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Estremera v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

December 9, 2019

Nelson Estremera Petitioner-Appellant
v.
United States of America Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued: November 15, 2019

         Petitioner Nelson Estremera filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Estremera principally argues that his prior Connecticut state convictions for first- and second-degree robbery do not categorically qualify as violent felonies under the force clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA"). Based on our decision in Shabazz v. United States, 912 F.3d 73 (2d Cir. 2019), we disagree. Accordingly, the judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED.

          For Petitioner-Appellant: Charles F. Willson, Federal Defender's Office, Hartford, CT.

          For Respondent-Appellee: Marc H. Silverman, Assistant United States Attorney, for John H. Durham, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, New Haven, CT.

          Before: Leval, Livingston, and Bianco, Circuit Judges.

          DEBRA ANN LIVINGSTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Petitioner Nelson Estremera appeals from a denial of his motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Estremera principally argues that his prior Connecticut state convictions for first- and second-degree robbery do not categorically qualify as violent felonies under the force clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA") and, therefore, the fifteen-year minimum sentence mandated by the ACCA for individuals with three prior qualifying convictions should not apply to him. For the reasons stated below, we disagree and affirm the judgment of the district court.

         BACKGROUND

         On December 13, 2006, a jury found Estremera guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(e). The indictment identified three prior convictions: (1) first degree robbery and attempted robbery, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes §§ 53a-134(a)(3) and 53a-49; (2) second degree robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes §§ 53a-135(a)(1) and 53a-48; and (3) conspiracy to distribute more than 5 grams of cocaine base, 500 grams of cocaine, and a quantity of heroin and marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846. Based on these three prior convictions, the district court concluded that Estremera fell within the ambit of the ACCA, which provides for a fifteen-year mandatory minimum sentence "[i]n the case of a person who . . . has three previous convictions . . . for a violent felony or serious drug offense, or both . . . ." 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). We affirmed Estremera's sentence on direct appeal. United States v. Estremera, 282 Fed.Appx. 935, 939 (2d Cir. 2008).

         Following the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), which invalidated the residual clause of the ACCA's definition of "violent felony," Estremera initiated this collateral proceeding pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. He argued that his Connecticut robbery convictions did not qualify as violent felonies under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B), and therefore his sentence was improperly imposed. The district court denied his petition but granted a certificate of appealability. Estremera timely appealed.

         DISCUSSION

         "We review de novo all questions of law relating to the district court's application of a federal sentence enhancement." United States v. Beardsley, 691 F.3d 252, 257 (2d Cir. 2012) (italics added). In determining whether an offense is a violent felony under the ACCA's force clause, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(i), we employ the categorical approach. See Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575, 600 (1990). Under the categorical approach, courts "focus solely on whether the elements of the crime of conviction sufficiently match the elements of [the generic crime], while ignoring the particular facts of the case." Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243, 2248 (2016). Where, however, a statute has "a more complicated (sometimes called 'divisible') structure," the modified categorical approach applies. Id. at 2249. Under this approach, we may "look[] to a limited class of documents (for example, the indictment, jury instructions, or plea agreement and colloquy) to determine what crime, with what elements, a defendant was convicted of." Id.

         Our decision in Shabazz v. United States, 912 F.3d 73 (2d Cir. 2019), resolves this appeal. There, we held that Connecticut's simple robbery statute, Connecticut General Statute § 53a-133, qualifies as a violent felony under the ACCA's force clause. Id. at 78. As relevant to this appeal, Estremera was convicted under Connecticut General Statute § 53a-134(a)(3) (first-degree robbery) and Connecticut General Statute § 53a-135(a)(1) (second-degree robbery). Section 53a-134(a) enumerates different ways of committing first-degree robbery, but every manner of committing robbery defined therein requires that the defendant commit "the crime of robbery as defined in section 53a-133." Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-134(a). Similarly, Section 53a-135(a) defines multiple ways of committing second-degree robbery, but the subsection under which Estremera was convicted defines the crime in part as "commit[ting] robbery, as defined in section 53a-133."[1] Id. § 53a-135(a)(1).

         In other words, the statutes under which Estremera was convicted require that he have committed simple robbery. And, as noted above, simple robbery is categorically a violent felony. See Shabazz, 912 F.3d at 78 ("[A]ny violation of § 53a-133 qualifies as an ACCA predicate."); see also United States v. Bordeaux, 886 F.3d 189, 194 (2d Cir. 2018) (holding that ยง 53a-134(a)(4) qualifies as a violent ...


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