191 F.Supp.3d 178 (D.Conn. 2016), C. A. 16-CV-293 (JCH), Villanueva v. United States

Docket Nº:CIVIL ACTION 16-CV-293 (JCH)
Citation:191 F.Supp.3d 178
Opinion Judge:Janet C. Hall, United States District Judge.
Party Name:RICHARD VILLANUEVA, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent
Attorney:CIVIL ACTION NO. 16-CV-293 (JCH) For Richard Villanueva, Petitioner: Charles F. Willson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Federal Public Defender's Office - Htfd, Hartford, CT. For USA, Respondent: John B. Hughes, Robert M. Spector, William J. Nardini, LEAD ATTORNEYS, U.S. Attorney's Office-NH, New Haven, CT; Mark...
Case Date:June 10, 2016
Court:United States District Courts, 2nd Circuit, District of Connecticut
 
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191 F.Supp.3d 178 (D.Conn. 2016)

RICHARD VILLANUEVA, Petitioner,

v.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent

CIVIL ACTION NO. 16-CV-293 (JCH)

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 10, 2016

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For Richard Villanueva, Petitioner: Charles F. Willson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Federal Public Defender's Office - Htfd, Hartford, CT.

For USA, Respondent: John B. Hughes, Robert M. Spector, William J. Nardini, LEAD ATTORNEYS, U.S. Attorney's Office-NH, New Haven, CT; Mark G. Califano, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office-BPT, Bridgeport, CT; Paul A. Murphy, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office - NJ, Newark, NJ.

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RULING RE: PETITIONER'S SUCCESSIVE MOTION TO VACATE, SET ASIDE, OR CORRECT SENTENCE (DOC. NO. 1)

Janet C. Hall, United States District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Richard Villanueva (" Villanueva" ) moves to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under section 2255 of title 28 of the United States Code (" section 2255" ). Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence (" Motion" ) (Doc. No. 1). Villanueva claims that his sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (" ACCA" ), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), is invalid in light of Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 192 L.Ed.2d 569 (2015). Motion at 1. The United States opposes the Motion on the ground that Villanueva's prior convictions qualify as ACCA predicates notwithstanding Johnson. Gov't's Resp. to Villanueva's Pet. (" Opposition" ) (Doc. No. 5) at 1.

For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is GRANTED, the sentence VACATED, and the case will be set down for resentencing.

II. BACKGROUND

On June 3, 1999, a Bridgeport grand jury returned an indictment charging Villanueva with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of section 924(g)(1) of title 18 of the United States Code. Indictment (Crim. Case No. 99-CR-112 (Doc. No. 1)). The Indictment further alleged four prior felony convictions: the first for the sale of narcotics on January 27, 1988, in violation of section 21a-277(a) of the Connecticut General Statutes; the second for possession of narcotics with intent to sell on May 29, 1990, in violation of section 21a-279(a) of the Connecticut General Statutes; 1 the third for assault in the first degree on May 29, 1990, in violation of section 53a-59(a); and the fourth for assault on an officer on November 10, 1992, in violation of section 53a-167c. Id. On November 10, 1999, a jury convicted Villanueva of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

On February 1, 2000, this court held a sentencing hearing. At that hearing, the court concluded that the two prior drug convictions qualified as " serious drug offenses" within the meaning of ACCA, see Sent'g Trans. (" Transcript" ) (Crim. Case No. 99-CR-112 (Doc. No. 57)) 12:2-13:11, and, without discussion, concluded that at least one of the two assault convictions constituted " violent felonies" within the meaning of ACCA. The parties stipulated to the fact that Villanueva was ACCA eligible, and the court did not state on the record under which provision of ACCA the assaults constituted " violent felonies." See generally id.

On October 2, 2000, the Second Circuit affirmed Villanueva's conviction and sentence. Mandate (Crim. Case No. 99-CR-112 (Doc. No. 60)). On December 31, 2000,

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Villanueva's time to file for a petition for a writ of certiorari expired, S.Ct. R. 13, and his conviction thus became final for purposes of collateral review under section 2255 of title 28 of the United States Code. Clay v. United States, 537 U.S. 522, 525, 123 S.Ct. 1072, 155 L.Ed.2d 88 (2003).

