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United States v. Johnson

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

December 15, 2017

ANTHONY TYRONE JOHNSON, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 9:95-cr-08069-DTKH-1

          Before TJOFLAT, HULL and JULIE CARNES, Circuit Judges.

          PER CURIAM.

         Anthony Tyrone Johnson appeals the denial of his 18 U.S.C. § 3583(e)(1) motion for early termination of supervised release. He contends that the District Court abused its discretion by summarily denying his motion without explanation. Section 3583(e)(1) requires courts to consider several § 3553(a) sentencing factors when terminating a term of supervised release. The issue before us is whether, and the extent to which, a district court must indicate or explain its consideration of the relevant § 3553(a) factors when denying a § 3583(e)(1) motion.

         Because a defendant may appeal a court's decision to deny him early termination of supervised release, and because appellate review must be meaningful, we hold that a district court's order, in light of the record, must demonstrate that the pertinent factors were taken into account. This mirrors our 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2)[1] precedent on the matter. See United States v. Douglas, 576 F.3d 1216, 1219 (11th Cir. 2009). Here, nothing in the record or in the District Court's order show that it considered the required § 3553(a) factors. We therefore vacate its decision and remand the case for further consideration and explanation.


         In 1995, Anthony Tyrone Johnson was charged in a one-count indictment with being a convicted felon in unlawful possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g) and 924(a)(2). This was after Johnson, having found out his brother was murdered, reacted by shooting a rifle in the direction of two women and two children.[2] The charge was tried to a jury in March 1997, and it found him guilty. Although the maximum statutory penalty for Johnson's offense was ten years' imprisonment, some of his prior criminal history-two 1987 manslaughter convictions and a 1990 conviction of possession of cocaine with intent to sell[3]- subjected him to the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA"), which contains a fifteen-year mandatory minimum and a statutory maximum of life imprisonment. See id. § 924(e). The applicable guidelines range was 262 to 327 months of imprisonment. After voicing concern about Johnson's "extraordinary" criminal history and violent propensities, the District Court sentenced Johnson to 327 months' imprisonment, to be followed by five years' supervised release.

         Johnson appealed, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction and the Court's lack of findings in support of his sentence. This Court affirmed the conviction and sentence. United States v. Johnson, 252 F.3d 438 (11th Cir. 2001) (unpublished table decision).

         In April 2016, Johnson returned to the District Court[4] and filed an unopposed emergency motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate his sentence and for immediate release from custody. Johnson argued that under Johnson v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), which held the ACCA's "residual clause" in 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii) unconstitutionally void for vagueness, his enhanced sentence constituted a due process violation.[5] The statutory maximum of his 1997 firearm conviction was thus ten years, and he had already served twenty-one. In a report and recommendation, the Magistrate Judge suggested that the District Court grant the motion. The Court adopted the report and recommendation, but also ordered that a probation officer be assigned to Johnson and that he commence a three-year period of supervised release. The Court's order provided no reasons for the supervised release.

         A year later, Johnson moved for early termination of his supervised release under 18 U.S.C. § 3583(e)(1).[6] Section 3583(e)(1) allows district courts to terminate the remainder of a defendant's term of supervised release once the defendant has completed a year, and provides a number of § 3553(a) sentencing factors to be considered in making this determination.[7] Johnson filed a brief in support of his motion, contending that early termination of his supervised release was in the interest of justice, as he had served eleven years of unnecessary prison time-twenty-one years on a ten-year sentence. He added that he was employed full-time at a construction company, went to church and Bible study, volunteered helping at-risk youth, and that his probation officer would not oppose early termination of his supervised release. Without requesting a Government response, the District Court denied Johnson's motion in a paperless entry on the docket, reading in its entirety: "ORDER denying Defendant (1) Anthony Tyrone Johnson's [] Motion for Early Termination of Supervised Release. Signed by Senior Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley on 6/2/2017." The order provided no explanation whatsoever for the Court's decision. Johnson appealed.


         On appeal, Johnson does not necessarily contend that the District Court should have granted his motion. Rather, he claims that there must be some indication-from the District Court's order or the record-that the Court considered the enumerated § 3553(a) factors in making its decision. Here, he argues, neither the Court's summary denial nor the record was sufficient to show that such consideration took place. The Court's denial was thus an abuse of discretion and its judgment must be vacated and the case remanded. We agree.


         First, however, we briefly address the threshold issue of whether § 3583(e)(1) requires courts to consider the relevant § 3553(a) factors at all when denying a motion for early termination of supervised release. The Government contends that the factors must be consulted only when choosing to terminate supervised release early-not when denying a defendant's request. For this, the Government points to the provision's opening line: "The court may, after considering the [relevant § 3553(a) factors, ] . . . terminate a term of supervised release . . . ." 18 U.S.C. § 3583(e)(1) (emphasis added).

         Under the Government's reading, the provision would require courts to consider the factors only when deciding affirmatively to terminate supervised release early. This raises the question of how, other than consulting the factors, courts are supposed to determine when to deny relief under the provision. Or why, when denying relief only, they are allowed to turn a blind eye to them. It is sufficiently implicit in the provision that the factors are to be considered whether a court grants or denies a § 3583(e)(1) ...

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