U.S. v. HAIRSTON, NO. 12-8096

Decided: June 11, 2014

The Fourth Circuit held that when the facts that supported the Appellant’s motion for resentencing did not exist at the time of his first 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion, then his subsequent § 2255 motion was not successive, and remanded his case; therefore reversing the district court’s dismissal of his claim.

In 2003, Appellant, Robert Hairston, pled guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute (P.W.I.D.) cocaine, cocaine base, and marijuana.  According to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines (U.S.S.G.), Appellant’s criminal history was a category IV, and thus received a 324-month sentence, which was at the lowest end of his range under the Guidelines.  Appellant filed his first § 2255 motion within a year of sentencing, which the district court denied.  Appellant then repeatedly filed motions to vacate one of his North Carolina convictions for eight years.  In 2011, North Carolina vacated this conviction, which had factored into his category IV criminal history.  Thus, Appellant filed this successive § 2255 motion to lower his criminal history to category III, which would subsequently lower his sentence range for his 2003 P.W.I.D. under the U.S.S.G.  The district court dismissed Appellant’s motion as unauthorized under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(3)(A).

The Court granted a Certificate of Appealability (COA) on the issue of “whether [Appellant’s] numerically second § 2255 motion is a ‘second or successive’ motion for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 2255(h), where the basis for his claim did not arise until after the district court denied his first § 2255 motion,” and reviewed the district court finding de novo.  The Court restated § 2255(h) of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), and noted that the Tenth and Eleventh Circuits have held that § 2255 motions are not successive when asked to reopen a federal sentence upon the vacatur of a state conviction.  See In re Weathersby, 717 F.3d 1108, 1111 (10th Cir. 2013); Stewart v. United States, 646 F.3d 856, 863–65 (11th Cir. 2011).  Ultimately, the Court aligned with the Tenth and Eleventh Circuits, and reemphasized its position that not every petition is “second or successive” under the statutory definition of AEDPA.  In re Williams, 444 F.3d 233, 235 (4th Cir. 2006).

Full Opinion

Samantha R. Wilder

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