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Reid v. United States

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 19, 2017

DAMION REID, Petitioner/Defendant,


          MICHAEL A. PONSOR United States District Judge.


         Following Petitioner's plea of guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine base, this court found, based on his prior convictions, that Petitioner was a Career Offender under § 4B1.1 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines (U.S.S.G.). In light of this finding, on June 1, 2004, the court sentenced Petitioner to an enhanced prison term of 188 months. Petitioner now seeks relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, arguing that two subsequent Supreme Court cases -- Johnson v. United States, 559 U.S. 133 (2010) (Johnson I) and Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015) (Johnson II) -- compel a finding that his Career Offender sentence violated due process.

         The hitch is that the two Johnson decisions titularly addressed only sentences carried out under the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e) (ACCA), and not sentences like Petitioner's, imposed under the Career Offender provisions of the Sentencing Guidelines. Initially, the overwhelming majority of district courts and courts of appeals applied the Johnson holdings in Guidelines as well as ACCA contexts, because their definitions of a “crime of violence” employed virtually identical language. See Beckles v. United States, -- U.S. -, 137 S.Ct. 886, 902 n.3 (2017) (Sotomayor, J., concurring).

         Beckles reversed this flow of authority, at least to some extent. The Supreme Court held that “the advisory [Sentencing] Guidelines are not subject to vagueness challenges under the Due Process Clause.” Beckles, 137 S.Ct. at 890 (emphasis added). The use of the term “advisory” is critical. Until the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), the Sentencing Guidelines had been mandatory. Beckles makes clear that if Petitioner had been sentenced as a Career Offender after the 2005 Booker decision, the Johnson authorities would not assist him in obtaining relief now.

         As noted above, however, Petitioner was sentenced in June 2004, before Booker. This case therefore raises the question whether Beckles bars a due process challenge to a prison sentence imposed under the Career Offender provisions of the Sentencing Guidelines at a time when the Guidelines were not advisory, but mandatory.

         Because Beckles itself makes clear that its holding does not govern sentences imposed under the non-advisory, pre-Booker sentencing regime, and because the logic of the Johnson decisions makes them fully applicable in a pre-Booker, mandatory Guidelines context, the court will allow Defendant's motion to correct his sentence and set the case for re-sentencing.


         The underlying facts are as follows. On June 19, 2003, Petitioner was charged in a one-count indictment with distributing and possessing with intent to distribute cocaine base (Dkt. No. 1). Petitioner subsequently pled guilty, and on June 1, 2004, he appeared for sentencing. In weighing Petitioner's potential prison term, the court applied the Career Offender provisions of the Sentencing Guidelines. U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1. These provisions substantially elevate a defendant's sentence where he is at least eighteen years old at the time of his offense; the offense of conviction is either a crime of violence or a drug offense; and the defendant has at least two previous convictions for either a crime of violence or a drug offense. Id.

         At the June 1, 2004, sentencing the court found, without substantial dispute, that Petitioner qualified for the Career Offender enhancement. He was over eighteen at the time of his serious drug offense. Moreover, as of 2004, he appeared to have four qualifying prior convictions: three for violent offenses and one for an earlier serious drug offense. The appropriateness of the drug offense, a 1997 conviction for distribution of a Class B substance, as a predicate for an enhanced Career Offender sentence is not a matter of debate. The impact of the three “violent offense” convictions under current law, however, is now highly doubtful.

         The violent offense convictions comprised an October 1996 conviction for assault and battery on a police officer and resisting arrest; a November 1996 conviction for assault and battery and intimidation of a witness; and a February 1997 conviction for breaking and entering in the daytime. Prior to the Johnson decisions, a sentencing court would assess whether a particular prior conviction was a violent offense by following one of two analytical avenues set forth in U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2 -- applying either the “force” clause or the “residual” clause. To constitute a crime of violence under the force clause, the offense had to have “as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another.” Id. § 4B1.2(a)(1). For the residual clause to apply, the offense had to be one of four specific categories of crime (burglary of a dwelling, arson, extortion, or a crime involving the use of explosives) or a crime that “otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(a)(2) (Nov. 1, 2003). The definitions set forth in the residual and force clauses contained in the Career Offender provisions of the Sentencing Guidelines tracked virtually identical language contained in the ACCA.[1] See 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(i) & (ii).

         At the 2004 sentencing hearing, no significant argument was offered as to whether the three identified convictions qualified as violent offenses under, at least, the residual clause of U.S.S.G. 4B1.2. Since, with these prior convictions plus the drug conviction, Petitioner had four predicates -- two would have been sufficient -- he fell into the Career Offender category.

         The effect of this designation was to nearly triple Petitioner's potential sentence, increasing his Offense Level from 23 to 34. With a Criminal History Category VI, Petitioner's resulting Sentencing Guidelines range rose from 92-115 months to 262-327 months.

         After hearing argument at sentencing, and reviewing the report of a forensic psychologist, the court determined that Petitioner suffered from significantly reduced mental capacity that contributed substantially to the commission of the underlying offense. As of 2004, this qualified Petitioner for a rare “departure” under the Sentencing Guidelines. See U.S.S.G. § 5K2.13. Based on this “diminished capacity” basis for departure, the court lowered Petitioner's Offense Level by three notches to a level 31 and imposed a sentence at the bottom of the resulting range, 188 months. While Petitioner obviously benefitted ...

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