United States v. Muskett, No. 17-2123 (10th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
In 2013, defendant-appellant Donovan Muskett was indicted by grand jury, charged with four counts: assault with a dangerous weapon in Indian Country; aggravated burglary in Indian Country (based on New Mexico’s aggravated burglary statute by way of the federal Assimilative Crimes Act); using, carrying, possessing, and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to and in furtherance of a crime of violence; and negligent child abuse in Indian Country. Muskett entered into a plea agreement, under which he pled guilty to the brandishing a firearm charge, the government dismissed the remaining three counts. The parties agreed that, contingent on the district court's acceptance of the plea agreement, Muskett would be sentenced to 84 months in prison. The district court accepted Muskett’s plea and sentenced him to 84 months of imprisonment followed by a three-year term of supervised release. In this matter, Muskett appealed the denial of his motion to vacate the brandishing conviction as a crime of violence based on the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 2319 (2019) (invalidating the residual clause in 18 U.S.C. 924(c)’s definition of a “crime of violence” as unconstitutionally vague). The parties’ primary disputed whether Muskett’s predicate federal felony—assault with a dangerous weapon, 18 U.S.C. 113(a)(3)—qualified as a crime of violence under the elements clause, thereby rendering harmless the Davis defect in his conviction. Muskett suggested the Tenth Circuit conduct this analysis using the law as it existed at the time of his conviction because application of current law would violate due process limits on the retroactive application of judicial decisions enlarging criminal liability. The Tenth Circuit found precedent compelled the conclusion that assault with a dangerous weapon was categorically a crime of violence under the elements clause. "And we conclude that at the time of his offense, Mr. Muskett had fair notice that section 924(c)’s elements clause could ultimately be construed to encompass his commission of assault with a dangerous weapon." The Court thus affirmed the district court's denial of Muskett’s section 2255 motion.