Categories & Search

Sanford v. United States

The Court in Sanford v. United States, 16-1840 (Katzmann, Wesley, Hall) yesterday dismissed Petitioner Elijah Sanford’s motion for leave to file a successive § 2255 motion to challenge his sentence, concluding that Sanford’s challenge was precluded by an enforceable collateral attack waiver, knowingly and voluntarily made, in his plea agreement.

Sanford argued that collateral review was warranted because his sentence had been based on a Guidelines provision—the “residual clause” of U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(a)(2)—that was unconstitutionally vague under the principles recently set out in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015).  The Court acknowledged that it had deemed successive § 2255 motions warranted for Johnson­-based challenges to the residual clause in other cases.  But it did not reach the merits of Sanford’s motion because it concluded that any collateral challenge was precluded by the waiver—made knowingly and voluntarily—in his plea agreement.  Sanford had agreed “not to file an appeal or otherwise challenge the conviction or sentence in the event that the [sentencing] Court impose[d] a term of imprisonment of 210 months or below,” which it had.  Op. at 2.  The Court explained, citing an earlier holding, that “[e]ven assuming . . . that Sanford was sentenced under a Guidelines provision that is unconstitutional after Johnson, . . . a defendant’s inability to foresee a change in the law does not supply a basis for failing to enforce an appeal waiver” or a collateral attack waiver.  Op. at 4-6 (brackets and internal quotation marks omitted).  In short, the Court held Sanford to his bargain even though a significant legal rule changed after he entered into the plea agreement with the waiver provision.

-By Kathryn S. Austin and Harry Sandick