Seventh Circuit Grants 2255 Relief, Vacates Life Sentence Under 924(C)
United States v. States, No. 22-1477, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 16934 (7th Cir. July 5, 2023)
Charles States was convicted of attempted murder and attempted Hobbs Act extortion and was sentenced in 2005 to life plus 57 years, mostly based on multiple consecutive sentences under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). In light of United States v. Taylor, 142 S. Ct. 2015 (2022), the district court granted, in part, his motion to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, because Taylor held that an attempted Hobbs Act robbery could not be a predicate offense for § 924(c), and the § 2255 court concluded that attempted Hobbs Act extortion was equally invalid.
While the § 2255 court vacated the § 924(c) convictions and sentenced linked to the attempted Hobbs Act extortion, it refused to do the same for the § 924(c) sentences linked to the attempted murder predicates:
“Murder always entails the use of physical force against another person. It follows that an element of attempted murder is the ‘attempted use … of physical force against the person or property of another,’ [under] § 924(c)(3)(A), making attempted murder a valid § 924(c) predicate. Thus, we affirm States’s conviction for using a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.”
The court concluded that States’s reading of § 924(c)(3)(A) is implausible because it would exclude most attempt offenses from the definition of a crime of violence. They found no hint in Taylor to support such a drastic result and agreed with the government and other circuits that Taylor’s holding applies only to attempts to commit crimes that can be completed by threat of force.
As for § 2255 relief, the court vacated several of the § 924(c) convictions and sentences and resentenced States in full, applying the changes to § 924(c) sentencing procedures created by the First Step Act – that is, no more crazy “stacked” § 924(c) sentences. Instead, the court imposed concurrent 20-year sentences for the underlying offenses, plus two 5-year consecutive § 924(c) sentences, for a total of 30 years. Not bad for a guy who was facing life plus 57 years. Even though States lost his appeal, the relief he did get in his § 2255 motion was substantial.
As always, I use these cases to teach those seeking § 2255 relief by pointing out some key procedural points that usually get overlooked. First is that States had to wait to appeal the partial denial of relief until after the relief granted was imposed. In other words, he had to wait until he was resentenced. A § 2255 case is not final to allow an appeal until after the relief granted is imposed. This goes for the movant and the government and applies even if the relief granted is being challenged by the movant.
Second, States was required to obtain a certificate of appealability (COA) to appeal the relief that was denied, even though he won part of his motion. Any denial of a § 2255 motion requires a COA, even a partial denial.
Third, the relief that was imposed was FULL resentencing and not simply a correction to the sentence by removing some of the § 924(c) sentences. This happened because the § 924(c) sentences affected the entire sentence “package,” which required the § 2255 court to vacate the sentence in its entirety and impose a new sentence. Sometimes a court may correct part of a sentence under § 2255, but not when the error affects the entire sentence. The § 2255 court got it right in this case.
I go over all of these details about seeking § 2255 relief in my book “INSIDER’S GUIDE: HABEAS CORPUS FOR FEDERAL PRISONERS” that’s being published by Legal Remedy Project (firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up). As many of you know, I’ve been writing this book for almost 15 years. Once it’s updated, the new version will be released.