, 139 S.Ct. 2319 (2019). [CV Doc. 1]. Petitioner argues that his “enhancement” of 84 months' imprisonment under § 924(c) is invalid because RICO conspiracy is not a “crime of violence.” [CV Doc. at 10].

         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. On initial review and after examining the record in this matter, the Court finds that Petitioner has failed to state a cognizable claim and 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

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a petitioner is entitled to relief when his original sentence “was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or [when] the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). The Petitioner argues he is entitled to relief on these grounds because, under Davis, his “enhancement”[2] on Count Twenty-One was invalid because a conspiracy is not a “crime of violence.” [See CV Doc. 1 at 10-11].

         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 property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense” (the “residual clause”). 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3)(B). In Davis, the Supreme Court specifically held the residual clause of § 924(c)'s definition of “crime of violence” is “unconstitutionally vague.” 139 S.Ct. at 2336. As such, convictions under § 924(c) are valid only if the predicate crime is a “crime of violence” under the force clause. Here, Petitioner contends that his § 924(c) conviction is invalid because RICO conspiracy is not a crime of violence. Petitioner's claim is without merit. Petitioner is simply mistaken regarding which crime was the predicate for his § 924(c) charge. The Indictment is clear that Petitioner's § 924(c) charge was predicated on aiding and abetting Hobbs Act robbery, not RICO conspiracy:

[Petitioner] aided and abetted by others known and unknown to the Grandy Jury, did knowingly use and carry a firearm during in and in relation to a crime of violence for which the defendant may be prosecuted in a court of the United States, that is, Hobbs Act robbery in violation of Title 18, United States ...

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