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Week 34 (2018)

Week of August 20, 2018 through August 24, 2018

United States v. Under Seal (Traxler 8/22/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that when a defendant knowingly withholds information or gives false testimony, the government is released from its obligations under a plea agreement. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision that it was not necessary to conduct a hearing to prove by a preponderance of evidence that Defendant’s testimony was incomplete before declining to file a substantial-assistance departure motion, in accordance with the plea deal. The court used principles of contract law to determine that because Defendant breached his contractual obligation to testify fully and truthfully, the government was free to use its discretion whether or not to file a substantial assistance motion.  Full Opinion

Highlight Case

United States v. Hodge, No. 17-6054

Decided: August 22, 2018

The Fourth Circuit held that Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), which substantially narrowed the ACCA definition of “violent felony,” should be applied retroactively on collateral review. The court further held that one conviction designated in Defendant’s PSR as an ACCA predicate was no longer sufficient under the Johnson v. United States definition and that the government could not use a previous conviction listed in the PSR, but not designated as an ACCA predicate, for purposes of rendering an ACCA-enhanced sentence. As such, the Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded for resentencing.

In his original sentencing, three violent felonies were listed as predicates to ACCA enhanced sentencing: (1) a 1992 conviction for felony possession of cocaine with intent to distribute; (2) a 1998 conviction for felony possession of cocaine with intent to distribute; and (3) a 1998 conviction of misdemeanor reckless endangerment. Accordingly, he was subjected to an ACCA-enhanced sentence. However, Johnson v. United States established that the residual clause of the ACCA was invalid as unconstitutionally vague. This clause qualified a crime that “otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another” as a “violent felony” for purposes of the ACCA.

In light of Johnson, Defendant appealed his conviction with the assertion that reckless-endangerment was not “a violent felony” under the ACCA post-Johnson. The government initially agreed, before determining another previous conviction for possession-with-intent-to-distribute-cocaine, that was listed in the PSR but not as an ACCA predicate, met the ACCA definition of “violent felony” and, thus, Defendant should still be subject to enhanced sentencing.

The Fourth Circuit held that the government failed to provide Defendant with sufficient notice of its intent to use possession-with-intent-to-distribute-cocaine conviction to support an ACCA enhancement. Therefore, the government lost its right to use the conviction to uphold the ACCA enhancement now.

Full Opinion

Sara E. Weathers