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United States v. Young

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

November 2, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
AARON YOUNG, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM E. SMITH, Chief Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendant Aaron Young's motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence, in violation of 28 U.S.C. § 2255. For the reasons set forth below, the Court holds that Rhode Island second-degree robbery, pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-39-1, does not constitute a violent felony under the force clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), see 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). The Court will schedule a hearing on Defendant's motion to vacate and resentencing forthwith.

         I. Background

         On October 31, 2013, Young entered a guilty plea and was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) (Count I) and possession with intent to distribute cocaine (Count II). (See Docket, Oct. 31, 2013.) Probation prepared a presentence investigation report (“PSR”) that indicated that Defendant had at least three predicate offenses that made him eligible for a sentence under ACCA, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), and that he qualified as a Career Offender pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(a). (See PSR ¶¶ 31-32, ECF No. 31.) Specifically, the PSR indicated that Young had been previously convicted of, among other things, drug trafficking; Rhode Island assault with a dangerous weapon; discharging a gun during a violent crime; and second-degree robbery.[1] (See id. ¶¶ 31-32, 55.)

         ACCA provides for a sentence of at least 180 months but not more than life imprisonment for possessing a firearm or ammunition when a person has three prior convictions by any court for violent felonies or serious drug offenses or a combination of both. See 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). In the absence of an ACCA designation, a conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm carries with it a maximum sentence of 120 months. See 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(2).

         On January 23, 2014, the Court (Lisi, J.) sentenced Young to 216 months of incarceration as to Counts I and II, to be served concurrently. On June 13, 2016, Young filed the instant motion to vacate, arguing that, in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States (Johnson II), 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), he no longer qualifies as an Armed Career Criminal, as set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). (See Mot. to Vacate Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (“Def.'s Mot. to Vacate”) 1, ECF No. 43.) Specifically, he argues that the Rhode Island offenses of assault with a dangerous weapon, in violation of R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-5-2, and second-degree robbery, in violation of R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-39-1, no longer constitute violent felonies under ACCA or crimes of violence under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. (Id. at 12.)

         Recently, the Court (Chief Judge Smith and Judge McConnell, jointly) issued an opinion holding that Rhode Island assault with a dangerous weapon is not a violent felony as it is defined by ACCA. See, e.g., United States v. Sabetta, 00-cr-135-S-PAS, 2016 WL 6157454, at *12 (D.R.I. Oct. 24, 2016). That opinion did not address, and the undersigned specifically reserved the question of, whether Rhode Island second-degree robbery constitutes a violent felony under ACCA. The Court now addresses that question.

         II. Analysis

         Young argues that his conviction for Rhode Island second-degree robbery no longer qualifies as an ACCA-predicate offense because the force necessary to satisfy a conviction under R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-39-1(b) encompasses more conduct (i.e., force “as to afford resistance”), than the force required by Johnson v. United States (Johnson I), 559 U.S. 133 (2010) (i.e., force capable of causing physical injury).[2]

         A. The Categorical Approach

         A felony conviction qualifies as an ACCA-predicate offense under the force clause if the offense “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another.” 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(i). To determine whether an offense qualifies as a violent felony, the Court may “look only to the fact of conviction and the statutory definition of the prior offense, ” which is termed the “categorical approach.” Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575, 602 (1990). To satisfy the force clause under the categorical approach, the use, attempted use, or threatened use of violent force must be an element of the offense of conviction. See Descamps v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2276, 2293 (2013). If a conviction for the offense is possible without proof of attempted, threatened, or actual use of violent force, then the conviction does not qualify as a violent felony, even if the defendant in fact used, attempted to use, or threatened to use violent force in the commission of the crime. See id. Put differently, the Court looks not to the facts underlying the actual conduct for which a defendant was convicted, but rather the elements of that offense. Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243, 2252 (2016).

         B. Second-Degree Robbery

Rhode Island General Laws § 11-39-1(b) states that:
Every person who shall commit robbery or other larceny from the person by force or threat, where there is no weapon and no injury and the victim is neither a severely impaired person or an elderly person, shall be guilty of second degree robbery and shall be imprisoned for not less than five (5) years nor more than ...

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