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Fraction v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 22, 2019

JAMES EDWARD FRACTION, JR., Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          OPINION

          William J. Martini U.S. District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Presently before the Court is pro se Petitioner James Edward Fraction, Jr.'s motion, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, to vacate, set aside, or correct the sentence imposed on him by this Court on July 24, 1996 (Petitioner's "§ 2255 Motion"). (ECF No. 1.) For the reasons stated herein, the Court will deny Petitioner's § 2255 Motion and will not issue a certificate of appealability.

         II. BACKGROUND

         i. Petitioner's Underlying Criminal Proceedings

         On July 16, 1996, at the conclusion of roughly five days of trial proceedings before the Honorable Alfred M. Wolin, U.S.D.J., a jury convicted Petitioner of carjacking, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2119, and kidnapping, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a). (See Gov't's Oct. 15, 2018 Opp. Br., ECF No. 12 at PageID: 63.) The Government thereafter requested that the Court sentence Petitioner to life imprisonment because: (1) he qualified as a career criminal offender under United States Sentencing Guideline ("USSG") § 4B1.1; and, alternatively, (2) Petitioner's carjacking and kidnapping convictions were each "a third strike under the Federal three-strikes law, [18 U.S.C. § 3559(c).]" (See July 24, 1996 Hr'g Tr. 44-46; accord July 24, 1996 Crim. J., available at 1996 WL 33451708.) At the time of Petitioner's conviction and sentence, the federal three-strikes law provided, in relevant part, that "a person who is convicted in a court of the United States of a serious violent felony shall be sentenced to life imprisonment if... the person has been convicted ... on separate prior occasions [in state or federal court of] 2 or more serious violent felonies[.]" 18 U.S.C. § 3559(c)(1)(A)(i).

         On July 24, 1996, Judge Wolin sentenced Petitioner to "life imprisonment for the full extent of his natural life" on his conviction for kidnapping only; Judge Wolin imposed a concurrent 180-month sentence for Petitioner's separate carjacking conviction. (See Hr'g Tr. 55; accord July 24, 1996 Crim. J.) During sentencing, Judge Wolin expressly stated that Petitioner's life sentence for kidnapping was being imposed pursuant to the three-strikes law, and not because Petitioner qualified as a career criminal offender under USSG § 4B1.1. (See Hr'g Tr. 55 ("for the record, I am sentencing under 3559(c)").) The two prior "serious violent felonies" the Court relied on to invoke § 3559(c) were Petitioner's 1979 conviction for armed robbery and his 1982 conviction for aggravated sexual assault. (Id. at 12-13, 45-46, 51.)

         On direct appeal, Petitioner challenged, inter alia, the Court's imposition of a life sentence under the three-strikes law. (See Pet'r's Appeal Br., available at 2016 WL 33451708.) On February 26, 1997, the Third Circuit summarily affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence. United States v. Fraction, 107 F.3d 863 (3d Cir. 1997) (table). The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari on October 6, 1997. Fraction v. United States, 522 U.S. 832 (1997).

         ii. The United States Supreme Court's 2015 Johnson Decision

         On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). Johnson concerns the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA"), which imposes an increased prison term upon a defendant with three prior "violent felony" convictions. See 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). At the time Johnson was issued, a qualifying "violent felony" under ACCA's so-called residual clause included any felony that "involve[d] conduct that present[ed] a serious potential risk of physical injury to another." Johnson at 2555-56 (citing 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)). The Johnson Court held that this language was unconstitutionally vague and, thus, that "[i]ncreasing a defendant's sentence under [that] clause denies due process of law." Id. at 2557. On April 18, 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that Johnson is retroactive to cases on collateral review. See Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257 (2016).

         iii. Petitioner's Present Habeas Claims

         Shortly after the Court announced that Johnson had retroactive effect, on or about June 16, 2016, Petitioner filed his present § 2255 Motion collaterally attacking his 1996 federal conviction and sentence.[1] (ECF No. 1.) Petitioner's § 2255 Motion advances the following arguments:

Ground One: Counsel rendered ineffective assistance ... to [Petitioner] ... by failing to object to vague "attempts" clause of charged offense [for] carjacking under 18U.S.C. §2119 and [this] caused [Petitioner] to be denied notice and fair[] ability to defend himself contrary to Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2251 (2015)
Ground Two: Counsel rendered ineffective assistance ... to [Petitioner]... by failing to object to vague so-called residual clause [of charged offense for carjacking under 18 U.S.C. § 2119, and this] caused [Petitioner] to be denied notice and fair ability to defend himself contrary to Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2251 (2015)
Ground Three: Counsel rendered ineffective assistance... by failing to object to [Petitioner's] non-qualifying and vague U.S. Sentencing Guidelines enhancements . . . contrary to Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2251 (2015)....
Ground Four: Counsel rendered ineffective assistance ... by failing to object to [Petitioner's] designation as a career offender, U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1 . . . . contrary to Johnson v. United States,135 S.Ct. 2251 (2015). . . . [and by not seeking an expert] to testify to Petitioner's age of 23 at the time of his prior New Jersey ...

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