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Groves v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

December 19, 2016

DEVON GROVES, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Robert L. Miller, Jr. Judge United States District Court

         Devon Groves was sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment for being a felon in possession of ammunition and a felon in possession of a firearm. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). This matter is before the court on his motion to vacate and correct his sentence. 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The court denies Mr. Groves's motion.

         I. Background

         A jury convicted Mr. Groves of one count of being a felon in possession of ammunition and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). At sentencing, the court considered his prior burglary conviction as a felony “crime of violence.” U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(b). When coupled with another felony “crime of violence, ” Mr. Groves's base offense level increased from 22 to 24. § 2K2.1(a)(2), (3). The court raised his offense level by another 2 because the firearm was stolen, § 2K2.1(b)(4), and another 4 because he possessed the ammunition in connection with another felony, criminal recklessness, § 2K2.1(b)(6). With a final adjusted offense level of 30 and a criminal history category of V, the guidelines recommended a sentence of 151 to 188 months. If the prior burglary weren't a “crime of violence, ” the guidelines would've recommended 130 to 162 months.

         After calculating the guideline range, the court chose a sentence it believed to be reasonable based on the factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). The court saw that:

“Mr. Groves did far more than possess some ammunition in April and a firearm in June. He used the ammunition to fire 16 shots into a house with 4 people, including a baby, in it. He brandished the firearm on other occasions while threatening to shoot up everyone in another house. He was seen with firearms (though perhaps the same ones) on multiple other occasions in the intervening months.”

         The court noted that these convictions were Mr. Groves's third and fourth felony convictions in twelve years, and “how frequently he is around firearms.” Prior sentences seemed unable to protect the public from Mr. Groves. There were no mitigating factors. Despite the guideline-recommended sentence, “[r]eview of the factors specifically set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) persuade[d] the court that a 240-month sentence is appropriate.” The court sentenced Mr. Groves to the statutory maximum of 10 years for each of the crimes, to be served consecutively.

         When deriving the guideline recommendation, the court based its determination that Mr. Groves's prior burglary conviction was a “crime of violence” on charging documents indicating that he committed a burglary of a dwelling, a Class B felony. Ind. Code § 35-43-2-1. Instead, Mr. Groves had pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of burglary of a building, a Class C felony. Id. Mr. Groves didn't object to the classification of his prior offense as a “crime of violence” at sentencing or on appeal.

         On appeal, Mr. Groves contested the reasonableness of the court's twenty-year sentence, among other issues. The court of appeals concluded that “[t]he district court painstakingly considered both the guidelines range and the sentencing factors that properly inform the court's exercise of post-Booker sentencing discretion under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).” United States v. Groves, 559 F.3d 637, 642 (7th Cir. 2009). The court of appeals affirmed the sentence. Id.

         Eventually Mr. Groves discovered that the guideline recommendation was based on the form of burglary for which he was charged, not the form for which he was convicted. He brought an ineffective assistance of counsel claim based in part on his counsel's failure to object to the classification of the prior burglary as a “crime of violence.” This court denied the motion, finding that Mr. Groves's counsel acted reasonably based on the law at the time of sentencing. The court didn't need to address whether the error actually prejudiced Mr. Groves.

         Mr. Groves appealed. The court of appeals again affirmed the district court, reasoning that “[u]ntil at least 2009, confusion existed regarding the approach sentencing courts must take in determining whether a prior conviction fits the definition of ‘crime of violence' set forth in § 4B1.2(a)(2).” Groves v. United States, 755 F.3d 588, 593 (7th Cir. 2014). “In [United States v.] Woods, [576 F.3d 400 (7th Cir. 2009)], [the court of appeals] clarified that sentencing courts can only consult additional materials, such as charging instruments, if the criminal statute was divisible, namely, if the offense covers a wide variety of conduct that poses a risk of violence and also conduct that does not.” Id. But Mr. Groves was sentenced before Woods, when the law wasn't objectively clear. Because the court of appeals agreed that Mr. Groves's counsel performed reasonably, it affirmed the district court, and also didn't need to address whether the error prejudiced him.

         On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court decided Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). Johnson concerned the Armed Career Criminal Act, which imposes a fifteen-year mandatory minimum sentence for a defendant who committed three prior “violent felonies.” The statute defines “violent felony” as:

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 [known as the ...

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