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Chachanko v. United States

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division

June 28, 2018

YURI CHACHANKO, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DISMISSING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          KAREN E. SCHREIER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Yuri Chachanko, moves to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence because of a Johnson claim under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Docket 1. Respondent, the United States of America, opposes the motion and moves to dismiss Chachanko's petition. Docket 15. For the reasons that follow, the court dismisses Chachanko's petition.

         BACKGROUND

         Chachanko was indicted on fifteen counts in the United States District Court for the District of South Dakota, Western Division, on December 13, 2006. USA v. Chachanko, 5:06-CR-50117-KES-1 (CR Docket) 1. Included in the indictment, as relevant here, were five counts charging Interference with Commerce by Robbery under 18 U.S.C. §§ 1951 and 2, and five counts charging Use and Carrying of a Firearm During and In Relation to a Crime of Violence under 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1) and 2. Id.

         On July 10, 2008, Chachanko entered into a plea agreement with the government and pleaded guilty to Count II of the Indictment, which charged Use and Carrying of a Firearm During and In Relation to a Crime of Violence, 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1) and 2. CR Dockets 293, 296. As a result of Chachanko's guilty plea, and due to a prior conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) in the United States District Court for the District of Montana, Chachanko faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life. CR Docket 293. This court sentenced Chachanko to 300 months imprisonment, followed by 5 years of supervised release. CR Docket 297 (judgment). Chachanko did not appeal the court's judgment.

         On April 17, 2016, Chachanko mailed a letter to the Federal Public Defender's Office (FPD) in Rapid City, South Dakota. Docket 9-1 at 3. The FPD, which previously represented Chachanko, received the letter on April 25, 2016. Id. The purpose of Chachanko's letter was to seek assistance in understanding whether the United States Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015) (Johnson I) applied to him.[1] Id. Chachanko sent the letter because he had “heard that [under Johnson I] there might be relief for Hobbs Act-Robbery and 924c (sic) committing a violent felony with a firearm cases[.]” Id. Although Chachanko's letter notes his inexperience with the law, he specifically requested that the FPD “please send me some information and paperwork so I could file before the June deadline.” Id.

         At the time Chachanko mailed his April 17, 2016 letter, he was incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary located in Atlanta, Georgia (USP Atlanta). Docket 9-1 at 2; see also Docket 8 ¶ 11. While incarcerated at USP Atlanta, Chachanko was sometimes housed in a special housing unit (SHU). See Docket 8 ¶ 12. One of the periods that Chachanko was housed in a SHU at USP Atlanta was between March 2015 and March 2017. Id.

         The FPD responded to Chachanko on May 2, 2016, in a letter from Rachael Steenholdt, a research and writing attorney with the FPD. Docket 9-2. Steenholdt's letter thanked Chachanko for his inquiry regarding the possible applicability of Johnson I to his case and informed him that her office was “reviewing all potentially eligible cases in North Dakota and South Dakota.” Id. Steenholdt's letter continued by noting that if the FPD “conclude[s] that you are eligible, we will file an appropriate motion to reduce your sentence within one year of the Johnson decision which is the deadline to file.” Id. The letter further stated that if the FPD concluded that Chachanko was not eligible for a reduction of his sentence under Johnson I, “we will let you know.” Id. Steenholdt's letter to Chachanko concluded with the following request: “Please be patient; we will do what we can to reduce your sentence if possible and be in touch.” Id.

         On June 15, 2016, the FPD sent Chachanko a follow-up letter, signed by Steenholdt, stating that based on the FPD's review of Chachanko's case, the FPD concluded that Chachanko was “not eligible” for a sentence reduction under Johnson I “because recent Eighth Circuit case law has held that a Hobbs Act robbery is a crime of violence under the force clause of 924(c).” Docket 9-3. The FPD's letter continued: “We will not file any motion seeking to reduce your sentence as a result. If you want to file a motion on your own because you disagree with our conclusion, you certainly can do so. We have included instructions on how to file your own [motion under §] 2255.” Id.

