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Roberts v. Quintana

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

December 3, 2013

PATRICK ROBERTS, Petitioner,
v.
FRANCISCO J. QUINTANA, WARDEN, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

KARL S. FORESTER, District Judge.

Patrick Roberts is an inmate confined by the Bureau of Prisons in the United States Penitentiary ("USP") located in Terre Haute, Indiana.[1] Proceeding without counsel, Roberts has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, challenging his federal drug conviction. [R. 1] Roberts has paid the $5.00 filing fee. [R. 11]

The Court conducts an initial review of habeas corpus petitions. 28 U.S.C. § 2243; Alexander v. Northern Bureau of Prisons, 419 F.Appx. 544, 545 (6th Cir. 2011). 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 pursuant to Rule 1(b)). The Court evaluates Roberts' petition under a more lenient standard because he is not represented by an attorney. 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 Roberts' factual allegations as true, and liberally construes his legal claims in his favor. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Having reviewed the petition, the Court must deny it because Roberts may not assert his claims in a habeas corpus proceeding under § 2241.

BACKGROUND

In May 1998, a federal grand jury indicted Roberts, along with several other defendants, of Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess with Intent to Distribute a Controlled Substance in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846. United States v. Patrick Roberts, No. 2:97-CR-80627-JAC-3 (E.D. Mich. 1997) On January 4, 1999, the Government filed a Penalty Enhancement Information outlining Roberts' prior drug convictions. [R. 465, therein] On January 7, 1999, the Government presented Roberts with a Plea Agreement which provided that (1) he would plead guilty only to the conspiracy to distribute charge but would be subject to the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment based on his prior drug convictions, and (2) the Government would recommend a downward departure from a life sentence to a 180-month prison term if Roberts cooperated and provided substantial assistance in its investigation of the drug trafficking conspiracy. Roberts accepted the Plea Agreement [R. 464, therein] and on that same date, the district court accepted his guilty plea.

On July 8, 1999, prior to sentence being imposed, the Government advised the district court that it would not request a downward departure because Roberts had failed to provide substantial assistance in the drug trafficking investigation. On that same date, the district court sentenced Roberts to serve a life prison term. Roberts appealed, arguing that the district court erred by refusing to allow him to withdraw his guilty plea after the government decided not to request a downward departure in his favor. The Sixth Circuit rejected Roberts' argument and affirmed his conviction and sentence. United States v. Ford, 15 F.Appx. 303 (6th Cir. 2001)[2]

On April 18, 2002, Roberts filed a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 collaterally challenging his conviction and sentence. [R. 762, therein] Citing United States v. Cotton, 535 U.S. 625 (2002), Roberts alleged that his Fifth Amendment right to due process of law had been violated because Count One of the Superseding Indictment failed to specify a drug amount. Roberts argued that because of this defect in the indictment, the district court lacked jurisdiction to impose a life sentence, and that he should have been sentenced under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(c), which carries either a 20-year maximum prison term for any measurable amount of cocaine, or a 30-year sentence if the defendant has a prior felony drug conviction. Roberts further alleged that he had been denied effective assistance of counsel, in violation of his rights under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, when his counsel was unavailable to execute a more favorable Plea Agreement which had been discussed in October 1998.

On December 15, 2003, the district court denied Roberts' § 2255 motion, stating that neither Cotton nor United States v. Apprendi, 530 U.S. 466, 490 (2001), [3] supported Roberts' Fifth Amendment argument. [R. 799, therein] The district court explained that Cotton held that any errors by the sentencing court relating to the indictment were governed by the plain error test under Fed. R. Crim. P. 52(b), and that the failure of the indictment to specify the amount of drugs was not a jurisdictional defect. [ Id., p. 5, therein] The district court stated that given that conclusion, it did not commit plain error because Roberts conceded in his plea agreement that he had sold in excess of 50 grams of "crack" cocaine, and that notwithstanding any defect in the indictment, it had subject matter jurisdiction to impose a life sentence. [ Id., p. 5, therein] Further, the district court acknowledged that although Apprendi held that any fact that increased the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt, Apprendi did not apply retroactively to cases on collateral appeal and therefore did not assist Roberts. [ Id., p. 6] Finally, the district court rejected Roberts' Sixth Amendment claim alleging ineffective assistance of counsel, finding that he failed to demonstrate that he suffered actual prejudice stemming from the fact that the Plea Agreement, which had been discussed in October 1998, was never executed. [ Id., pp. 8-9]

Roberts appealed the denial of his § 2255 motion, but the Sixth Circuit denied him a certificate of appealabilty. [R. 820 therein, see also Roberts v. United States of America, No. 04-1023 (6th Cir. Nov. 22, 2004)]. In October 2008, Roberts filed a motion to "correct the judgment, " which the district court denied after construing it as an unauthorized second or successive § 2255 motion. [R. 853, therein] Roberts appealed, but the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court and denied Roberts a certificate of appealability. [R. 873, therein]

In 2011, Roberts filed a motion under 18 U.S.C. § 3582 to reduce his sentence, but on August 10, 2012, the district court denied that motion. [R. 879, therein] Roberts appealed, but on April 25, 2013, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of that motion. [R. 899, therein]

ALLEGATIONS ASSERTED IN THE § 2241 PETITION

Roberts argues that because the indictment did not mention any drug quantities, the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to determine that he was a career criminal and sentence him to serve life in prison. Roberts contends that because of the defect in the indictment, his life sentence violates the Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and that he is entitled to habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. In support of his arguments, Roberts cites Cotton, Apprendi, Blakely v. Washington, 524 U.S. 296 (2004) and Booker v. United States, 543 U.S. 220 (2005).[4]

DISCUSSION

Roberts is not challenging the manner in which his sentence is being executed, such as the Bureau of Prisons' computation of sentence credits or parole eligibility, issues which fall under the ambit of § 2241. United States v. Jalili, 925 F.2d 889, 894 (6th Cir. 1999). Instead, Roberts challenges the constitutionality of his sentence on Fifth Amendment grounds. Section § 2241 is not, however, the mechanism for asserting such a challenge: 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a) provides the primary avenue of relief for federal prisoners seeking relief from an ...


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