United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
AARON BENSON, No. 23591-045, Petitioner,
B. TRUE, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
HERNDON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
currently incarcerated in the USP-Marion, brings this habeas
corpus action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 to challenge
the constitutionality of his confinement. He asserts that in
light of Mathis v. United States, -- U.S. --, 136
S.Ct. 2243, 2250 (2016), he should not have been subject to
the career-offender enhancement under the United States
Sentencing Guidelines (“USSG”) based on a prior
controlled substance conviction and a prior conviction for
assault in the 2nd degree. (Doc. 1, pp. 7-8).
case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the
Petition pursuant to Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section
2254 Cases in United States District Courts. Rule 4 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, such as this action under 28 U.S.C. § 2241.
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), and a response shall be
pled guilty on November 20, 2012, in the Western District of
Missouri to distribution of 5 grams or more of actual
methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§
841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B). (Doc. 1, p. 1); United States v.
Benson, Case No. 11-cr-201-GAF. That offense carried a
minimum sentence of 5 years and a maximum of 40 years
imprisonment. (Doc. 1, p. 7). In exchange for his guilty
plea, 3 other counts were dismissed. The plea agreement
provided that the government and Petitioner would request a
sentence of 140 months. (Doc. 144 in criminal case). The
parties agreed that under USSG § 2D1.1, Petitioner's
base offense level was 26 for the conviction, and he would be
entitled to a 3-level reduction pursuant to § 3E1.1(b).
(Doc. 144, p. 6 crim.). The agreement also reflects the
parties' expectation that Petitioner would be classified
as a “career offender” under USSG § 4B1.1,
however, there was no agreement on his criminal history
category. Id. The plea deal provided that the court
would determine the applicable criminal history category
following review of the presentence investigation report.
plea agreement contained a waiver of Petitioner's
appellate and post-conviction rights. (Doc. 144, p. 9,
crim.). This included a waiver of “the right to appeal
any sentence, directly or collaterally, on any ground except
claims of (1) ineffective assistance of counsel; (2)
prosecutorial misconduct; or (3) an illegal sentence. An
‘illegal sentence' includes a sentence imposed in
excess of the agreed sentence herein” of 140 months
Petitioner's sentencing on April 30, 2013, the court
determined that his criminal history category was VI, and
found that he was a career criminal under the guidelines.
(Doc. 199, pp. 7-9; Doc. 232, p. 2, crim.). His offense level
was adjusted from 34 down to 31 for his acceptance of
responsibility, yielding a guideline sentencing range of 188
to 235 months. (Doc. 199, p. 9; Doc. 232, p. 2, crim.).
Despite this guideline range, the court accepted the plea
agreement and sentenced Petitioner to the agreed-upon 140
appealed, arguing that his plea was involuntary and his trial
counsel was ineffective. (Doc. 215-1 crim.). On February 13,
2014, the Eighth Circuit concluded that the appeal waiver in
the plea agreement should be enforced, and dismissed the
appeal. Id.; United States v. Benson, 553
F.App'x 660 (8th Cir. 2014).
then filed a collateral attack on the sentence under 28
U.S.C. § 2255, raising claims of ineffective assistance
of counsel and prosecutorial misconduct. (See Doc.
232 crim.). He argued in part that trial counsel was
ineffective for failing to challenge the presentence
report's conclusion that he was a career offender. (Doc.
232, pp. 4-5, crim.). The court found that counsel had indeed
challenged the career-offender finding, arguing that
Petitioner's prior felonies were not crimes of violence
and were not separate offenses. Further, Petitioner suffered
no prejudice from counsel's alleged ineffectiveness,
because he was not sentenced according to the career-offender
guideline range, but instead received the sentence he agreed
to under the binding plea agreement. (Doc. 232, p. 5, crim.).
The court also rejected Petitioner's claim of
prosecutorial misconduct, which was based on an allegedly
improper threat that he would face two life sentences if he
did not plead guilty. The court found that his plea was
knowing and voluntary, noting that if Petitioner had chosen
to go to trial, he would indeed have faced two life
sentences. (Doc. 232, pp. 6-7, crim.). The § 2255 motion
instant § 2241 Petition, filed on July 13, 2017, asserts
that under Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243
(2016), the 140-month sentence was unconstitutional. (Doc. 1,
p. 7). Petitioner believes that the sentencing court should
have used the “modified categorical approach” to
analyze whether his prior convictions qualified as predicate
offenses to subject him to the career-offender enhancement.
Two prior state offenses were referenced in the presentence
investigation report to conclude that Petitioner qualified as
a career criminal: (1) a class B felony conviction for
distribution or possession with intent to distribute a
controlled substance, and (2) assault in the 2nd degree.
(Doc. 1, p. 8). Petitioner does not further elaborate on the
nature of these offenses or identify the state statutes under
which he was convicted. He asserts that he may raise this
claim under the “savings clause” of 28 U.S.C.
§ 2255(e). He requests the Court to “vacate and
remand Petitioner's enhancement under the career offender
guidelines.” (Doc. 1, p. 12).
undersigned Judge has explained in a number of prior
decisions, a collateral attack based on Mathis
against a career-offender-enhanced sentence facially
satisfies the conditions to be considered in a § 2241
proceeding under the savings clause of § 2255(e).
See e.g., Hoskins v. Werlich, No. 17-cv-652-DRH
(S.D. Ill. July 28, 2017); Wadlington v. Werlich,
No. 17-cv-449-DRH (S.D. Ill. July 17, 2017); Davis v.
USA, 17-cv-379-DRH (S.D. Ill. June 14, 2017); Warren
v. Werlich, No. 17-cv-84-DRH (S.D. Ill. Mar. 27, 2017).
However, as the Court has previously noted, Mathis
involved the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”)
and not the federal sentencing guidelines. See United
States v. Hinkle, 832 F.3d 569, 574 (5th Cir. 2016).
Thus, the Mathis decision may or may not be
applicable to Petitioner's sentence, because the
enhancement of his sentencing guideline range was determined
based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and not on the
ACCA statute. The Supreme Court recently held that the
residual clause in USSG § 4B1.2(a) was not subject to a
vagueness challenge, distinguishing the situation where a
sentence was based on the advisory guidelines from a sentence
imposed under the residual clause of the ACCA statute.
Beckles v. United States, -- U.S. --, 137 S.Ct. 886,
197 L.Ed.2d 145 (2017) (distinguishing Johnson v. United
States, -- U.S. --, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 192 L.Ed.2d 569
in Petitioner's case, it is unclear what influence, if
any, the enhanced advisory sentencing range had on the
determination of his 140-month sentence - which was imposed
according to the ...