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Chazen v. Williams

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

July 25, 2018

TODD RICHARD CHAZEN, Petitioner,
v.
LOUIS WILLIAMS II, Respondent.

          OPINION & ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Todd Richard Chazen is challenging the sentence enhancement he received under the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), for having three or more convictions “for a violent felony or a serious drug offense.” Specifically, Chazen says he no longer has three convictions that satisfy § 924(e) in light of United States v. Mathis, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016), and Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). For the reasons explained below, I will grant Chazen's petition and transfer the case to the sentencing court for resentencing.

         BACKGROUND

         In March 2011, a jury found Chazen guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). At the sentencing hearing on July 11, 2011, the court considered whether Chazen qualified for an enhancement under § 924(e) in light of five previous convictions, all from Minnesota state court: two convictions for second-degree burglary, a conviction for second-degree assault, a conviction for second-degree manufacture of a controlled substance, and a conviction for escape from custody. In its sentencing memorandum, the government stated that Chazen's two burglary convictions should not be counted separately and that the drug offense did not qualify as a serious drug offense, but that the remaining three convictions were predicate offenses under § 924(e).

         The sentencing court concluded that Chazen had “at least four” past convictions that were either a violent felony or serious drug offense, but did not specify what the convictions were. United States v. Chazen, No. 10-cr-332 (D. Minn.), Dkt. 71, at 10-11. The court imposed a 252-month term of imprisonment. Id. at 80.

         On appeal, Chazen contended that his escape conviction was not a predicate offense under § 924(e). In opposing Chazen's appeal, the government withdrew its concessions about the burglary offense and the drug offense. The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rejected Chazens's contention about the escape conviction and affirmed the sentence. United States v. Chazen, 469 Fed.Appx. 508, 509 (8th Cir. 2012).

         In 2013, Chazen filed a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, contending that his escape conviction did not qualify as a predicate offense in light of Descamps v. United States, 570 U.S. 254 (2013). He also said that the government could not rely on the drug conviction and one of the burglary convictions in light of its concession at sentencing. The court denied the motion, rejecting Chazen's argument under Descamps and concluding that Chazen's other arguments were procedurally defaulted. Chazen, No. 10-cr-332, Dkt. 89.

         In May 2016, Chazen sought authorization from the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit to file a second § 2255 motion. Chazen v. United States, No. 16-2231, Dkt. 2 (8th Cir. May 18, 2016). Before the court of appeals ruled on his application, he also filed a second § 2255 motion with the sentencing court. Chazen, No. 10-cr-332, Dkt. 92. He said that he was no longer an armed career criminal under Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). In response, the government agreed that Chazen's conviction for escape did not qualify as a predicate offense in light of Johnson, but maintained that Chazen still qualified for a § 924(e) enhancement as a result of the other convictions. The court of appeals denied Chazen's application without explanation and the sentencing court denied the § 2255 motion for lack of jurisdiction. Chazen, No. 10-cr-332, Dkt. 93 and Dkt. 95.

         ANALYSIS

         The parties agree that the validity of Chazen's sentence enhancement under § 924(e) rests on his two burglary convictions. This is because the parties agree that Chazen's convictions for escape and manufacture of a controlled substance no longer qualify as predicate offenses under § 924(e) in light of intervening Supreme Court precedent. And Chazen appears to concede that his assault conviction is a violent felony under § 924(e). Because three predicate offenses are required for an enhancement under § 924(e), Chazen is entitled to resentencing if he can prevail on his claim that his two burglary convictions do not qualify as violent felonies in light of Mathis and Johnson.[1]

         Section 924(e) defines “violent felony” as “any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” that

• “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another”;
• “is burglary, arson, or extortion, [or] involves the use of explosives”; or
• “otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical ...

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