Court Opinions: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion for Sept. 26

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The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals last week restored a convicted terrorist's claims alleging the Bureau of Prisons and prison officials violated his religious rights by denying him access to daily group prayer. / Law Week file.

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

United States v. Baker

In March 2011, Abasi Baker was charged with numerous federal crimes in a multi-count indictment, including seven counts of Hobbs Act robbery, seven counts of using a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence and seven counts of being a convicted felon in possession of a handgun. Count 11 specifically charged Baker in violation of 924(c), for using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence of an attempted Hobbs Act robbery. 

The charges were related to a series of armed robberies in the Kansas City, Kansas area in early 2011. Following a jury trial, Baker was convicted on all counts and was sentenced to a term of 164 years. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals panel out of Kansas City affirmed this conviction.  

Baker brought his first collateral challenge to his convictions in 2014 but was unsuccessful. In 2016, Baker moved to file a motion predicated on the residual clause of 924(c). 

Following United States v. Davis, in which the Supreme Court invalidated the residual clause as unconstitutionally vague, the 10th Circuit authorized Baker to file a successive motion. Baker argued in district court that since the residual clause was rendered “now void,” the only possible foundation for declaring his Hobbs Act convictions to be crimes of violence was the elements clause and that Hobbs Act robbery isn’t “categorically” a crime of violence. Baker also argued that Hobbs Act robbery isn’t a crime of violence because it can be accomplished by damaging property. The district court denied the motion and subsequently denied Baker’s request for a certificate of appealability. 

On appeal, Baker filed a pro se opening brief and application for a certificate of appealability, which the 10th Circuit granted. By granting the COA, the court invited a reexamination of the validity and scope of the ruling in U.S. v. Melgar-Cabrera as applied to threats of intangible property.

In his supplemental opening brief, rather than focusing on vitality vel non of Melgar-Cabrera’s holding, Baker asked the 10th Circuit to use its discretion to expand the COA to cover his broader argument that Hobbs Act robbery can be accomplished by threatening injury to any property, not satisfying 924(c)’s elements clause. 

In June 2022, the Supreme Court decided U.S. v. Taylor, holding that attempted Hobbs Act robbery isn’t a crime of violence. The 10th Circuit ordered the parties to submit a supplemental briefing regarding Taylor’s implications. Baker, in his supplemental briefing, requested the court summarily vacate his conviction on count 11 or remand the case to the district court to allow him to amend his motion to make an argument similar to Taylor. 

Despite Baker arguing that regardless of Melgar-Cabrera, his offenses of Hobbs Act robbery aren’t crimes of violence, the 10th Circuit ruled that it wasn’t persuaded and that Melgar-Cabrera is controlling. The 10th Circuit also ruled that Taylor had no place in the appeal, because Baker didn’t suggest that his conviction for attempted Hobbs Act robbery should be analyzed separately on the crime-of-violence issue. 

The 10th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Baker’s motion, denied his request to expand the COA, dismissed that portion of the case and remanded the case to allow the district court to determine whether it’s lawful to allow Baker to amend his motion to make a Taylor-like argument as to count 11.

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