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Pettes v. Werlich

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

July 12, 2019

AARON MAURICE PETTES, #11393-031, Petitioner,
v.
T. G. WERLICH, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STACI M. YANDLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Petitioner Aaron Maurice Pettes, an inmate in the Bureau of Prisons, filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 on July 26, 2017. (Doc. 1). Pettes was sentenced to 151 months imprisonment in 2007 after pleading guilty to one Count of bank robbery by force or violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a). United States v. Aaron Pettes, No. 06-cr-20040-JWL, Doc. 53 (D. Kan. Jan. 30, 2007). His sentence was enhanced after the sentencing judge found him to be a career offender under United States Sentencing Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) § 4B1.1, based on prior convictions for burglary and robbery under Nebraska law.

         Pettes now invokes Mathis v. United States, __ U.S. __, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016), to challenge his designation as a career offender based on the prior Nebraska burglary convictions and contends he is entitled to be resentenced without that designation. Specifically, he argues that Nebraska's burglary statutes criminalize more behavior than the generic definition of burglary under federal law. (Doc. 1, pp. 3-5, 8-9).

         Respondent opposes issuance of the Writ on several grounds. Respondent first argues that Pettes cannot satisfy the requirements of § 2255(e)'s savings clause because his argument was not foreclosed by binding precedent before Mathis was decided. (Doc. 8, pp. 7-8). Respondent further argues that Pettes' alleged harm cannot be deemed a “miscarriage of justice” because his sentence fell within the statutory maximum penalty for his crimes of conviction notwithstanding his career offender designation. (Id. at pp. 8-10). Pettes filed a Reply. (Doc. 11).

         This matter is now ripe for resolution. For the reasons discussed below, Pettes' § 2241 Petition (Doc. 1) will be DENIED.

         Procedural History and Relevant Facts

         Pettes pleaded guilty to one count of bank robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a) on September 25, 2006. United States v. Aaron Pettes, No. 06-cr-20040, Docs. 41, 42 (D. Kan. September 25, 2006). He did not enter into a formal plea agreement. Id. Pettes' potential sentence exposure was up to twenty years (240 months) imprisonment. 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a). The Presentence Report (“PSR”) applied the Guidelines' career-offender enhancement to Pettes based in part on 1998 and 2005 convictions for residential burglary and a 2006 robbery conviction, all in violation of Nebraska law. Pettes, No. 06-cr-20040-JWL at Doc. 50, pp. 2-3. Pettes did not object to the PSR or his classification as a career offender during the sentencing proceedings and was ultimately sentenced to 151 months imprisonment on January 22, 2007. Id. at Doc. 53.

         Pettes filed a direct appeal in April 2007, but it was dismissed as untimely-filed on June 4, 2007. Id. at Doc. 63. He has since filed two motions under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 seeking to have his sentence vacated and to be resentenced without the career offender designation. In the first motion, filed on June 20, 2016, Pettes argued that Johnson v. United States, - U.S. -, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015) invalidated his career offender designation. Id. at Doc. 68, pp. 1, 4, 8. Pettes voluntarily dismissed that action on March 20, 2017. Id. at Docs. 89, 90.

         On April 17, 2017, Pettes filed a second § 2255 motion and argued, as in his instant Petition, that Mathis v. United States, __ U.S. __, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016) invalidated his career offender designation because his 1998 and 2005 Nebraska residential burglary convictions criminalized more behavior than the generic definition of burglary under federal law. Id. at Doc. 91. Pettes also argued that Johnson applied to the Guidelines' career offender provisions and provided an alternative basis for invalidating his career offender designation. Id. The motion was denied in its entirety by the district court (Id. at Doc. 92) and the Tenth Circuit subsequently denied Pettes' requested authorization to file a second or successive motion for relief under § 2255. Id. at Doc. 94.

         Applicable Legal Standards

         Generally, petitions for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 may not be used to raise claims of legal error in conviction or sentencing, but are instead limited to challenges regarding the execution of a sentence. See Valona v. United States, 138 F.3d 693, 694 (7th Cir. 1998). Aside from the direct appeal process, a § 2255 motion is ordinarily the “exclusive means for a federal prisoner to attack his conviction.” Kramer v. Olson, 347 F.3d 214, 217 (7th Cir. 2003). A prisoner is generally limited to one challenge of his conviction and sentence under § 2255. A prisoner may not file a “second or successive” § 2255 motion unless a panel of the appropriate court of appeals certifies that such motion either 1) contains newly discovered evidence “sufficient to establish by clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable factfinder would have found the movant guilty of the offense, ” or 2) invokes “a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(h).

         Under very limited circumstances, however, it is possible for a prisoner to challenge his federal conviction or sentence under § 2241. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e) contains a “savings clause” under which a federal prisoner can file a § 2241 petition when the remedy under § 2255 is “inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e). See United States v. Prevatte, 300 F.3d 792, 798-99 (7th Cir. 2002). The Seventh Circuit construed the savings clause in In re Davenport, 147 F.3d 605, 611 (7th Cir. 1998): “A procedure for postconviction relief can be fairly termed inadequate when it is so configured as to deny a convicted defendant any opportunity for judicial rectification of so fundamental a defect in his conviction as having been imprisoned for a nonexistent offense.”

         Following Davenport, a petitioner must meet three conditions to trigger the savings clause. First, he must show that he relies on a new statutory interpretation case rather than a constitutional case. Secondly, he must show that he relies on a decision that he could not have invoked in his first § 2255 motion and that case must apply retroactively. Lastly, he must demonstrate that there has been a “fundamental defect” in his conviction or sentence that is grave enough to be deemed a miscarriage of justice. Brown v. Caraway, 719 F.3d 583, 586 (7th Cir. 2013). See also Brown v. Rios, 696 F.3d 638, 640 (7th Cir. 2012). In other words, ...


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