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Collins v. Greenville Federal Correctional Institution

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

November 20, 2013



DAVID R. HERNDON, Chief District Judge.

Petitioner, currently incarcerated in FCI-Greenville, brings this habeas corpus action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 to challenge the constitutionality of his sentence. The petition was filed on October 28, 2013.


Petitioner was tried by a jury in this Court, and was convicted of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and distribution of crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C §§ 846 and 841(a). On October 13, 2000, the undersigned Judge sentenced him to 360 months (30 years) in prison. This sentence represented the maximum allowable under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(C), which increased the possible maximum to 30 years because petitioner had a prior felony drug conviction. See United States v. Collins, 272 F.3d 984, 987 (7th Cir. 2001) (affirming petitioner's conviction and sentence on direct appeal).

Petitioner filed a timely motion to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on May 9, 2003, raising numerous allegations that his attorneys were ineffective. Collins v. United States, Case No. 03-cv-323-DRH (S.D. Ill.). That motion was denied on June 24, 2004. He later filed a motion pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2), for a reduction of sentence based on the November 1, 2007, amendments to the sentencing guidelines regarding crack cocaine (Doc. 119 in criminal case). Those amendments lowered the base offense levels associated with specified amounts of that drug. The motion was denied on February 25, 2010, for lack of jurisdiction (Doc. 136 in criminal case). The crack cocaine amendments (706 and 711) were made to the guidelines found at U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c); however, petitioner's base offense level had been determined according to the Career Offender guidelines at U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1, which had not been amended. Therefore, this Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider a sentence reduction.

The § 2241 Petition

Petitioner now asserts that the sentencing scheme in 21 U.S.C. § 841(b), which sets longer sentences for crack cocaine offenses than for powder cocaine offenses involving the same weight of drug, [1] is racially discriminatory and violates the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution as well as the Civil Rights Act ("CRA") of 1866 (Doc. 1, p. 6; Doc. 1-1). In support of this argument, he points to the efforts made by the United States Sentencing Commission to reduce or eliminate the 100-to-1 powder/crack cocaine ratio (Doc. 1-1, pp. 4-5). Petitioner notes the Commission's observation that the harsher crack sentences disproportionately affected black defendants. He also reviews at length the congressional debates over legislation aimed at eliminating the sentencing disparity in favor of a 1-to-1 ratio, as well as several district court opinions adopting the 1-to-1 ratio for sentencing (Doc. 1-1, pp. 5-12).

Petitioner argues that he could not have raised this challenge in his § 2255 motion, because at that time (May 2003), "Congress had not admitted... that the crack law was racially discriminatory" (Doc. 1, p. 4). Further, federal appellate courts were all "in agreement that crack and powder cocaine were two different drugs" (Doc. 1-1, p. 20). Because members of Congress have now admitted "that they made a mistake in implementing any ratio between crack/powder cocaine offenses, " Congress "exceeded its legislative authority under the 13th Amendment and the CRA of 1866" in enacting any ratio at all (Doc. 1-1, p. 21). He argues that the sentencing disparity runs afoul of the Thirteenth Amendment because its disparate impact on black citizens is akin to a "badge of slavery, " which has been prohibited (Doc. 1-1, pp. 14-15). He asserts that his jurisdictional challenge to the sentencing ratio in § 841(b) can be brought at any time (Doc. 1-1, p. 21).

As relief, petitioner asks that his sentence be vacated, and that he be resentenced without reference to any crack/powder cocaine ratio (Doc. 1, p. 8).


Rule 4 of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases in United States District Courts provides that upon preliminary consideration by the district court judge, "[i]f it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court, the judge must dismiss the petition and direct the clerk to notify the petitioner." Rule 1(b) of those Rules gives this Court the authority to apply the rules to other habeas corpus cases. After carefully reviewing the petition in the present case, the Court concludes that petitioner is not entitled to relief, and the petition must be dismissed.

Ordinarily, a person may challenge his federal sentence only by means of a motion brought before the sentencing court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, and this remedy normally supersedes the writ of habeas corpus. A § 2241 petition by a federal prisoner is generally limited to challenges to the execution of the sentence. Valona v. United States, 138 F.3d 693, 694 (7th Cir. 1998); Atehortua v. Kindt, 951 F.2d 126, 129 (7th Cir. 1991). Federal prisoners may utilize § 2241, however, to challenge the legality of a conviction or sentence in cases pursuant to the "savings clause" of § 2255(e). 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e). The savings clause allows a petitioner to bring a claim under § 2241, where he can show that a remedy under § 2255 is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention. Id.; see United States v. Prevatte, 300 F.3d 792, 798-99 (7th Cir. 2002). The fact that petitioner may be barred from bringing a second § 2255 petition is not, in itself, sufficient to render it an inadequate remedy. In re Davenport, 147 F.3d 605, 609-10 (7th Cir. 1998) (§ 2255 limitation on filing successive motions does not render it an inadequate remedy for a prisoner who had filed a prior § 2255 motion). Instead, a petitioner under § 2241 must demonstrate the inability of a § 2255 motion to cure the defect in the conviction.

The Seventh Circuit recently reiterated the rule that a § 2241 petition can only be used to attack a conviction or sentence when the § 2255 remedy "is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of [the prisoner's] detention." Hill v. Werlinger, 695 F.3d 644, 648 (7th Cir. 2012) (internal citations omitted). "Inadequate or ineffective' means that a legal theory that could not have been presented under § 2255 establishes the petitioner's actual innocence.'" Id. (citing Taylor v. Gilkey, 314 F.3d 832, 835 (7th Cir. 2002); In re Davenport, 147 F.3d 605, 608 (7th Cir. 1998)). Actual innocence is established when a petitioner can "admit everything charged in [the] indictment, but the conduct no longer amount[s] to a crime under the statutes (as correctly understood)." Kramer v. Olson, 347 F.3d 214, 218 (7th Cir. 2003).

Such is not the case here. Petitioner does not suggest that the charged conduct is no longer a crime; instead, he argues that he should not have been sentenced under the 100-to-1 sentencing ratio that applied to crack cocaine offenses at the time. Despite the fact that some members of Congress, judges, and others have criticized and even departed from the 100-to-1 and the current 18-to-1 sentencing ratios, those opinions and ...

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