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Mells v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 17, 2019

DUJUAN MELLS, Petitioner,




         Presently before the Court is Petitioner Dujuan Mells's amended motion seeking, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, to vacate and correct the 151-month sentence imposed on him on September 4, 2015 (the “§ 2255 Motion”). (DE 10.) For the reasons stated herein, Mells's § 2255 Motion is denied with prejudice and no certificate of appealability will issue.


         The facts of this matter are straightforward and undisputed. On April 20, 2015, Mells - then 28 years old - pled guilty in this Court to two separate Hobbs Act robbery charges, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a). Mells committed the first robbery on September 12, 2013 and the second one four days later on September 16, 2013. (See Dec. 20, 2013 Crim. Compl., available in Mells's underlying criminal case, United States v. Mells, No. 15-cr-180 at ¶ 1; Sept. 2, 2015 Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) at ¶¶ 6-14.)

         At Mells's September 14, 2015 sentencing, the Court found that he qualified as a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(a). (See Sept. 14, 2015 Sentencing Hr'g Tr. 19, DE 10-2 (the Court finding that the “career offender tag . . . has to be imposed here” immediately before noting that Mells's “criminal history is such that the most important feature of sentencing in this case is . . . incapacitation - protection of the public.”).) Based on this career offender designation, Mells faced a Guidelines range of 151 to 188 months imprisonment (see Id. at 4); without that designation, he would have faced a Guidelines range of between 84 to 105 months. (See, e.g., id. at 9.) As noted, the Court ultimately sentenced Mells to 151 months imprisonment. (See DE 10-2 at 24.)

         Several key considerations underlie both Mells's career offender designation and this Court's present habeas analysis. First, Mells's PSR demonstrated that he had an extensive criminal history beginning when he was just thirteen years old. (See, generally, PSR; accord DE 10-2 at 16 (the Court recognizing during sentencing that “Mr. Mells' long and painful involvement with the criminal justice system started so young”).)

         Second, notwithstanding that extensive criminal history, Mells's career offender designation pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(a) was based on two specific predicate offenses prosecuted in state court:[1] (1) a 2007 controlled substance conviction (see PSR at ¶ 59); and (2) a 2008 conviction for third-degree aggravated assault (see Id. at ¶ 63), which is the focus of the present habeas action. The PSR indicates that Mells's 2008 assault conviction was the result of an October 10, 2007 incident in which he “remove[d] a black handgun from his front waistband with his right hand and point[ed] it at [an approaching East Orange] detective” who had clearly identified himself as such. (PSR at ¶ 63.) The statute Mills pled guilty to, N.J.S.A. § 2C:12-1b(9), states that “[a] person is guilty of aggravated assault if he . . . [k]nowingly, under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, points or displays a firearm . . . at or in the direction of a law enforcement officer.”

         Third, when Mells was sentenced, U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(a) provided that an offense qualified as a career offender-predicate “crime of violence” if it was punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year and it:

(1) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another, [(the “Elements Clause”)] or
(2) is burglary of a dwelling, arson, or extortion, [or] involves use of explosive, [(the “Enumerated Offense Clause”)] or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another [(the “Residual Clause”)].

U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(a) (2014).

         Fourth, the transcript of the sentencing hearing establishes that Mells received excellent representation. The Court specifically noted defense counsel Laurie M. Fierro's sentencing memorandum was very good (see DE 10-2 at 3); she was also commended for her efforts to alleviate Mells's medical challenges. (See Id. at 25 (the Court noting that “Ms. Fierro has worked tirelessly to try to get the follow-up operation [needed to have Mr. Mells's colostomy] bag . . . removed” immediately before directing Bureau of Prisons to submit a detailed plan which included the date on which that operation would be performed).)

         Moreover, Ms. Fierro forcefully advocated against Mells being sentenced as a career offender. (See Id. at 3-10; Fierro's Aug. 31, 2015 Sentencing Memo.) In that respect, she specifically argued that the June 26, 2015 decision in Samuel Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015) - issued just over a month before Fierro filed her sentencing memorandum - countenanced against utilizing Mells's 2008 aggravated assault ...

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