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Brown v. Walton

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

February 24, 2014

WILL ROBERTSON BROWN, XXXXX-XXX, Petitioner,
v.
JEFFREY S. WALTON, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

DAVID R. HERNDON, District Judge.

Petitioner, an inmate in the Federal Correctional Institution located in Marion, Illinois ("FCI-Marion"), brings this habeas corpus action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Petitioner challenges his enhanced sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA"), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), based on his actual innocence. This matter is now before the Court for preliminary review of the habeas petition.

Rule 4 of the Federal Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in United States District Courts provides that upon preliminary consideration by the district judge, "[i]f it plainly appears from the face of the petition and any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court, the judge shall make an order for its summary dismissal and cause the petitioner to be notified." Rule 1(b) of those Rules gives this Court the authority to apply the rules to other habeas corpus cases.

I. Background

On October 6, 2003, petitioner pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (Doc. 1, p. 3). United States v. Brown, Case No. 02-cr-00065-WJG-1 (S.D.Miss.).[1] On January 14, 2004, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi sentenced petitioner to 188 months of imprisonment as an armed career criminal under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). He did not appeal his conviction or sentence. However, on December 3, 2009, petitioner sought relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. 29, criminal case). His petition was denied as untimely on April 27, 2010 (Doc. 34, criminal case).

Before filing the petition at issue here, petitioner filed two other habeas petitions[2] pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. See Brown v. Hollingsworth, Case No. 10-cv-630-JPG (S.D. Ill. 2010) (Doc. 1); see also Brown v. Roal-Warner, Case No. 11-cv-479-DRH (S.D. Ill. 2011) (Doc. 1). Both were summarily dismissed. Brown v. Hollingsworth, Case No. 10-cv-630-JPG (S.D. Ill. 2010) (dismissed October 18, 2010) (Doc. 4); Brown v. Roal-Warner, Case No. 11-cv-479-DRH (S.D. Ill. 2011) (dismissed February 22, 2012) (Doc. 5). The present petition now sets forth additional grounds for relief from petitioner's conviction, which this Court has not yet addressed (Doc. 1, pp. 1-2).

II. Habeas Petition

According to the present petition, petitioner entered into a plea agreement with the United States Attorney's office on October 6, 2003 (Doc. 1, p. 3). As part of the agreement, petitioner pled guilty to a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). At the time, a Notice of Prior Violent Felony Convictions was already on file with the Court. Although the plea agreement did not indicate whether petitioner would be subject to a sentence enhancement based on his prior convictions, the Court ultimately sentenced petitioner to 188 months of imprisonment as an armed career criminal under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e) (Doc. 1, pp. 3-4). The sentencing court made this determination based on the following convictions: (1) burglary and arson on June 11, 1986; (2) aggravated assault on April 6, 1992; (3) third degree arson on March 6, 1993; and (4) felon in possession of a firearm on March 6, 1993 (Doc. 1, pp. 4-5).

Petitioner now claims that he is actually innocent of being an armed career criminal who is subject to an enhanced sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e) (Doc. 1, pp. 2, 7). In support of this claim, petitioner asserts that the predicate offenses (i.e., burglary and arson) relied upon by the trial court in imposing the enhanced sentence no longer qualify as "violent" crimes under the analytical framework most recently set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Descamps v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2276 (2013) (Doc. 1, pp. 2, 7, 13). Because his burglary and arson convictions are not violent crimes within the meaning of the ACCA, petitioner claims that they cannot sustain his conviction as an armed career criminal. The erroneous application of the mandatory ACCA is, according to the petition, a "fundamental sentencing defect" that has resulted in a miscarriage of justice (Doc. 1, p. 5).

III. Discussion

Ordinarily, a person may challenge his federal conviction 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 a 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).

The Court is aware of developing law in this area, which includes the Supreme Court's recent decision in Descamps v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2276 (2013). The Court is also mindful of petitioner's detailed arguments in support of his petition. Without commenting on the merits of petitioner's claim, the Court concludes that the petition survives preliminary review under Rule 4 and 1(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in United States ...


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