Sunday, September 16, 2018

Case o' The Week: Blackstone on the Law -- Blackstone and Timeliness of Johnson guideline Section 2255 claims

   Sir William would be disappointed.
United States v. Blackstone, 2018 WL 4344096 (9th Cir. Sept. 12, 2018), decision available here.

Players: Decision by Judge Clifton, joined by Judges Schroeder and M. Smith. Hard-fought appeal by AFPD Alyssa Bell, Central District of California FPD.

Facts: In ’99, Blackstone was convicted of Hobbs Act robbery and a § 924(c), and sentenced under the (then-mandatory) guidelines to 290 months. Id. at *1-*2. Two priors were treated as “crimes of violence” that triggered Career Offender. Id. His appeal and habes were denied.
  Within a year of Johnson, Blackstone obtained permission to file a second-or-successive § 2255. Id. Blackstone filed a § 2255 in the district court, and the motion was denied on the merits. Id.
  Back up in the Ninth, the government then argued that Blackstone’s motion was untimely. Id. at *3. On appeal, the government contended that “the Supreme Court’s decisions in Johnson and Welch have not authorized a motion by Blackstone at this point because those decisions pertained to the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B), and that neither addressed whether Johnson applies to other clauses providing for enhanced sentences based on convictions for crimes of violence.” Id. at *3.

Issue(s): “[A] right newly recognized by the Supreme Court may open the door to filing a § 2255 motion later in time. The question presented in this case is whether Johnson and Welch have opened that door.” Id. at *3.

Held:We conclude that they have not.” Id.
  “[T]he Supreme Court has not yet recognized the right asserted by Blackstone. The Supreme Court has not held that the mandatory Sentencing Guidelines are subject to this vagueness challenge. As a result, Blackstone’s current motion is not timely under the statute. In reaching that conclusion, we agree with similar rulings by three other circuit courts that have considered this issue. We deny a similar challenge by Blackstone to a conviction and sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) for use of a firearm during a crime of violence because the Supreme Court has not recognized that right, either. We affirm the denial of Blackstone’s motion.” Id.

Of Note: This is a terrifically disappointing opinion. As the Ninth’s Johnson warriors have quickly pointed out, the decision relied on the Tenth’s opinion in Greer. See id. at *5. Blackstone failed, however, to wrestle with how Dimaya affected Greer – or acknowledge that the Tenth itself has now granted rehearing in Ward based on Dimaya (the Tenth had previously dismissed Ward based on Greer).
  The Ninth is now crossways with Cross, a Seventh Circuit case, may soon be sideways with the Tenth in Ward, and is a step behind the Supremes after Dimaya.
  Blackstone should go en banc.  

How to Use: To add salt to the wound, in our view the Ninth stretches to resuscitate the government’s “timeliness” argument. On appeal, Blackstone argued that the government did not raise this argument in the district court. See id. at *4 & n.2. The Court reassures us that the government had argued that the petition was time barred: this appellate theory was just an “alternative argument to support . . . a consistent claim.” Id.
  Until the Blackstone en banc and certiorari dust settles, read footnote 2 closely and take a hard look at the government’s district court claims in your Johnson cases. If the government failed to raise a statute of limitations defense in the district court, or conceded timeliness, the Blackstone resurrection of a waived government claim may be avoidable in your case.  
For Further Reading: In the recent Newton case, a panel including Judges Berzon and Friedland rejected a Johnson claim based on the controlling Watson decision. See mem. dispo here. Notably, the Newton panel avoided the timeliness issue. See id. at 2 fn. 1.
  Of greatest interest, however, it appeared that during the oral argument Judges Berzon and Friedland may have a different view of the timeliness issue, than the Blackstone panel. See oral argument here, starting at 16:25. 

The Honorable Judges Friedland and Berzon

   Here’s hoping that reasonable minds in the Ninth will differ, on Blackstone’s new barrier to our clients’ day in court.

Image of Sir William Blackstone from

Image of the Honorable Judges Friedland and Berzon from 

Steven Kalar, Federal Public Defender N.D. Cal. Website at


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