Jerome Williams v. United States


USCA11 Case: 19-10308 Date Filed: 01/13/2021 Page: 1 of 27 [PUBLISH] IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT ________________________ No. 19-10308 ________________________ D.C. Docket Nos. 2:16-cv-08101-CLS, 2:97-cr-00377-CLS-RRA-2 JEROME WILLIAMS, Petitioner-Appellant, versus UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent-Appellee. ________________________ Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama ________________________ (January 13, 2021) Before JORDAN, LAGOA, and BRASHER, Circuit Judges. BRASHER, Circuit Judge: This appeal comes to us from a post-judgment challenge to a 1998 federal sentence. The question on appeal is under what circumstances the legal landscape at USCA11 Case: 19-10308 Date Filed: 01/13/2021 Page: 2 of 27 the time of a defendant’s sentencing can establish, as a matter of historical fact, that the sentencing court relied on the unconstitutionally vague residual clause of the Armed Career Criminals Act (“ACCA”) to classify a prior felony as violent and, so, to increase the defendant’s statutory sentencing range. After the Supreme Court ruled that the ACCA’s residual clause is unconstitutionally vague and held that its ruling was retroactive to collateral review, Jerome Williams filed a “Johnson motion” challenging his sentence for bank robbery. He argued that case law at the time of his sentencing established that the sentencing court relied on the residual clause alone to increase his statutory range of sentences and not on one of the ACCA’s other clauses left unaffected by the Supreme Court’s ruling. The district court denied this motion, concluding that Williams had not met his burden of proof to establish that the unconstitutionally vague residual clause affected his sentence. We affirm. I. In 1998, Williams was convicted of robbing a bank while carrying a firearm. The ACCA provides a statutory sentencing enhancement for certain previously convicted felons who use a firearm. 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). To qualify for this enhancement, a defendant must have committed three previous “violent” felonies as defined by one of the ACCA’s clauses. The sentencing court found that Williams had committed the following “violent” felonies: Kentucky first-degree robbery, 2 USCA11 Case: 19-10308 Date Filed: 01/13/2021 Page: 3 of 27 Georgia armed robbery, and federal kidnapping. As to the federal kidnapping conviction, the presentence report recounted that Williams “accosted” a man at a Kentucky motel, threatened him with a revolver, and demanded a ride to Tennessee. When they reached Knoxville, the victim leapt from the car and signaled a police officer, who promptly arrested Williams. Williams was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1), which provides that a person commits a federal kidnapping when he “unlawfully seizes, confines, inveigles, decoys, kidnaps, abducts, or carries away and holds for ransom or reward or otherwise any person, except in the case of a minor by the parent thereof,” and “the person is willfully transported in interstate or foreign commerce.” At the sentencing hearing on his bank robbery conviction, Williams did not object to the application of the ACCA, and the sentencing court never addressed why any of his previous felonies counted as violent. Applying the ACCA, the sentencing court …

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