United States v. Michael St. Hubert (11th Cir. November 2018)

The Federal Docket

December 3, 2018

Appeal Waivers – Defendant’s guilty plea did not waive his right to challenge the constitutionality of his statute of conviction on appeal, nor did it waive his right to appeal the statutory basis for his conviction because his challenge was “jurisdictional” i.e. asserted that the court lacked the jurisdiction to convict him under the statute of conviction.

Firearm Offenses/18 U.S.C. 924(c) – Attempted Hobbs Act Robbery is a “crime of violence” under the conduct-based approach to § 924(c)’s risk-of-force clause and the categorical approach to § 924(c)’s elements clause.

Appellate Procedure/Stare Decisis – Published panel opinions rendered in connection with applications for leave to file second or successive § 2255 motions are binding on future panels in direct appeals and collateral attacks.

The Court sua sponte vacated its prior panel opinion in this case in order to clarify its holding under the new rule announced in Ovalles. At issue was whether Michael St. Hubert had a) waived his right to appeal by pleading guilty; and b) whether his predicate Hobbs Act robbery and attempted robbery offenses constituted “crimes of violence” under § 924(c)(3), which had been applied to sentence St. Hubert’ to a 300-month mandatory minimum term of imprisonment.

First, the Court determined whether St. Hubert had waived his right to appeal his convictions by pleading guilty. St. Hubert sought to argue on appeal that § 924’s “risk of force” clause was unconstitutionally vague and that, regardless, his offenses did not qualify as “crimes of violence” under either of § 924(c)’s risk-of-force or elements clause.

The Court held that St. Hubert had not waived his right to challenge the constitutionality of his statute of conviction, citing the Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Class v. United States. In Class, the Supreme Court held that a guilty plea does not inherently bar a subsequent challenge to the constitutionality of the statute of conviction, as the court would lack jurisdiction to convict a defendant if the statute were unconstitutional.

The Court applied the same logic to St. Hubert’s statutory claim. Noting that courts retain jurisdiction over a defendant even when a defective indictment alleges insufficient facts to constitute an offense, the Court distinguished such defects from “jurisdictional defects,” which deprive a court of jurisdiction, i.e. the power to adjudicate a case, and which cannot be procedurally defaulted. Essentially, the Court distinguished an indictment’s failure to allege a fact requisite for conviction from an indictment’s failure to allege a crime. The former can be waived through a guilty plea, but not the latter.

Here, there was no omission of facts or elements in the indictment— St. Hubert essentially argued that, even if the facts alleged were true, the indictment did not allege an offense under § 924. Accordingly, if St. Hubert could prove that he was indicted for and pleaded guilty to a “non-offense,” the court would lack the jurisdiction to convict him, and his guilty plea would not have waived his right to appeal his conviction.

Second, the Court affirmed St. Hubert’s conviction under § 924(c). Noting that the Eleventh Circuit had rejected St. Hubert’s constitutional argument in Ovalles, the Court began with St. Hubert’s statutory claim that his underlying Hobbs Act robbery offense was not a “crime of violence” under § 924. Applying the conduct-based approach from Ovalles, the Court disagreed, holding that St. Hubert’s conduct, which included brandishing a firearm, was sufficient to convict him under § 924’s risk-of-force clause.

The Court also held that St. Hubert’s Hobbs Act robbery constituted a “crime of violence” under § 924’s elements clause, which includes offenses that have the use or threat of force as an underlying element, citing prior panel precedent. The Court rejected St. Hubert’s argument that those prior opinions were not binding given that they were rendered in the “procedurally distinct context” of adjudicating applications for leave to file second or successive § 2255 motions.

Finally, the Court also affirmed St. Hubert’s § 924 conviction based on his attempted Hobbs Act robbery. Applying first the conduct-based approach, the Court held that St. Hubert’s attempted robbery, which involved holding another person at gun point, was sufficient to constitute a “crime of violence.”

The Court also held that St. Hubert’s attempted Hobbs Act robbery constituted a “crime of violence” under the categorical approach to qualifying crimes of violence under § 924’s elements clause. The Court reasoned that a criminal attempt to commit an offense that requires the use or threat of force as an element is itself a “crime of violence” under § 924. 

Appeal from the Southern District of Florida

Opinion by Hull, joined by Marcus and Anderson

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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