United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON MOTION TO VACATE AND DISMISS (DOC. 44)
MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.
Indicted in October 2010 on charges of possessing materials depicting a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, Gary Eugene Shields opted to plead guilty. On January 27, 2011, Shields appeared before the undersigned District Judge and entered a guilty plea. On April 29, 2011, the undersigned sentenced Shields. Judgment was signed May 3, 2011 and entered on May 4, 2011. Shields did not file a direct appeal. Two years passed.
Starting in June 2013, Shields filed several motions in this closed case, including a motion for copies, discovery and transcripts, a motion for clarification (seeking the production of evidence proving that the Court had jurisdiction in the criminal case and that the documents used therein were authentic), and a motion to reconsider. The motions were denied. In one Order, the Court explained, with reference to available forms for this purpose, the procedural steps Shields should take if he was trying to file a collateral challenge to his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255.
On May 23, 2014, Shields filed a "Motion to Vacate Punishment Order [and] Dismiss Indictment with Prejudice as Void from Want of Jurisdiction" (Doc. 44). The United States responded on June 24, 2014 (Doc. 46). Shields countered with a July 14, 2014 pleading captioned "Pracipe Notice of Hearing and Ruling with Finding of Fact and Conclusions of Law" (Doc. 47).
The undersigned entered a six-page Order explaining that the Court intended to treat Shields' May 23, 2014 motion as a petition for relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255. The Order delineated the serious consequences of construing the motion this way and gave Shields until July 31, 2014 to answer two questions: (1) did he object to/challenge the Court's decision to construe the May 2014 motion as a § 2255 petition (knowing that it may be his one shot at seeking § 2255 relief)?, and (2) would he want to withdraw his May 2014 motion?
On July 25, 2014, Shields filed a pleading which did not answer either question and instead asked the Court for 60 days to address the matter and obtain documents from the Court (Doc. 49). On July 25, 2014, the Court partially granted and partially denied the July 25th motion, concluding (Doc. 50):
The undersigned Judge in prior Orders carefully explained what a § 2255 petition is, how it is filed, what arguments it properly advances, what time limits apply, and what consequences follow from filing a § 2255 petition. The undersigned in prior Orders has explained that litigants may obtain copies of any public pleadings from the Clerk's Office by paying 50 cents per page. This was explained to Shields as far back as June 18, 2013 and again mentioned on October 1, 2013 (see Docs. 39 and 43). The Court provided at no charge to Shields a copy of the indictment, a copy of the public docket sheet, and an additional copy of the United States' June 2014 response. The need to obtain other unspecified "copies" does not justify extending Shields' response time as the only issue before Shields - whether he maintains that his May 2014 motion is something other than a § 2255 petition and whether he wants to withdraw the motion. And Shields has explained no delay or impediment in his ability to answer the question posed by the Court's July 17th Order. However, the
Court will allow a slight extension for Shields to file his Response to the July 17, 2014 Order (Doc. 48).
The undersigned extended to August 13, 2014 the date by which Shields was to notify the undersigned if Shields contests the Court's decision to construe the May 2014 motion as a § 2255 petition, and if he would like to withdraw his May 2014 motion. On August 7, 2014, Shields responded with an "Ex-Parte Motion to Proceed with Subject-Matter Jurisdiction Challenge" (Doc. 51). The August 7th filing does not ask to withdraw the May 2014 motion and does not contest its construction as a § 2255 petition. Indeed, Shields confirms that he is challenging the Court's subject matter jurisdiction in the underlying criminal case, acknowledges the procedural impediments to proceeding via § 2255 petition at this point, asks the Court to grant him additional time for this § 2255 petition out of "procedural generosity, " and notes that he otherwise intends to "proceed with the matter before the Court (as filed)" (Doc. 51, p. 1).
For all the reasons described at length in the July 17, 2014 Order, and having afforded Shields the opportunity to withdraw Doc. 44 (which he elected not to do), the Court construes Shields' May 23, 2014 "Motion to Vacate Punishment Order [and] Dismiss Indictment with Prejudice as Void from Want of Jurisdiction" as a motion seeking to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255.
As the Court's July 17th Order pointed out (Doc. 48, pp. 3-4):
Shields' May 23, 2014 motion seeks to vacate his sentence on the ground that the Court which imposed it (this Court) lacked subject matter jurisdiction to do so....
Whatever the label used, a motion challenging the constitutionality of a sentence imposed by a federal judge or (particularly relevant here) asking the judge to vacate the sentence and release the defendant on the ground that the court "was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence" is a motion under 28 U.S.C. 2255. See Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 531 (2005); Hare v. United States, 688 F.3d 878, 880 n.3 (7th Cir. 2012); Curry v. United States, 507 F.3d 603, 604 (7th Cir. 2007), cert. denied, 553 U.S. 1102 (2008). Accord Melton v. United States, 359 F.3d 855, 857 (7th Cir. 2004) ("Any motion filed in the district court that imposed the sentence, and substantively within the scope of § 2255 ¶ 1, is a motion under § 2255, no matter what title the prisoner plasters on the cover."). This Court intends to so construe Shields' motion (Doc. 44).
Thus, the Court reviews Shields' May 23, 2014 motion (Doc. 44) as a petition to vacate or set aside his criminal sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. So ...