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Bensonn v. True

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

December 29, 2017

AARON BENSON, Petitioner,
v.
B. TRUE, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          HERNDON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Petitioner Aaron Benson filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. §2241 (Doc. 1) challenging his designation as a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1. He purports to rely on Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016). Now before the Court is Respondent's Motion to Dismiss, Doc. 10. Petitioner responded to the motion at Doc. 14.

         Respondent argues the petition must be dismissed because petitioner waived his right to file a collateral attack in his plea agreement.

         Relevant Facts and Procedural History

         Pursuant to a written plea agreement, Benson pleaded guilty to one count of distribution of more than 5 grams of methamphetamine in the Western District of Missouri. United States v. Benson, No. 11-cr-203-GAF (W.D. Mo.). The statutory range of imprisonment was 5 to 40 years. 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B). The agreement provided that he would be sentenced to 140 months imprisonment. Plea Agreement, Doc. 10, Ex. 1.[1]

         The plea agreement also contained a waiver of the right to appeal or file a collateral attack:

         15. Waiver of Appellate and Post-Conviction Rights.

a. The defendant acknowledges, understands and agrees that by his unconditional plea of guilty pursuant to this plea agreement he waives the right to appeal or collaterally attack a finding of guilt following the acceptance of this plea agreement, except on grounds of (1) ineffective assistance of counsel; or (2) prosecutorial misconduct.
b. The defendant expressly waives 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 (one hundred and forty (140) months imprisonment, four (4) years supervised release and $100.00 in special assessments). However, if the United States exercises its right to appeal the sentence imposed as authorized by 18 U.S.C. § 3742(b), the defendant is released from this waiver and may, as part of the Government's appeal, cross-appeal the sentence as authorized by 18 U.S.C. § 3742(a) with respect to any issues that have not been stipulated to or agreed upon in this agreement.

Doc. 10, Ex. 1, p. 9 (emphasis in original).

         Despite his plea agreement, Benson filed a direct appeal arguing that his plea was involuntary, his counsel was ineffective, and the Guidelines calculation was incorrect. The Eighth Circuit affirmed because “Benson's sworn plea-hearing testimony reflects that he entered into the plea agreement knowingly and voluntarily, and understood and agreed to the terms of the appeal waiver.” United States v. Benson, 553 Fed.Appx. 660, 661 (8th Cir. 2014). The court did, however, defer the issue of ineffective assistance of counsel to proceedings under § 2255.

         Petitioner filed a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 in the Western District of Missouri arguing that his counsel had been ineffective in failing to object to the drug weights and types (actual methamphetamine versus a mixture containing methamphetamine), failing to properly advise him of the sentence he faced, and failing to object to the career offender designation. He also argued prosecutorial misconduct. The court denied the motion. With regard to the career offender designation, the court noted that counsel had, in fact, objected, and, in any event, any error in the Guideline calculation could not have prejudiced petitioner because he was sentenced to an agreed term of 140 months. The court also denied a certificate of appealability. Benson v. United States, No. 15-00408-GAF, Doc. 14. (W.D. Mo.).

         Analysis

         Ostensibly relying on Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016), Benson argues that one or both of his prior convictions for drug offenses do not qualify as controlled substance offenses for purposes of the career offender enhancement under U.S.S.G. ยง 4B1.1. However, it is unnecessary to decide the substantive ...


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