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Stapless v. True

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 8, 2017

WILLIAM TRUE, Respondent.


          David R. Herndon Judge.

         Petitioner Lydell Staples, who is currently incarcerated in the Federal Correctional Institution in Marion, Illinois, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. (Doc. 1). In the Petition, he argues that under the recent decision of the Supreme Court in Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016), his enhanced career-offender sentence is unconstitutional. (Doc. 1).

         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.

         Without commenting on the merits of Petitioner's claims, the Court concludes that the Petition survives preliminary review under Rule 4 and Rule 1(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts.

         The Petition

         In his criminal case in the Western District of Kentucky, United States v. Staples, No. 5:11-cr-43-TBR, Petitioner pled guilty, without a plea agreement, to two offenses: Count 1 - Distribution of Cocaine Base and Count 2 - Distribution of Marijuana. (Doc. 1, p. 21). He was sentenced to concurrent terms of 151 months and 60 months on Counts 1 and 2, respectively. (Doc. 1, p. 22). The career-offender enhancement was imposed pursuant to the United States Sentencing Guidelines (“USSG”) at § 4B1.1, based on prior convictions for “Engaging in Organized Crime” and “Trafficking in Marijuana, More than 8 Ounces, Less than 5 Pounds, ” which the trial court deemed to be either “crime[s] of violence” or “controlled substance offense[s]” within the guideline meaning. (Doc. 1, pp. 15, 16-17). As a result of the career-offender determination, Petitioner's total offense level was raised from 21 to 29, and the corresponding sentencing guideline range increased from 57-71 months to 151-188 months incarceration. (Doc. 1, pp. 3-4, 15, 18).

         Petitioner has not previously brought a § 2255 petition. He now argues that pursuant to Mathis, he should be resentenced without enhancement. (Doc. 1, p. 2).


         The high court in Mathis held that “[b]ecause the elements of Iowa's burglary law are broader than those of generic burglary, Mathis's convictions under that law cannot give rise to an ACCA sentence.” Mathis, 136 S.Ct. at 2257. The Court came to this conclusion reasoning “that a state crime cannot qualify as an ACCA predicate if its elements are broader than those of a listed generic offense.” Id. at 2251. In its opinion, the Court instructed:

The first task for a sentencing court faced with an alternatively phrased statute is thus to determine whether its listed items are elements or means. If they are elements, the court should do what we have previously approved: review the record materials to discover which of the enumerated alternatives played a part in the defendant's prior conviction, and then compare that element (along with all others) to those of the generic crime. But if instead they are means, the court has no call to decide which of the statutory alternatives was at issue in the earlier prosecution.

Id. at 2256. The Mathis Court considered it an easy case that Iowa's burglary law enumerated various “alternative method[s]” of committing one offense, as the Iowa Supreme Court had held as much previously. Id.

         Notably, “[t]he Supreme Court's decision in Mathis dealt with the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), not the federal sentencing Guidelines.” United States v. Hinkle, 832 F.3d 569, 574 (5th Cir. 2016). However, Mathis is likely also applicable to the career offender guidelines, in that the “decision in Mathis clarified when and how the modified categorical approach is applied in the context of federal sentencing, ” and did not necessarily limit itself to cases involving the ACCA. Id. Petitioner argues that Mathis applies to his case and enables this Court to review the Western District of Kentucky's determination that his organized crime offense could act as a predicate for the career offender enhancement, claiming that Kentucky's organized crime statute “is not a ‘controlled substance'” statute and that the statute “is too broad” for his offense under it to be considered a controlled substance offense under Mathis. (Doc. 1, p. 8). Petitioner also argues his marijuana trafficking offense cannot be considered a controlled substance offense per the definition in 4b1.2(b) because he was “merely transferring marijuana from one party to another” and “4B1.2(b) does not use the word transfer.” (Doc. 1, p. 9).

         Without commenting on the merits of either of Petitioner's claims, given the totality of his arguments, it is not plainly apparent that he is not entitled to relief in this Court. See Rule 4 of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases in United States District Courts. In light of this, the government shall be ordered to respond to the instant Petition.

         Petitioner should bear in mind the following cautionary note. “Federal prisoners who seek to bring collateral attacks on their conviction or sentences must ordinarily bring an action under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, ‘the federal prisoner's substitute for habeas corpus.'” Brown v. Caraway, 719 F.3d 583, 586 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Brown v. Rios, 696 F.3d 638, 640 (7th Cir. 2012)). The exception to this rule, known as the “savings clause, ” allows a federal prisoner to file a petition under § 2241 if the remedy provided by § 2255 “is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.” See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e). In considering what it means to be “inadequate or ineffective, ” the Seventh Circuit has held that a federal prisoner should be permitted to seek relief under § 2241 “only if he ...

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