APPEALS FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
DISTRICT OF RHODE ISLAND [Hon. John J. McConnell, Jr., U.S.
District Judge, Hon. William E. Smith, U.S. District Judge]
C. Lockhart, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom
Stephen G. Dambruch, Acting United States Attorney, was on
brief, for appellant.
H. Mizner, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Federal Public
Defender Office, was on brief, for appellees.
Torruella, Kayatta, and Barron, Circuit Judges.
TORRUELLA, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Rose, Ike Weems, Anthony Sabetta, and Alberto
Rodríguez (collectively, the "Defendants")
brought motions under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set
aside, or correct their sentences. They argued that, in the
wake of Johnson v. United States
(Johnson II), 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), their
convictions for the Rhode Island offense of Assault with a
Dangerous Weapon (A/BDW), see R.I. Gen. Laws §
11-5-2(a), no longer qualify as predicate convictions
triggering the Armed Career Criminals Act's (ACCA)
mandatory 15-year sentence, see 18 U.S.C. §
924(e). The district court agreed with them, and granted
those motions. The government appealed. We affirm.
begin with an overview of this case's factual and
procedural background, which also gives us the opportunity to
review the law that is in play here.
facts relevant to this appeal are straightforward and
uncontested. All of the Defendants were convicted of
violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), which forbids from
possessing firearms individuals who have been convicted of
crimes that are punishable with over one year of
imprisonment. "In general, the law punishes violation of
this ban by up to 10 years' imprisonment."
Johnson II, 135 S.Ct. at 2555 (citing 18 U.S.C.
§ 924(a)(2)). "But if the violator has three or
more earlier convictions for a 'serious drug offense'
or a 'violent felony,' [ACCA] increases his prison
term to a minimum of 15 years and a maximum of life."
Id. (citing 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)). This was the
case for the Defendants, who all received mandatory sentences
of at least 15 years that relied at least in part on their
predicate convictions under R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-5-2(a).
the Defendants received their ACCA-enhanced sentences, the
Supreme Court decided Johnson II. That case
pertained to ACCA's definition of "violent
felony" for purposes of determining whether a
defendant's prior convictions trigger the statute's
15-year mandatory sentence. Under ACCA, a "violent
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[.]
18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B) (emphasis added). Johnson
II held that the last of these clauses -- known as the
"residual clause" (and emphasized above), 135 S.Ct.
at 2563 -- was void for vagueness. Then, in Welch
v. United States, the Supreme Court held
that Johnson II had announced a new substantive rule
that, as a result, would apply retroactively on collateral
review. 136 S.Ct. 1257, 1268 (2016). So today, ACCA-enhanced
sentences that depended on predicate convictions for offenses
qualifying as violent felonies under ACCA's residual
clause are now invalid unless those offenses are
either one of the offenses enumerated in §
924(e)(2)(B)(ii) or meet the force clause's definition of
"violent felony," see id. §
Defendants' § 2255 motions asserted that their
convictions under R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-5-2(a) are not
convictions for violent felonies under the force
clause. The Defendants therefore argued that they
do not have the three predicate convictions necessary support
their 15-year-plus sentences under ACCA. R.I. Gen. Laws
§ 11-5-2(a) establishes, in pertinent part, that
"[e]very person who shall make an assault or battery, or
both, with a dangerous weapon, or with acid or other
dangerous substance, or by fire, or an assault or battery
that results in serious bodily injury shall be guilty of a
felony assault." Id. The statute does not
expressly identify the mental state necessary to commit
A/BDW. This ends up complicating things.
Defendants' motions came before two different district
judges, who, with the parties' consent, held a joint
hearing and resolved the motions in a jointly issued
memorandum and order. United Statesv.Sabetta, 221 F.Supp.3d 210, 213 n.1 (D.R.I.
2016). That memorandum and order explained that
"Chief Judge Smith and ...