11th Circuit Applies Vagueness Principles in Favor of Defendant

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on June 08, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Here is another ruling by an appeals court that favored the petitioning defendant. In the case of In Re: Recardo Pinder, the criminal defendant appealed the heightened penal sentence and successfully showed the higher appellate court that he'd brought "a new rule of constitutional law" before the court.

It was a long shot, but it did the trick.

Application to Vacate

Pinder, a criminal defendant, sought to set aside his criminal conviction under 28 U.S.C. sec. 2255. Under that statute, the appeals court would have to certify that Pinder had satisfied one of two elements. The first element called for "newly discovered evidence as a whole" that would have to show by clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable jury could have found the defendant guilty, or that Pinder could produce a new, previously unavailable rule of constitutional law that was designed to be retroactive by SCOTUS itself.

Pinder's Circumstances

Pinder had been sentenced under 18 USC sec. 924(c), which calls for a higher penal sentence if a defendant uses a firearm during a "crime of violence." He sought relief from his sentence on a vagueness theory and pointed to the Supreme Court case of Johnson v. United States.

To make a somewhat long story short, the court concluded that it was not clear whether or not the application of the rule in Johnson should apply to Pinder's case and noted several disagreements among the courts along the way.

What was clear, however, was that Pinder successfully showed that the rule in question applied retroactively on collateral review, pursuant to the serendipitously filed Welch v. United States. And since the elements were disjunctive, the lower court would have to review the merits de novo.

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