Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Mays: Johnson and Descamps apply retroactively to first habeas petition

In Mays v. U.S., No. 14-13477 (March 29, 2016), the Court held that Descamps and Johnson apply retroactively to a first-habeas petition defendant sentenced to a higher mandatory sentence based on prior convictions under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), and therefore ordered resentencing. One of Mays’ prior qualifying convictions was an Alabama third-degree burglary. In U.S. v. Howard, the Court had already held, post-Descamps, that this Alabama burglary did not qualify under ACCA’s enumerated clause. Mays was sentenced pre-Descamps. The Court found that Descamps did not announce a new rule, “but was simply reaffirming” an existing approach. Thus, under Teague v. Lane, Descamps applied retroactively, and the Alabama burglary did not qualify under the enumerated clause. Turning to whether the Alabama burglary qualified under ACCA’s residucal clause, the Court held that Johnson, which held the residual clause to be unconstitutionally vague, applied retroactively because it was a new substantive rule of constitutional law. Citing Schriro v. Summerlin, the Court noted that new substantive rules include decisions that “place particular conduct or persons covered by the statute beyond the State’s power to punish.” The Court recognized that in In re Rivero, it had held that Johnson did not apply retroactively to a defendant who filed a second and successive habeas petition. But Mays was on his first habeas petition, and therefore does not require a ruling by the Supreme Court that Johnson is retroactive. Further, Rivero found that Johnson announced a new substantive rule of constitutional law. Accordingly, Johnson was retroactively applicable to a first habeas petition.