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Johnson v. Werlich

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

January 10, 2020

ROBERT STANFORD JOHNSON, #07379-030, Petitioner,
v.
T. G. WERLICH, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STACI M. YANDLE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Petitioner Robert Stanford Johnson, an inmate in the Bureau of Prisons, filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 on April 16, 2018. (Doc. 1). Johnson was sentenced to 180 months imprisonment in 2013 after pleading guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C). United States v. Robert Stanford Johnson, No. 13-cr-0009-JEG-RAW-1, Doc. 40 (S.D. Iowa June 14, 2013). His Guidelines range was enhanced after he was found to be a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1, based in part on a 2001 Iowa controlled substance conviction. (Doc. 8-2, pp. 24-27).

         Johnson now invokes Mathis v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016) to challenge his designation as a career offender based on the Iowa conviction and contends he is entitled to be resentenced without that designation. Specifically, Johnson argues that this prior conviction does not qualify as a “controlled substance offense” under the Guidelines because the underlying Iowa statute criminalizes the “mere offer to sell, ” which penalizes broader behavior than laws prohibiting the manufacture, import, export, distribution, or dispensing of a controlled substance as defined by U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(b). (Doc. 1, pp. 24-26).

         Respondent opposes issuance of the Writ on multiple grounds: (1) Johnson waived his collateral challenge rights as part of his plea agreement, which forecloses his Petition (Doc. 8, p. 12); (2) Johnson's sentence cannot be deemed a “miscarriage of justice” under § 2255(e)'s savings clause, as it fell within the statutory maximum penalty for his crime of conviction regardless of his career offender designation (Id. at pp. 4-8); and (3) Johnson's Iowa controlled substance conviction was properly considered a “controlled substance offense” because it categorically fits within the Guidelines' definition-thus his claim fails on the merits (Id. at pp. 10-12). Johnson replied to Respondent's response. (Doc. 12).

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

         Procedural History and Relevant Facts

         On June 14, 2013, Johnson pled guilty to one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C). United States v. Robert Stanford Johnson, No. 13-cr-0009-JEG-RAW-1, Doc. 40 (S.D. Iowa June 14, 2013). Johnson entered into a formal plea agreement in which he agreed that he “knowingly and expressly waive[d] any and all rights to contest [his] conviction in any post-conviction proceedings, including any proceedings under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.” (Doc. 8-1, pp. 7-8). However, this waiver included an express preservation of the right for either party to “appeal any sentence imposed by the district court, to the extent than an appeal is authorized by law.” (Id. at p. 8).

         While neither party provided the Presentence Report (“PSR”) to the Court, there is no dispute that Johnson was determined to be a career offender under the Guidelines by the sentencing court, in part due to his prior 2001 Iowa controlled substance conviction. (Doc. 1, pp. 2-3; Doc. 8, pp. 3, 10-12).[1] Johnson's statutory sentencing range was 0-20 years (240 months) imprisonment. 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(C). Johnson was sentenced to 180 months imprisonment on June 14, 2013 - within the Guidelines range of 151 to 188 months after the career offender designation was applied. (Doc. 8-2, pp. 6-7, 25-26).

         Johnson filed a direct appeal challenging the reasonableness of his sentence, which was summarily dismissed by the Eighth Circuit. Johnson, No. 13-cr-0009-JEG-RAW, Doc. 52-1 (S.D. Iowa Dec. 10, 2013). He then filed his first motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 in the Southern District of Iowa, arguing that his trial counsel provided ineffective representation during his plea negotiations and sentencing. This motion was denied in all respects, Johnson v. United States, 14-cv-0492-JEG, Doc. 3 (S.D. Iowa March 3, 2015), and the Eighth Circuit declined to issue a certificate of appealability. Id. at Doc. 13.

         Johnson subsequently filed two applications for leave to file successive § 2255 petitions. The first, premised on Samuel Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2251 (2015), argued that the Guidelines' career offender provisions are unconstitutionally vague; the second argued that new evidence of his trial counsel's ineffective assistance required his sentence to be overturned. Both applications were denied by the Eighth Circuit. See Johnson v. United States, No. 16-2624 (8th Cir. Oct. 20, 2016); Johnson v. United States, No. 17-3587 (8th Cir. March 13, 2018).

         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 and 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 ...


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