         Chachanko did not receive the FPD's June 15, 2016 letter informing him that the FPD would not be filing a motion to reduce his sentence on his behalf. Docket 8 ¶ 12; Docket 10 ¶¶ 5-6 (Affidavit of Rachael Steenholdt). The FPD's June 15, 2016 letter was mailed to Chachanko at USP Atlanta via Federal Express but was returned to the FPD unopened. Docket 10 ¶ 6. Although it is not clear why Chachanko's letter was returned to the FPD unopened, it was sent to Chachanko during the time when he was housed in a SHU at USP Atlanta. See Docket 8 ¶¶ 11, 12.

         On or about August 24, 2016, while Chachanko was still housed in a SHU at USP Atlanta, he was given permission to set up a phone call with Steenholdt.[2] Docket 8 ¶ 14; Docket 10 ¶¶ 7-8. During the phone call, Steenholdt informed Chachanko for the first time that the FPD had not filed a motion to reduce his sentence on his behalf. Docket 10 ¶ 8. Steenholdt also told Chachanko that the June 15, 2016 letter sent to him by the FPD had been rejected and was returned to the FPD unopened. Id. According to Chachanko, because the FPD did not inform him prior to the June deadline that it would not be filing a Johnson I claim, he assumed that the FPD had filed a Johnson I claim on his behalf. Docket 1-1 at 1.

         At some point in early March 2017, Chachanko got out of the SHU at USP Atlanta and was transferred to the Federal Correctional Institute in Greenville, Illinois (FCI Greenville). See Docket 1 (Chachanko's motion to vacate lists the FCI Greenville as his place of confinement). And on April 3, 2017, according to Chachanko, he was able to get in contact with the Federal Defenders Office in Montana for the first time and explain his “South Dakota situation” to them.[3] Docket 1-1 at 2. Chachanko claims that after explaining his “South Dakota situation” to the Montana Federal Defenders Office, he was informed that he might have a claim under Johnson I and was told that he “should file right away a [motion under §] 2255 and try to get in court by claiming [equitable] tolling.” Id.

         Chachanko filed his motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on April 13, 2017.[4] Docket 1. In a handwritten letter accompanying his motion, Chachanko outlines most of the facts described above. See Docket 1-1. Chachanko's letter also requests that the court either equitably toll his claims and vacate his prior sentence or at least appoint an attorney to help him. See Id. at 2-3. On April 25, 2017, the court appointed counsel to represent Chachanko. Docket 5. On April 24, 2018, the parties requested permission to file supplemental briefing in this matter in light of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S.Ct. 1204 (2018). This court granted that motion, and briefing is now complete.

         DISCUSSION

         Chachanko's brief in support of his motion to vacate, set aside, or correct proceeds in two parts. The first part addresses the issue of whether Chachanko's petition is time barred and whether he is entitled to equitable tolling of his petition. The second part discusses the merits of Chachanko's Johnson I claim. In response, the United States moves to dismiss Chachanko's petition by arguing that the petition is time barred and that Chachanko has not demonstrated that equitable tolling of his petition is warranted. The United States also argues that, even if the court analyzes the merits of Chachanko's petition, his grounds for relief are foreclosed by Eighth Circuit precedent.

         I. Statute of Limitations

         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), federal habeas petitions are subject to a one-year statute of limitation. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f). The limitation period for habeas claims under § 2255(f) runs “from the latest of-”

(1) the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final;
(2) the date on which the impediment to making a motion created by governmental action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the movant was prevented from making a motion by such governmental action;
(3) the date on which the right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if that right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review; or
(4) the date on which the facts supporting the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.

Id. Of those periods, only the third one is relevant here.[5]

         The statute of limitation for Chachanko's claim began to run on June 26, 2015, which is the date of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Johnson I. In Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257, 1268 (2016), the Supreme Court confirmed that its decision in Johnson I was a substantive decision that applied retroactively on collateral review. Thus, the statute of ...


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