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Rodney C. Riddell v. Warden Francisco Quintana

April 26, 2013

RODNEY C. RIDDELL, PETITIONER,
v.
WARDEN FRANCISCO QUINTANA, , RESPONDENT.



Rodney C. Riddell ("Riddell") is an inmate confined in McDowell Federal Correctional Institution ("FCI") located in Welch, West Virginia.*fn1 Proceeding without counsel, Riddell has filed two petitions for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, challenging his federal conviction and sentence. [R. 1]; [R. 5].*fn2

Riddell has paid the $5.00 filing fee.

The court conducts an initial review of habeas corpus petitions. 28 U.S.C. § 2243; Alexander v. N. Bureau of Prisons, 419 F. App'x 544, 545 (6th Cir. 2011) (unpublished). The court must deny the petition "if it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief." Rule 4 of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts (applicable to § 2241 petitions under Rule 1(b)).

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

The court evaluates Riddell's petitions under a more lenient standard because he is not represented by an attorney. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). At this stage, the court accepts Riddell's factual allegations as true, and construes his legal claims in his favor. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Having reviewed the petitions, the court must deny them because Riddell can not pursue his claims in a habeas corpus proceeding under § 2241.

BACKGROUND

The court can not obtain complete information about Riddell's criminal conviction because it predated the advent of the federal court system's online PACER database. However, based on the allegations in Riddell's § 2241 petition and information from Riddell's subsequent court proceedings which are accessible through PACER, it appears that in September 2001, Riddell was charged with being a convicted felon in possession of firearms and ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). United States v. Riddell, No. IP 01-107-CR-01 B/F, (S. D. Ind. 2001). Riddell pleaded guilty to the charge, was sentenced in November 2002 as an armed career criminal pursuant to the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA"), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), and received a 180-month prison sentence. Riddell appealed, but voluntarily dismissed his appeal with prejudice on June 16, 2003.

In May, 2004, Riddell filed his first motion to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. United States v. Riddell, No. 1:04-CV-894-SEB-VSS, (S.D. Ind. 2004) [R. 1, therein]. In his first § 2255 motion, Riddell alleged that (1) during his various state court criminal proceedings which preceded his federal prosecution, he received ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of his rights guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; (2) during his federal criminal prosecution, his attorney rendered ineffective assistance of counsel by not objecting to the use of his three prior state court convictions as predicates for a § 924(e) sentencing enhancement and by failing to adequately represent him during the appeal process, all in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights; and (3) the government did not honor its commitments set forth in the Plea Agreement. [R. 1, therein].

On October 13, 2004, the district court denied Riddell's first § 2255 motion, finding that Riddell could not collaterally challenge the alleged ineffectiveness of his counsel in his state court criminal proceedings by way of a § 2255 motion, and that Riddell had not been denied effective assistance of counsel during his federal firearm prosecution. [R. 8 at 1-2, therein]. The district court also rejected Riddell's claim that the government breached the terms of the Plea Agreement, noting that (1) Riddell stipulated in the Plea Agreement that he faced a minimum 15-year sentence under § 924(e) if the sentencing court determined that he qualified as an armed career criminal, and (2) the sentencing court did in fact determine at sentencing that Riddell's prior state court convictions rendered him an armed career criminal as defined by § 924(e). [R. 8 at 2, therein]. The district court later denied Riddell a certificate of appealability. [R. 16, therein]. The Seventh Circuit dismissed Riddell's appeal for failure to pay the appellate filing fee. [R. 20, therein; see also United States v. Riddell, No. 04-4311 (7th Cir. 2005)].

On November 23, 2009, Riddell filed a motion in the sentencing court seeking relief from his sentence under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). Riddell v. United States, No. 1:09-CV-01454-SEBDML, (S.D. Ind. 2009) [R. 1, therein]. Riddell again argued that the sentencing court erred by concluding that he was an armed career criminal under § 924(e) based on his three prior state court criminal convictions. [R. 1, therein]. On November 24, 2009, the district court construed Riddell's Rule 60(b) motion as the practical equivalent of an unauthorized successive § 2255 motion and denied the motion for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. [R. 2, therein]. Riddell did not appeal that order.

In his § 2241 petitions currently before this court, Riddell challenges both his underlying § 922(g) conviction and the prison sentence he received. Riddell first claims that during various stages of his federal criminal prosecution, including the appeal process, he received ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, Riddell asserts that his attorney failed to adequately investigate his criminal history, failed to argue at sentencing that his prior state court convictions constituted a single criminal episode, and failed to object to the use of his three prior state court convictions to support the § 924(e) sentencing enhancement. [R. 3 at 2-4]. Riddell further alleges that after he appealed his sentence, his attorney gave him incorrect legal advice on which he based his decision to voluntarily dismiss his appeal. [R. 3 at 4].

Riddell also challenges his sentence, arguing that it exceeds the statutory maximum for a § 922(g) offense [R. 1 at 7], and that the sentencing court improperly treated his state court convictions as three separate convictions instead of one single criminal episode. [R. 3 at 3-4]. As to these alleged sentencing errors, Riddell alleges he was denied due process of law in violation of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. [R. 1 at 7].

Riddell asks that his conviction be vacated and that he be re-sentenced pursuant to the provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(2), instead of as an armed career criminal under § 924(e). Riddell requests a sentence which does not exceed the 10-year statutory maximum. [R. 1 at 8].

DISCUSSION

Riddell is not challenging any aspect of the execution of his sentence, such as the computation of sentence credits or parole eligibility, issues which fall under the purview of § 2241. United States v. Jalili, 925 F.2d 889, 894 (6th Cir. 1999). Instead, Riddell alleges that (1) his underlying § 922(g) firearm conviction was unconstitutional because he was allegedly denied effective assistance of counsel during various stages of his criminal proceeding, and (2) the sentencing court erred by determining that he was an armed career criminal and by imposing a sentence which exceeded the statutory maximum. However, § 2241 is not the mechanism for asserting such challenges; rather, § 2255(a) provides the primary avenue of relief for federal prisoners seeking relief due to an unlawful conviction or sentence, Terrell v. United States, 564 F.3d 442, 447 (6th Cir. 2009), and is the mechanism for ...


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