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United States v. Davies

January 13, 2005


On Appeal From the United States District Court For the Western District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Crim. Action No. 98-cr-00079) District Judge: Hon. Gary L. Lancaster

Before: Ambro, Aldisert and Stapleton, Circuit Judges

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stapleton, Circuit Judge


Argued June 29, 2004


Todd R. Davies appeals the District Court's denial of his 28 U.S.C. § 2255 petition. One of the claims for relief there asserted is now acknowledged to be foreclosed by our case law. The other two were found by the District Court to be procedurally barred. Because the Court further concluded that Davies could not establish cause and prejudice, or actual innocence, to overcome that bar, the petition was denied. We hold that Davies has demonstrated that he is "actually innocent" of the 18 U.S.C. § 844(i) violation at issue here because, "'in light of all the evidence,' [presently before us] 'it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted him.'" Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 623 (1998) (quoting Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 327-328 (1995)). Where the local church that Davies stood accused of burning had no more than a passive connection to interstate commerce, no reasonable juror could have concluded that Davies destroyed by fire a building "used in interstate... commerce or in any activity affecting interstate... commerce," 18 U.S.C. § 844(i). This showing of "actual innocence" entitled Davies to have both of his remaining claims for relief resolved on their merits. While the District Court correctly resolved one of those claims in the course of determining that Davies had shown no cause and prejudice for his procedural default, one claim remains unresolved. Accordingly, we will reverse the judgment of the District Court and remand for further proceedings.


Davies has had a long history of mental illness, resulting in significant part, his clinicians opine, from his involvement as a youth with the Calvary Baptist Church in Butler, Pennsylvania. On March 12, 1998, about ten years after he was no longer involved with Calvary Baptist, Davies burned down the church's building, which was utilized as both a place of worship and a school.

Davies's clinicians suggest that he suffered years of abuse from ages 12 to 16, when he attended school at the church, due to "overly-strict church governance." Given our view of the legal issues presented, it is not necessary for us to detail those allegations of abuse or provide a summary of Davies's resulting mental illness.*fn1 Suffice it to say, Davies's clinicians opine that his mental illness affected his behavior on March 12, 1998. There is no dispute, however, that Davies was the one who burned down the church.

On May 21, 1998, Davies was charged with violating 18U.S.C. § 844(i). The indictment read:

On or about March 12, 1998... the defendant... did maliciously damage and destroy, by means of fire, a building which was used in interstate commerce and in an activity affecting interstate commerce, which building was known as the Calvary Baptist Church... [i]n violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 844(i).

A163. Davies tried unsuccessfully to have the charges dismissed. He ultimately pleaded guilty.

At the plea hearing, the prosecutor represented that the church was

engaged in or affecting interstate commerce in the sense that moneys collected from the members of the church were utilized to purchase supplies, books and other materials outside the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In addition, funds were raised at the church to support missions both outside the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and outside the United States of America.


Davies's pre-sentence report ("PSR") concluded that he was subject to a mandatory statutory minimum sentence of five years. Davies requested a downward departure on three grounds, but the District Court held that it was without authority to depart. Davies appealed, challenging only the constitutionality of the five-year minimum sentence and the District Court's determination that it lacked authority to depart downward. His conviction and sentence were affirmed by this Court.

Davies then filed a timely pro se motion to vacate his conviction pursuant 28 U.S.C. § 2255,*fn2 raising three issues.

Taken directly from the petition, they are:

Ground One - There was not a sufficient factual basis for the guilty plea. At the plea hearing, the government did not state facts on the record sufficient to establish an interstate commerce nexus.

Ground Two - The Court lacked jurisdiction to accept the plea. The government did not present a sufficient factual basis for the interstate commerce element of arson.

Ground Three - Denial of effected assistance of counsel. My counsel did not explain to me that my conduct did not actually fall within ...

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