Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Adams: Granting SoS application where record "ambiguous" whether district court relied on residual clause, and Descamps applied

In In Re: Keith Devon Adams, No. 12519-J (June 15, 2016), the Court granted authorization to file a second or successive (SOS) § 2255 motion to a defendant sentenced under ACCA. It was unclear from the record which clause of ACCA the district court employed when it concluded that Adams’ prior burglary conviction under Fla. St. § 810.02 qualified as a “violent felony.” There was “some suggestion” that the district court considered the residual clause. At the time, Florida’s burglary statute was deemed an ACCA predicate under the residual clause, rather than the elements clause, or the enumerated clause. Further, the statute did not appear to be “divisible.” Rather than setting out the critical place-of-entry element in the alternative – i.e., “a building or its curtilage” – the place-of-entry element encompassed a “building of any kind . . . together with the curtilage thereof.” Thus, under Descamps, Adams’ burglary convicted cannot serve as a predicate offense under the enumerated crimes clause as an alternative. The Court recognized that in In Re Griffin, the Court had concluded that Decamps did not itself announce a new rule of constitutional law sufficient to satisfy § 2255(h)(2). However, the petitioner in Griffin relied on Descamps “as a standalone claim,” because the district court did not rely on the residual clause. In contrast, for Adams, the ambiguity surrounding the district court’s sentencing decision required inquiry into the text of the ACCA to determine which clause, if any, applied. The Court therefore looked to guiding precedent, such as Descamps, to interpret ACCA’s words correctly. “When this Court construes a statute, it is explaining its understanding of what the statute has meant continuously since the date when it became law.” Descamps “is not an independent claim that is itself subject to AEDPA’s gatekeeping requirements.”