United States v. Thomas, No. 08-8436 (4th Cir. Dec. 29, 2010):
(This case concerns the Supreme Court's ruling in Watson v. United States. For other blog entries concerning this case, click here.)
Watson v. United States held that a person does not "use" a firearm under § 924(c)(1)(A) when he receives it in trade for drugs. Although Thomas acknowledges that his § 2255 motion would be untimely if the statute of limitations ran from the date his conviction became final (§ 2255(f)(1)), he argues that his § 2255 motion is timely under § 2255(f)(3) because it was filed within one year of the Watson decision. The government agreed, but the District Court rejected the claim because the Supreme Court did not make the new rule of constitutional law retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review.
The Fourth Circuit now joins every Circuit to address the issue in determining that the decision to make a new rule retroactive can be made by any lower court, rather than only by the Supreme Court. Section 2255(f)(3) does not require that the initial retroactivity question be decided in the affirmative only by the Supreme Court.
The Fourth Circuit also holds that the right announced in Watson is a new substantive right which must be applied retroactively to cases on collateral review for purposes of § 2255(f)(3).