Jeffery Bridges v. United States (March 7th Cir. 2021)

The Federal Docket

March 23, 2021

Sixth Amendment/Ineffective Assistance – A lawyer’s failure to raise a meritorious guideline argument may constitute ineffective assistance of counsel even where there is no directly on-point precedent within the circuit at the relevant time.

Sentencing Guidelines/Career Offender – Hobbs Act robbery is not a “crime of violence” under the career offender provision of the Guidelines.

Jeffery Bridges was convicted of Hobbs Act robbery and entered a guilty plea stipulating that he was a career offender under U.S.S.G. 4B1.1, which applies if a defendant’s crime of conviction and prior convictions are for crimes of violence or controlled substance offenses. He was sentenced to 140 months, a significant downward variance from the guidelines.

Though Bridges had waived his right to appeal in his plea agreement, he had not waived his right to file a post-conviction motion under 28 USC 2255 alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. Bridges filed such a motion arguing that his lawyer was ineffective based on his failure to argue that the career offender enhancement was improperly applied because Hobbs Act robbery is not a “crime of violence” under the Guidelines. While the Tenth Circuit had recognized that Hobbs Act robbery was not a crime of violence under the Guidelines at the time of Bridges’ sentencing, the Seventh Circuit had not.

Reviewing the district court’s denial of Bridges’ motion under 2255, the Seventh Circuit first held that Hobbs Act robbery is not a “crime of violence” under 4B1.1. Joining several other circuits, the Seventh Circuit reasoned that Hobbs Act robbery is not a crime of violence under the elements clause of 4B1.1 because the use of force in the offense can be directed at property, not a person, nor does Hobbs Act robbery fit the categorical definition of robbery since generic robbery does not involve threats of force against property.

Perhaps even more significantly, however, the Court held that Bridges had made a sufficient showing of ineffective assistance of counsel to warrant at least a hearing based on his lawyer’s failure to argue at sentencing that Bridges could not be sentenced as a career offender because Hobbs Act is not a crime of violence.

Significant to the Court’s holding was that Bridges’ sentencing came after Amendment 798 to the Guidelines, “which substantially narrowed the definition of ‘crime of violence,'” as well as “the well-known counterintuitive and defendant-friendly results produced by the categorical approach.” The Court concluded that Bridges’ attorney had a duty to make a reasonable investigation or to make a reasonable decision that makes particular investigations unnecessary.

While lawyers are not obligated to “anticipate changes in the law,” there was enough available here that Bridges’ lawyer might have been ineffective. It was immaterial that the Seventh Circuit had not issued binding precedent on the career offender question at the time of Bridges’ sentencing, just as it was significant that the Tenth Circuit had issued an opinion on the same issue months before, and other circuits had decided similar issues involving the categorical approach and the career offender enhancement. This was enough to warrant an evidentiary hearing into whether Bridges’ counsel had been ineffective.

Appeal from the Southern District of Indiana
Opinion by Hamilton, joined by Rovner and Scudder

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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