Ennis v. USA
OPINION AND ORDER: The Court DENIES the Defendant's Motion to Vacate Sentencing Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 as to Brenton Ennis. The Court DECLINES to issue a certificate of appealability pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2253 (c)(3). Signed by Judge Theresa L Springmann on 2/1/2017. (lhc)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
FORT WAYNE DIVISION
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
OPINION AND ORDER
The Defendant, Brenton Ennis, is serving a sentence for using a firearm during and in
relation to a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), and for Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. §
1951(a)(1). The Defendant now seeks to vacate his conviction and sentence under § 924(c)
[Motion to Vacate Sentencing Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, ECF No. 189]. His Motion is
predicated on the Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015).
The Defendant maintains that Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a), cannot be a predicate
offense for a § 924(c) conviction because the statute does not have as an element the use,
attempted use, or threatened use of force.
The Defendant filed his Motion on June 24, 2016—within the one-year period set forth in
§ 2255(f)(3), based on the Supreme Court’s June 26, 2015 decision in Johnson, which is
retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review. Welch v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 1257,
1265 (2016) (“Johnson is . . . a substantive decision and so has retroactive effect . . . in cases on
collateral review.”); Price v. United States, 795 F.3d 731, 734 (7th Cir. 2015) (Johnson
announced a new substantive rule which applies retroactively on collateral review). The Court
treats the Motion as timely filed.
Section 2255 allows a defendant to move to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence that
was imposed in violation of the Constitution of the United States. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a).
Relief under § 2255 is “available only in extraordinary situations,” requiring an error of
constitutional or jurisdictional magnitude or a fundamental defect that resulted in a complete
miscarriage of justice. Blake v. United States, 723 F.3d 870, 878–79 (7th Cir. 2013).
To sustain a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3), the government must prove that the
defendant (1) used or carried a firearm and (2) did so during and in relation to a “crime of
violence.” Under § 924(c)(3), the term “crime of violence” is “an offense that is a felony” that
(A) “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the
person or property of another” or (B) “that by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical
force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the
offense.” 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3)(A)–(B). Subsection (A) is known as the elements clause, and
subsection (B) is referred to as the residual clause.
The substantive crime of violence, or drug trafficking crime, for which the person may be
prosecuted is identified in the § 924(c) charge. See Davila v. United States, 843 F.3d 729, 731
(7th Cir. 2016) (noting that a § 924(c) offense is a stand-alone crime for which no underlying
conviction needs to be obtained). Here, the Indictment identifies the predicate crime of violence
as Hobbs Act robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a).
A defendant commits Hobbs Act robbery if he:
obstructs, delays, or affects commerce or the movement of any article or commodity
in commerce, by robbery or extortion or attempts or conspires so to do, or commits
or threatens physical violence to any person or property in furtherance of a plan or
purpose to do anything in violation of this section.
18 U.S.C. § 1951(a). “Robbery,” in turn, is defined as:
the unlawful taking or obtaining of personal property from the person or in the
presence of another, against his will, by means of actual or threatened force, or
violence, or fear of injury, immediate or future, to his person or property, or property
in his custody or possession, or the person or property of a relative or member of his
family or of anyone in his company at the time of the taking or obtaining.
18 U.S.C. § 1951(b)(1).
As already stated, the Defendant’s Motion invokes the Supreme Court’s decision in
Johnson, which held that the residual clause of the definition of a “violent felony” in the Armed
Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B), is unconstitutionally vague. 135 S. Ct.
at 2557 (invalidating the phrase “or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential
risk of physical injury to another”). The Defendant was not sentenced under the ACCA, but he
claims that Hobbs Act robbery no longer qualifies as a crime of violence under § 924(c)(3) based
on Johnson’s reasoning. His argument is two-part.
In one part, he argues that the holding in Johnson necessarily rendered the residual clause
of § 924(c)(3)(B) unconstitutionally vague. That argument has merit. See United States v.
Cardena, 842 F.3d 959, 996 (7th Cir. 2016) (holding that the residual clause in 18 U.S.C.
§ 924(c)(3)(B) is unconstitutionally vague). However, it is not necessary to rely on the residual
clause in this case because Hobbs Act robbery under § 1951(a) is a crime of violence under
§ 924(c)’s elements clause.
In United States v. Anglin, — F.3d —, 2017 WL 359666 (7th Cir. Jan. 25, 2017), the
Seventh Circuit joined an “unbroken consensus of other circuits” when it ruled that “Hobbs Act
robbery is a ‘crime of violence’ within the meaning of § 923(c)(3)(A).” 2017 WL 359666, at *7.
The Defendant argues that Hobbs Act robbery can be achieved through a threat to cause
economic injury, which does not require “violent force.” Additionally, he argues that “fear of
injury” does not satisfy the definition because it is not equivalent to using or threatening to use
The Defendant’s arguments are foreclosed by the decision in Anglin and the precedent
relied upon therein. There, the court noted that the relevant definition of Hobbs Act robbery, the
Defendant’s predicate offense, is the “taking of personal property ‘by means of actual or
threatened force, or violence, or fear of injury, immediate or future, to his person or property.’”
2017 WL 359666, at *7 (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 1951(b)). The court found that “[c]ommitting such
an act necessarily requires using or threatening force.” Id. The Seventh Circuit has explicitly
rejected the argument that putting a person in fear of injury does not involve the use, attempted
use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another. Id; United States v.
Armour, 840 F.3d 904, 907 (7th Cir. 2016). Moreover, the Defendant’s argument that threatening
a nonviolent economic injury would satisfy the elements of Hobbs Act robbery finds no support
in the Seventh Circuit.
Because Hobbs Act robbery is crime of violence, the Court finds no basis to vacate the
Defendant’s firearm conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).
For the reasons stated above, the Court DENIES the Defendant’s Motion to Vacate
Sentencing Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 [ECF No. 189]. Because reasonable jurists would not
debate that the Motion fails to present a valid claim of the denial of a constitutional right, or that
the Motion should have been resolved in a different manner, the Court DECLINES to issue a
certificate of appealability pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(3).
SO ORDERED on February 1, 2017.
s/ Theresa L. Springmann
THERESA L. SPRINGMANN
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
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