United States v. Ruffin

Decision Date11 May 2022
Docket NumberCRIMINAL 2:13-CR-00138-MRH,Civil 17-CV-00492-MRH
PartiesUNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent, v. ANDRE DWAYNE RUFFIN, Petitioner,
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Pennsylvania
OPINION

MARK R. HORNAK CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Following a jury trial before another member of this Court in which he was found guilty of unlawful possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), Petitioner Andre Ruffin (Mr. Ruffin) was sentenced to 300 months of imprisonment. (ECF No. 146.) At the time of sentencing the applicable Sentencing Guidelines were derived from Total Offense Level 34, Criminal History Category VI, with an advisory Guideline range of 262 to 327 months imprisonment.

Though the firearm possession statute ordinarily carries a 10-year statutory maximum sentence, the sentencing court found that Mr. Ruffin was subject to an enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e) based on his three prior convictions which were classified as violent felonies. (ECF No. 142.) The sentencing court also found that Mr. Ruffin was an armed career criminal under the Sentencing Guidelines, U.S.S.G. §§ 4B1.4(b)(1)-(3), (c)(1)-(3). (Id.) This meant that the statutory minimum sentence became 180 months, the statutory maximum sentence was life, and the applicable Sentencing Guidelines imprisonment range was as noted above 262 to 327 months. (ECF No. 125.)

Now Mr Ruffin brings an Amended Motion to Vacate his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 and for Immediate Release on Bail (ECF No. 193.) Among other things, Mr. Ruffin asserts that he no longer qualifies as an armed career criminal under the ACCA. Because the Court concludes that Mr. Ruffin's prior state court robbery conviction no longer qualifies as a violent felony under the ACCA in light of the Supreme Court's holding in Borden v. United States, 141 S.Ct. 1817 (2021), he is entitled to vacatur of his sentence and resentencing, and the Court will therefore GRANT Mr Ruffin's Amended Motion to Vacate. Given the fact that it also appears that Mr. Ruffin has now reached near completion of his non-ACCA enhanced statutory maximum sentence of imprisonment, the Court will hold an immediate Status Conference to schedule an expedited resentencing and will hold in abeyance a decision on Mr. Ruffin's request for release on bail pending resentencing pending that conference.

I. BACKGROUND

Mr. Ruffin filed a pro se Motion to Vacate on April 18, 2017, challenging, inter alia, his designation as an Armed Career Criminal in light of the Supreme Court's decisions in Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. 591 (2015) and Mathis v. United States, 579 U.S. 500 (2016). (ECF Nos. 164, 183.) Counsel was appointed on April 28, 2017. (ECF No. 167.) The case was temporarily stayed pending the Third Circuit's decision in United States v. Harris, No. 17-1861, which was poised to address specifically whether a prior conviction under the Pennsylvania robbery statute qualifies as a predicate offense for the purposes of ACCA. (ECF Nos. 183, 184.) On June 26, 2018, this Court ordered that an amended petition be filed 45 days after the mandate issued in Harris. (ECF No. 184.)

On September 14, 2021, Mr. Ruffin, through his counsel, filed the present Amended Motion arguing, inter alia, that there was no longer a need to await the decision in Harris, as under the Supreme Court's decision in Borden v. United States, 141 S.Ct. 1817 (2021), his prior state robbery conviction was no longer a violent felony under the ACCA and that the stay should be lifted, and this case should move to decision. (ECF No. 193.)[1] The Court held a telephonic status conference on the Amended Motion and ordered the Government to respond solely on the issue of whether Mr. Ruffin's prior robbery conviction qualifies as a predicate offense for ACCA purposes. (ECF No. 200.) The Government responded on this specific issue on October 25, 2021. (ECF No. 202.) Mr. Ruffin filed a reply on November 1, 2021. (ECF No. 203.) After further additional briefing ordered by the Court, see ECF Nos. 205, 206, 207, the Motion is now ripe for disposition.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a person in federal custody may move the court to vacate, set aside, or correct an otherwise final sentence if (1) the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the court lacked jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) the sentence was imposed in excess of the maximum authorized by law; or (4) the sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Relief under this provision is “generally available only in ‘exceptional circumstances' to protect against a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice or an omission inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure.” United States v. Gordon, 979 F.Supp. 337, 339 (E.D. Pa. 1997) (quoting Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428 (1962)). When there are disputes of material fact, a district court is required to hold an evidentiary hearing on a motion to vacate sentence filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 unless the motion, files, and records of the case show conclusively that the movant is not entitled to relief. § 2255(b). United States v. Tolliver, 800 F.3d 138, 142 (3d Cir. 2015).

