Harris v. United States of America
ORDER by Magistrate Judge Stephan M. Vidmar STAYING Ruling Pending a Decision in United States v. Beckles. (sg)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW MEXICO
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
ORDER STAYING RULING PENDING RULING IN BECKLES
THIS MATTER is before the Court on the United States’ Response to Defendant’s
Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence [CV Doc. 4; CR Doc. 219], filed August 1,
2016, in response to Defendant Chris Harris’s Motion Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, filed
June 27, 2016 [CV Doc. 1; CR Doc. 216]. The United States requests that, if the Court declines
to deny Mr. Harris’s motion at this time, the Court grant a stay pending the Supreme Court’s
decision in United States v. Beckles (S. Ct. No. 15-8544). Mr. Harris did not reply to the
government, and the time for doing so has elapsed. Having reviewed the parties’ briefing, the
Court hereby orders that ruling in this case be stayed pending the Supreme Court’s decision in
Mr. Harris has moved to vacate his sentence as unconstitutional pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2255. He asserts that his sentence was enhanced under the so-called residual clause of the
definition of “crime of violence” found in the career offender guideline of the United States
Sentencing Guidelines (“Guidelines”). [CV Doc. 1; CR Doc. 216] at 1, 6–7. He argues that the
Court should extend to his case the logic of the Supreme Court’s holding in Johnson v.
United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551, 2557 (2015), in which the Court held as void for vagueness the
so-called residual clause of the definition of “violent felony” found in the Armed Career
Criminal Act. Id.
The United States disagrees. It notes that the Johnson holding does not automatically
extend retroactively to Guidelines cases on collateral review. [CV Doc. 4; CR Doc. 219] at 4.
The government’s main argument, though, is that because Mr. Harris was sentenced pursuant to
a plea agreement under Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C), his sentence was not in fact enhanced under
the career offender guideline.
[CV Doc. 4; CR Doc. 219] at 2.
While the government
acknowledges that Mr. Harris’s advisory guideline range was enhanced under the career offender
provision, it asserts that his ultimate sentence, 188 months, was well below the guideline range
of 262–327 months and the statutory penalty of 240 months to life; Mr. Harris’s sentence, the
government argues, was not “expressly tied to the advisory guideline range.” Id. at 5. In the
alternative, the government asks that the Court stay proceedings pending the outcome of Beckles.
The Tenth Circuit has invalidated, under Johnson, the residual clause of the career
offender guideline. United States v. Madrid, 805 F.3d 1204, 1210 (10th Cir. 2015). Madrid,
however, was a direct appeal; the Tenth Circuit has not decided whether the rule in Madrid
applies retroactively. These issues—whether Johnson should be extended to the career offender
guideline, and, if so, whether such ruling should apply retroactively—are currently before the
Supreme Court in Beckles. The Court believes awaiting a ruling in Beckles would be prudent.
Mr. Harris does not contest the government’s request for a stay pending Beckles; he did
not reply to the government’s response requesting the stay. Further, Mr. Harris has not shown—
or even alleged—in his motion any facts to suggest that he would be prejudiced by a stay. He
does not suggest that he will be released before the Supreme Court decides Beckles, or that if his
motion were granted he would be eligible for release immediately or sometime before Beckles is
decided. Moreover, based on the information set out in the briefing, it appears to the Court that
he likely will not, in fact, be eligible for release before Beckles is decided—whether or not he is
entitled to re-sentencing. Mr. Harris was sentenced on April 26, 2009, to 188 months, in
accordance with a plea agreement. [CV Doc. 1; CR Doc. 216] at 3. If he is not entitled to
re-sentencing, the Court calculates that he will be released in December 2024. If Mr. Harris’s
guideline range had not been enhanced by the career offender provision, and if he had been
sentenced at the lower end of that guideline range, the Court calculates that he would have been
scheduled for release no sooner than November 2021.1 Thus, even if Mr. Harris ultimately is
entitled to re-sentencing without the career offender enhancement, and he is sentenced within the
guideline range, he likely still will not be entitled to release before the Supreme Court decides
In short, Mr. Harris has neither contested the government’s request for a stay pending a
ruling in Beckles nor shown that he would be prejudiced by a stay. If Mr. Harris believes he can
show that he would be prejudiced by a stay in this case, he may move to lift the stay. At this
Mr. Harris does not indicate what he believes his guideline range should have been, absent the career offender
enhancement. Nor does he indicate how his sentence, which was stipulated to in his plea agreement, would have
been adjusted absent the enhancement. The government states that Mr. Harris’s guideline range absent the career
offender provision would have been 151–188 months, and so I calculate his estimated release date based on that
range. See [Doc. 4] at 3.
time, however, he has made no such showing (or even allegation), and the Court finds that a stay
pending a decision in Beckles is appropriate.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that ruling in this case is STAYED pending the
Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Beckles (S. Ct. No. 15-8544).
IT IS SO ORDERED.
STEPHAN M. VIDMAR
United States Magistrate Judge
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