On July 29, 2003, this court denied Villanueva's first Motion under section 2255. Ruling (Crim. Case No. 99-CR-112 (Doc. No. 80)). The Second Circuit affirmed the denial of his first Motion on July 19, 2005. Mandate (Crim. Case No. 99-CR-112 (Doc. No. 101)).

On February 16, 2016, the Second Circuit granted Villanueva's Motion for Leave to File a Successive Section 2255 Motion. See Mandate (Crim. Case No. 99-CR-112 (Doc. No. 119)). In its Mandate, the Circuit directed this court " to address, as a preliminary inquiry under [28 U.S.C.] § 2244(b)(4), whether the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson[ v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 192 L.Ed.2d 569 (2015)] announced a new rule of constitutional law made retroactive to cases on collateral review, and thus permits [Villanueva]'s new § 2255 claim to proceed." Id. at 2. The court further directed this court to " determine whether the assault convictions remain proper ACCA predicates after Johnson, and what evidence may be considered in making that determination." Id.

Villanueva filed the instant Motion on February 23, 2016. On April 18, 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that Johnson announced a new substantive rule that has retroactive effect in cases on collateral review. Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257, 1265, 194 L.Ed.2d 387 (2016).

III. LEGAL STANDARD

Section 2255 of title 28 of the United States Code provides, in relevant part: A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress claiming the right to be released upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack, may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.

28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). As a general matter, " collateral attack on a final judgment in a criminal case is generally available under [section] 2255 only for a constitutional error, a lack of jurisdiction in the sentencing court, or an error of law or fact that constitutes a fundamental defect which inherently results in [a] complete miscarriage of justice." Graziano v. United States, 83 F.3d 587, 589-90 (2d Cir. 1996) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

The movant carries the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he is entitled to relief under section 2255. See, e.g., Triana v. United States, 205 F.3d 36, 40 (2d Cir. 2000).

IV. DISCUSSION

The crux of Villanueva's claim is that he was sentenced under ACCA pursuant to the Residual Clause. See Motion at 2. Because, as will be discussed below, the Residual Clause was illegal at the time he was sentenced, see Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257, 1268, 194 L.Ed.2d 387 (2016) (holding that Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 2557, 192 L.Ed.2d 569 (2015), applies retroactively to cases on collateral review), Villanueva claims that his sentence was imposed in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution,

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Motion at 2, and that he is thus entitled to relief expressly under section 2255.

In response, the United States in effect has raised a harmless error defense, Opposition at 7 (citing Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 113 S.Ct. 1710, 123 L.Ed.2d 353 (1993) and Underwood v. United States, 166 F.3d 84, 87 (2d Cir. 1999) (applying Brecht's harmless error standard to motions under section 2255)). It argues that, under the law at the time he was sentenced, Villanueva's convictions were violent felonies under the Elements Clause. Opposition at 10-13. Consequently, the United States claims, any error committed by sentencing him under the Residual Clause--assuming such error can be found--is harmless.2

Consequently, the first task before the court is to determine whether Villanueva has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that he was sentenced under the Residual Clause. Triana, 205 F.3d at 40. If he was so sentenced, his " sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law," 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a); see also, e.g., Lee v. United States, No. 3:16-cv-6009-MAT, 2016 WL 1464118, at *3 (W.D.N.Y. Apr. 12, 2016). The court's second task is to determine, should an error have occurred, whether that error was amenable to harmless error review, and, to the extent that it is, whether there is " grave doubt" as to whether the error " ha[d] a substantial effect or influence on determining" Villanueva's sentence. O'Nea l v. McAninch, 513 U.S. 432, 435, 115 S.Ct. 992, 130 L.Ed.2d 947 (1995); see also Brecht, 507 U.S. at 637, and Peck v. United States, 106 F.3d 450, 454 (2d Cir. 1995). If the court harbors " grave doubt," " the petitioner must win." O'Nea l, 513 U.S. at 436.

Thus, if the court determines that there was error, and that the error was not harmless, Villaneuva is entitled to relief, his sentence must be vacated, and the case must be set down for resentencing.

As to the first question, the...

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