Robert Randolph v. United States (11th Cir. September 2018)

The Federal Docket

November 7, 2018

Procedure/28 U.S.C. § 2255 – A second or successive § 2255 motion is not based on a new rule of constitutional law that was previously unavailable when it raises a claim that was raised in a prior § 2255 motion, even if the first claim was denied as procedurally defaulted.

Robert Randolph was granted a certificate to file a second § 2255 motion on the grounds that the Supreme Court’s case in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), rendered his sentence unconstitutional. At issue was whether Randolph’s second § 2255 motion was “based on a new rule of constitutional law that was unavailable” when Randolph filed his first motion.

Randolph was sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act in 2009, based on three prior violent felony convictions. Randolph filed a § 2255 motion pro se in 2014, arguing that Descamps v. United States, 133 S. Ct. 2276 (2013), invalidated one of his prior convictions. While that motion was pending, the Supreme Court decided Johnson, and Randolph supplemented his first motion to add a Johnson claim.

The district court denied the motion, ruling that Randolph’s claims were procedurally defaulted because he had not appealed his sentence. Randolph did not appeal the denial of his § 2255 motion, and instead filed a pro se application for a certificate to file a second § 2255 motion. The Eleventh Circuit granted the certificate, but the district court dismissed his second motion without ruling on the merits, holding instead that, because Randolph had already raised his Johnson claim, it was not based on a new rule of constitutional law that was previously unavailable.

The Court affirmed the district court’s denial. Randolph had already presented him Johnson claim in his first § 2255 motion, citing precedent that claims raised in § 2254 motions cannot be presented in successive motions. Clearly, the Johnson claim had been available to Randolph at the time of his first motion, as he raised that claim. Accordingly, he could not prove that his second motion was based on new law “that was previously unavailable” as required by § 2255(h).

The Court also rejected Randolph’s argument that the rule in Johnson was only available to him after the Supreme Court held it was retroactive in Welch v. United States, 136 S. Ct.  1257 (2016). Rather, the Johnson claim was “available” even before it was “retroactive.”

Appeal from Northern District of Georgia

Opinion by E. Carnes, joined by Branch and Gayles (by designation from S.D. Fla.)

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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