III. DISCUSSION

In 2015, following a jury trial, Mr. Ruffin was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), a statute which prohibits the unlawful possession of a firearm. The statue carries a maximum sentence of imprisonment of 10 years; however, if a defendant is subject to the ACCA the 10-year statutory maximum under this statute becomes a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence.[2] At his sentencing, the Court found that Mr. Ruffin was a covered offender under the ACCA because he had three convictions that qualified as violent felonies: a state robbery conviction, a state aggravated assault conviction, and a federal carjacking conviction. (ECF No. 142, at 7.) Mr. Ruffin argues that at least one of these prior convictions (the robbery conviction) cannot qualify as a predicate violent felony under the ACCA and as a result, his sentencing guideline range without the ACCA enhancement would be 77 to 96 months with a 120-month statutory maximum. (ECF No. 193, at 8.) Further, Mr. Ruffin argues that since he has currently been incarcerated for approximately 108 months (the equivalent of 119 months with good time credit applied), he is “rapidly closing in on the statutory maximum” of 120 months under the statute.[3] (Id.; ECF No. 209.)

According to Mr. Ruffin, the Supreme Court's holding in Borden v. United States, “makes plain” that Mr. Ruffin's prior first-degree robbery conviction under 18 Pa. C.S. § 3701(a)(1)(i) or (ii) cannot qualify as a violent felony under the ACCA.[4] (ECF No. 193, at 11.) In Borden, the Supreme Court held that [o]ffenses with a mens rea of recklessness do not qualify as violent felonies under ACCA.” Borden v. United States, 141 S.Ct. 1817, 1834 (2021). Mr. Ruffin argues that his conviction for first-degree robbery under Pennsylvania law is such an offense with a mens rea of recklessness. Mr. Ruffin argues 1) that the Pennsylvania first degree robbery statute is indivisible and the minimum mens rea necessary to satisfy a conviction of the statute is recklessness; 2) even if the statute were divisible, under the modified categorical approach, the Shepard documents demonstrate that Mr. Ruffin's conviction can rest on subsection (i) just as much as it can rest on subsection (ii) of the robbery statute, and since subsection (i) permits a conviction based on a mens rea of recklessness, his conviction cannot qualify as a violent felony; and 3) even if his conviction rested solely on subsection (ii) of the robbery statute, that subsection also proscribes reckless conduct and therefore, cannot be a violent felony for ACCA purposes. (ECF No. 203.) The Government disagrees with Mr. Ruffin on each argument and argues instead that Mr. Ruffin's first-degree robbery conviction remains a violent felony under the ACCA, despite the decision in Borden. (ECF No. 202.)

The Court concludes that Mr. Ruffin's prior state robbery conviction can no longer qualify as a violent felony under the ACCA in light of Borden, and as a result the Court will grant his Motion.

a. Pennsylvania's Robbery Statute is Divisible and the Modified Categorical Approach Applies

When deciding whether a prior conviction qualifies as a predicate offense under the ACCA, courts use the categorical approach. See Taylor v. U.S., 495 U.S. 575, 588 (1990). The categorical approach “requires a comparative analysis based solely on the elements of the crime of conviction contrasted with the elements of a generic version of that offense.” United States v. Mayo, 901 F.3d 218, 224-25 (3d Cir. 2018) (referencing Mathis v. U.S., 136 S.Ct. 2243, 2247-48 (2016)). However, when the statute at issue is “divisible, ” courts may use a “modified” categorical approach which “allows a court to assess whether a conviction under that particular statutory subsection would categorically qualify as a predicate offense under the ACCA.” Id. at 225. However, when a defendant has been convicted of a statute with “a single, indivisible set of elements, ” the modified categorical approach cannot be employed. Descamps v. United States, 570 U.S. 254, 258 (2013).

In 1994, Mr. Ruffin was convicted of Pennsylvania first-degree robbery under 18 Pa. C.S. § 3701(a)(1)(i) or (ii). (ECF No. 203; ECF No. 193-2.) The state court charging document in relevant part, states that “in the course of committing a theft [Mr. Ruffin] . . . either inflicted serious bodily injury upon Janet Roddenger Merk[, ] threatened that person or...

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