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Joyner v. Withers

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

May 30, 2013

ROBERT JOYNER, Petitioner,
SHANNON WITHERS, Acting Warden, Respondent.


DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.

Robert Joyner is a prisoner confined at the United States Penitentiary - McCreary in Pine Knot, Kentucky.[1] Proceeding without an attorney, Joyner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, challenging his federal conviction and sentence. [Record No. 1] Having reviewed his petition, the Court will deny the relief sought.

In conducting the initial review of a habeas petition, 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." See 28 U.S.C. § 2243; Rule 4 of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts (applicable to § 2241 petitions under Rule 1(b)). Because Joyner is not represented by an attorney, the Court evaluates his petition under a more lenient standard. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Burton v. Jones, 321 F.3d 569, 573 (6th Cir. 2003). At this stage, the Court accepts Joyner's factual allegations as true, and construes his legal claims in his favor. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007).


On August 23, 2006, Joyner was found guilty following a jury trial of possession with intent to distribute fifty grams or more of cocaine base ("crack" cocaine), a Schedule II controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a) and (b). [ See United States v. Robert Joyner, No. 3: 06-cr-16-MBS (D. S.C. 2006), Record No. 65.] He was sentenced on November 6, 2006, and received a life term of imprisonment.[2] [ Id. at Record No. 74.] Joyner's conviction was affirmed on appeal. United States v. Robert Joyner, No. 06-5193 (4th Cir. Aug. 15, 2007).

On July 16, 2008, Joyner filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. That motion was denied on July 26, 2010. [ Joyner, No. 3: 06-cr-16-MBS, Record Nos. 93, 129.] On September 17, 2012, Joyner filed a second § 2255 motion; however, on December 17, 2012, he moved to withdraw that motion. [ Id. at Record Nos. 139, 147.] The district court granted the motion to withdraw. [ Id. at Record No. 148.]


Joyner filed the current petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 on December 17, 2012. He contends that he is "actually innocent" of his underlying conviction. Joyner also asserts that, because he is innocent, his resulting enhanced sentence under 21 U.S.C. § 851 was unlawful. Joyner argues that his "actual innocence" claim was not available at the time he filed his first § 2255 motion, and that it was not until Lafler v. Cooper, 132 S.Ct. 1376 (2012), Missouri v. Frye, 132 S.Ct. 1399 (2012), and DePierre v. United States, 131 S.Ct. 2225 (2011), that such claims were clarified and recognized. Joyner contends that the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") bars him from presenting his actual innocence claim to the trial court in a successive § 2255 motion. Therefore, under the "savings clause" of 28 U.S.C. § 2255, Joyner claims that he is entitled to proceed with this claim in a § 2241 habeas petition. He requests that his conviction be reversed and that he be released from confinement, or alternatively, that he be permitted to enter a new plea. [Record No. 1, p. 8]


Joyner is not challenging any aspect of the execution of his sentence which fall under the purview of § 2241, such as the computation of sentence credits or parole eligibility. See, e.g., United States v. Jalili, 925 F.2d 889, 894 (6th Cir. 1999). Instead, He appears to claim that his underlying drug conviction is unconstitutional because he is actually innocent of that offense and, therefore, the district court erred by imposing an enhanced sentence. However, § 2241 is not the mechanism for asserting such a claim. Instead, § 2255(a) provides the primary avenue for federal prisoners seeking relief due to an unlawful conviction or sentence and is the mechanism for collaterally challenging errors that occurred at or prior to sentencing. Terrell v. United States, 564 F.3d 442, 447 (6th Cir. 2009); Eaves v. United States, No. 4: 07-CR-12, 2010 WL 3283018, at *6 (E.D. Tenn. Aug. 17, 2010).

The "savings clause" in § 2255(e) provides a narrow exception to this rule. Under this provision, a prisoner may challenge the legality of his conviction through a § 2241 petition if the remedy under § 2255 "is inadequate or ineffective" to test the legality of his detention. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e). A prisoner may only take advantage of this provision where, after his conviction has become final, the Supreme Court re-interprets the terms of the statute petitioner was convicted of violating in such a way that the petitioner's actions did not violate the statute. Martin v. Perez, 319 F.3d 799, 804 (6th Cir. 2003) ("A prisoner who can show that an intervening change in the law establishes his actual innocence can invoke the savings clause of § 2255 and proceed under § 2241."); see also Lott v. Davis, 105 F.Appx. 13, 14-15 (6th Cir. 2004). However, this exception does not apply where the prisoner failed to seize an earlier opportunity to correct a fundamental defect in his conviction under pre-existing law, or did assert his claim in a prior post-conviction motion under § 2255 but was denied relief. Charles v. Chandler, 180 F.3d 753, 756 (6th Cir. 1999).

It appears that Joyner may be claiming that, while he was not charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine base, the district court sentenced him as though he had been charged with and convicted of such an offense in violation of the Fifth Amendment's due process clause. If, in fact, this is Joyner's argument, it is without merit. Joyner's indictment clearly charged him with possession of "cocaine base (commonly known as "crack cocaine")." [ See Joyner, No. 3: 06-16-MBS, Record No. 2.] In DePierre, the Supreme Court held that the term "cocaine base" as used in 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1) refers not just to crack cocaine, but to all cocaine in its base form. 131 S.Ct. at 2231-32. Thus, Joyner's reliance on DePierre is misplaced and it provides no support for his argument.

Lafler and Frye concern Sixth Amendment violations due to ineffective assistance of counsel. In his first § 2255 motion, Joyner claimed that he was denied effective assistance of counsel both at trial and on appeal. On July 26, 2010, the trial court found no merit to those claims. [ Joyner, No. 3: 06-16-MBS, Record No. 129, p. 18] However, since the trial court's decision predates the Supreme Court's holdings in Lafler and Frye, the Court will consider whether either of these decisions support his Sixth Amendment claims.

In Frye, the Supreme Court held that defense counsel has the duty to communicate formal offers from the prosecution to accept a plea on terms that may be favorable to the accused, prior to the offer's expiration. 132 S.Ct. at 1408. The Frye Court opined that counsel's failure to inform a defendant of a written plea offer before it expired satisfies the deficient performance prong of the standard outlined in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1986). Frye, 132 S.Ct. at 1411. The Court further held that to, show prejudice from ineffective assistance of counsel where a plea offer has lapsed or been rejected because of counsel's deficient performance, a defendant must demonstrate a reasonable probability that he would have accepted the earlier plea offer had he received effective assistance of ...

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