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Winters v. United States

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

November 18, 2019

STACY WINTERS, Movant,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO VACATE CONVICTION UNDER 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)

          Lawrence L. Piersol United States District Judge.

         This action is before the Court on Stacy Winters' Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The Court will grant the motion for the following reasons.

         BACKGROUND

         In 2004, Winters pled guilty to a superseding information which charged voluntary manslaughter in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1112 (count one), and use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (count two). See United States v. Winters, CR 03-50003, docs. 108 and 111. He was sentenced to 120 months' imprisonment on each count, to be served consecutively. Id. at doc. 147. The original sentence that Judge Battey imposed is summarized in United States v. Winters, 416 F.3d 856 (8th Cir. 2005) as follows:

Winters faced a non-guideline statutory maximum of twenty years' imprisonment (240 months). The PSI indicated that Winters was subject to a range of 41 to 51 months' imprisonment for the manslaughter and a mandatory 120 months for the firearm charge. Accordingly, the PSI recommended a Guideline range for Winters between 161 and 171 months. The district court, however, rejected the recommendation to make a downward adjustment resulting in a Guideline range between 177 and 191 months. The district court, treating the Guidelines as discretionary, sentenced Winters to 240 months' imprisonment-the statutory maximum.

Id. at 857-58.[1]

         In 2016, Stacy Winters (Winters) filed a pro se Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 arguing that his conviction under § 924(c) should be set aside because the residual clause of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3)(B) is unconstitutionally vague under Johnson v. United States, __U.S.__, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015) (holding that residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) at 18 U.S.C. § 924(e) is unconstitutionally vague). (Docs. 1 and 2.)

         In the Opinion denying Winters' § 2255 motion, the Court cited the clause in subsection A of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3), which was referred to as the "elements" clause (also known as the "force" clause), and noted that "[t]he government does not argue that Winters' conviction for voluntary manslaughter is a crime of violence within the meaning of the elements clause in § 924(c)(3)(A)." (Doc. 14 at 2-3.)

         This Court denied relief to Winters under § 2255 in light of United States v. Prickett, 839 F.3d 697 (8th Cir. 2016) (per curiam) (holding that Johnson does not render § 924(c)(3)(B) unconstitutionally vague), cert, denied., __ U.S. __, 138 S.Ct. 1976 (2018), but granted Winters a certificate of appealability "[d]ue to the generally unsettled nature of the law on whether the rule announced in Johnson invalidates the residual clause of § 924(c), and the possibility that the United States Supreme Court someday might resolve the circuit splits that are developing in this area of the law." (Doc. 14.) On appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirmed denial of relief to Winters based on Prickett. (Doc. 19.) Winters filed a Writ of Certiorari with the United States Supreme Court.

         On April 17, 2018, the United States Supreme Court decided Sessions v. Dimaya, __ U.S. __, 138S.Ct. 1204(2018). The question addressed in Dimaya was whether the residual clause of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 18 U.S.C. § 16(b), "suffer[ed] from the same constitutional defect" as the similarly worded residual clause of the ACCA, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B), that the Supreme Court previously invalidated in Johnson. Dimaya, 138 S.Ct. at 1210. After analyzing § 16(b), the Supreme Court observed that, like the residual clause of the ACCA, "the clause had both an ordinary-case requirement and an ill-defined risk threshold." Id. at 1223. Thus, because "just like ACCA's residual clause, § 16(b) 'produces more unpredictability and arbitrariness than the Due Process Clause tolerates[, ]'" the Supreme Court concluded that § 16(b) was similarly void for vagueness. Id. (quoting Johnson, 135 S.Ct. at 2558).

         On June 15, 2018, the United States Supreme Court remanded Winters' case to the Eighth Circuit for further consideration in light of Dimaya. (Doc. 25.) Subsequently, the Eighth Circuit issued a Judgment and Mandate remanding to this Court for further reconsideration in light of Dimaya. (Docs. 25 and 26.)

         On remand, a lawyer was appointed to assist Winters in briefing the effect that Dimaya had on the question whether § 924(c)(3)(B)'s residual clause is unconstitutionally vague, including whether the Eighth Circuit's decision in Prickett remained binding after Dimaya. Briefing was completed by the parties in December of 2018. For the first time, the government argued that voluntary manslaughter is a crime of violence within the meaning of the force clause in § 924(c)(3)(A), providing an alternative basis to uphold Winters' 924(c) conviction. (Doc. 32 at 2-3.) Before this, the government had defended the § 924(c) conviction solely under the residual clause in § 924(c)(3)(B). (Doc. 12.)

         On November 29, 2018, the government filed a motion to hold Winters' case in abeyance pending a decision from the Eighth Circuit, arguing that a decision in this case "will be subject to upheaval depending upon the outcome of the various matters before the courts of appeals." (Doc. 34.) Winters opposed the motion to hold the case in abeyance. (Doc. 36.)

         On January 4, 2019, the United States Supreme Court granted the government's petition for a writ of certiorari in United States v. Davis to determine whether 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3)(B) is unconstitutionally vague. See United States v. Davis,139 S.Ct. 782 (2019). The government supplemented its motion to hold ...


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