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Gonyea v. Terris

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

October 9, 2019

JERRY E. GONYEA, Petitioner,
v.
J.A. TERRIS, Respondent.

          ORDER DENYING PETITIONER'S PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS (ECF #1)

          MATTHEW F. LEITMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Petitioner Jerry Gonyea has filed a petition for habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 (“Section 2241”). For the reasons explained below, the petition is DENIED.

         I

         In the spring of 1994, while Gonyea was on parole for murder, Gonyea and an accomplice twice robbed a Comerica Bank in Taylor, Michigan. (See Resp., ECF No. 6, PageID.42-43; United States v. Gonyea, 140 F.3d 649, 650 (6th Cir. 1998).) According to the Government, “[D]uring the robberies [Gonyea and his accomplice] brandished guns, forced customers to the ground, attempted to kill one customer, and threatened to kill everyone else - including a group of Girl Scouts who were selling cookies.” (Resp., ECF No. 6, PageID.43.) Gonyea later pleaded guilty to (1) two counts of bank robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a) (“Section 2113(a)”) and (2) two counts of using a firearm during and in relation to the commission of a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A) (“Section 924(c)(1)(A)”). (See Resp., ECF No. 6, PageID.43; United States v. Gonyea, No. 94-cr-80346, 2012 WL 5205874, at *1 (E.D. Mich. Oct. 22, 2012).) The “crimes of violence” underlying the two Section 924(c)(1)(A) convictions were Gonyea's two alleged bank robberies. (Id.) Per Gonyea's plea agreement and the sentencing guidelines, the Court sentenced Gonyea to 351 months' imprisonment. (Id.)

         On April 15, 2019, Gonyea filed a petition for habeas corpus under Section 2241.[1] (See Pet., ECF No. 1.) He argues that in light of recent Supreme Court rulings, his bank robberies were not “crimes of violence” under Section 924(c)(1)(A). (See id., PageID.9-19 (citing, among other cases, Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016)).) Gonyea also argues that his “25-years in mandatory minimums for two [Section] 924(c) convictions constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of his Eighth Amendment Rights of the U.S. Constitution.”[2](Id., PageID.19-27.) For the reasons explained below, the Court disagrees and therefore DENIES Gonyea's Petition.

         II

         Section 924(c)(1)(A) “prohibits using a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.” Deatrick v. Sherry, 451 Fed.Appx. 562, 565 (6th Cir. 2011). For purposes of Section 924(c)(1)(A), a “crime of violence” is a felony that either:

(A) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or
(B) that by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.

18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3). Subsection (A) of the definition is known as the “elements clause, ” while Subsection (B) is called the “residual clause.” See Knight v. United States, 936 F.3d 495, 497 (6th Cir. 2019). The Supreme Court recently invalidated the residual clause as unconstitutionally vague. See United States v. Davis, 139 S.Ct. 2319 (2019). But an offense is still a “crime of violence” if it satisfies the elements clause. See, e.g., Knight, 936 F.3d at 497 (holding that assault and robbery of a postal employee constituted a “crime of violence” because it satisfied the elements clause). Thus, the question posed by Gonyea's attack on his Section 924(c)(1)(A) convictions is: do Gonyea's bank robberies constitute “crimes of violence” under the elements clause? They do.

         Courts apply a “categorial approach” to determine whether an offense qualifies as a “crime of violence” under the elements clause. United States v. Rafidi, 829 F.3d 437, 444 (6th Cir. 2016). “Under [that] approach, a court ‘focuses on the statutory definition of the offense, rather than the manner in which an offender may have violated the statute in a particular circumstance.'” Id. (quoting United States v. Denson, 728 F.3d 603, 607 (6th Cir. 2013)). “Courts use a variant of this method - labeled (not very inventively) the ‘modified categorical approach' - when a prior conviction is for violating a so-called ‘divisible statute,' which sets out one or more elements of the offense in the alternative.” Id. (quotation omitted). A court applying the modified categorical approach “consult[s] a limited class of documents, such as indictments and jury instructions, to determine which alternative formed the basis of the defendant's prior conviction.” Descamps v. United States, 570 U.S. 254, 257 (2013).

         The Court applies the modified categorical approach here because Section 2113(a) “is divisible.” Johnson v. United States, No. 18-6080, 2019 WL 193916, at *2 (6th Cir. Jan. 4, 2019). More specifically, Section 2113(a) consists of two separate paragraphs that set out elements of the offense in two alternatives. The first paragraph of Section 2113(a) prohibits robbing or attempting to rob a bank by force and violence or by intimidation:

Whoever, by force and violence, or by intimidation, takes, or attempts to take, from the person or presence of another, or obtains or attempts to obtain by extortion any property or money or any other thing of value belonging to, or in the care, custody, control, management, or ...

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