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Luis M. Narvaez v. U.S., 7th Cir No. 09-2919, 6/3/11

7th circuit court of appeals decision

Retroactive Application of Case Law, on Collateral Review

Narvaez’s federal ACCA enhancement, imposed in 2003, is now unsupportable in light of subsequently-decided Supreme Court authority (Begay v. U.S.; Chambers v. U.S.). He may therefore seek relief against the sentencing enhancement via 28 U.S.C. § 2255: the case law development worked a change in “substantive liability” rather than mere procedure, thus applies retroactively on collateral review; and, the issue is both constitutional and jurisdictional in nature.

We also agree that, in these circumstances, the Begay and Chambers decisions  apply  retroactively on collateral review. See Welch v. United States, 604 F.3d 408, 415 (7th Cir. 2010). …  see also United States v. Shipp, 589 F.3d 1084, 1089, 1091 (10th Cir.2009) (holding that Chambers articulated “a substantive rule of statutory interpretation” because a defendant  who “does not constitute an ‘armed career criminal’ . . . [has] received a punishment that the law cannot impose upon him.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Chambers, like Begay, falls within the class of substantive decisions that “prohibit[] a certain category of punishment for a class of defendants because of their status or offense.” O’Dell v. Netherland, 521 U.S. 151, 157 (1997) (internal quotation marks omitted).

We have recognized that sentencing errors are generally not cognizable on collateral review. See Scott v. United States, 997 F.2d 340, 342-43  (7th Cir. 1993). Mr. Narvaez’ s case, however, does not come within this general rule. It presents a special and very narrow exception: A postconviction  change  in  the  law has  rendered the  sentencing court’s decision unlawful. See Welch, 604 F.3d at 412–13 (recognizing that relief is available “where a change in law reduces the defendant’s statutory maximum sentence below  the  imposed  sentence”). … Such gratuitous infliction of punishment is a fundamental defect in the court’s judgment that clearly constitutes a complete miscarriage of justice and a violation of due process.

Our earlier holdings not only support, but compel, this result. We have recognized that, when a petitioner is convicted and is sentenced for an act that the law does not make criminal and when  the defendant  has not had a reasonable opportunity to obtain judicial correction of the fundamental defect, the defendant may be entitled to collateral relief. … Indeed, in Davis, the  petitioner sought § 2255 relief after a subsequent interpretation of the statute under which he was convicted established that his conviction was “for an act that the law does not make criminal.” 417 U.S. at 346. The Supreme Court held that “[t]here can be no room for doubt that such a circumstance ‘inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.’” Id. at 346–47.9


9 See also Young v. United States, 124 F.3d 794, 796 (7th Cir. 1997) (“If a  legal development after the conviction shows that the conviction and punishment are for an act that the law does not make criminal, the [§ 2255] standard is satisfied: the change of law shows why the claim could not have been made earlier, and imprisonment for a non-crime is a miscarriage of justice.” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)).

The merits of the issue relate solely to federal practice. But the state practitioner may draw lessons from the decision: § 974.06 is derived from 2255 so the principles discussed are highly relevant to state collateral attack. (As they also are to 2254 challenge to a state conviction.) Now all you need is a decisional change in your client’s “substantive liability.” and you’re home free.

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