United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, at London
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.
Petitioner Robert Demon Taylor is an inmate confined at the Federal Correctional Institution in Manchester, Kentucky ("FCI-Manchester"). Proceeding without an attorney, Taylor has 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] Because § 2241 is not the proper vehicle to obtain the relief sought, the petition will be denied.
On October 23, 2007, a federal grand jury in the District of South Carolina returned a three-count indictment against Taylor, charging him with: (i) being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) (Count 1); (ii) possessing five or more grams of cocaine base with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a), (b)(1)(B)-(C) (Count 2); and (iii) possessing a firearm during, and in relation to, a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (Count 3). [ See United States v. Robert Demon Taylor, Criminal Action No. 4:07-1285-RBH-1 (D.S.C. Oct. 18, 2007), Record No. 12.] On April 30, 2008, the government provided notice pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851 that, in light of Taylor's prior North Carolina convictions for possession with intent to distribute cocaine, he was subject to the career offender provisions under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B). [Record No. 1-2, pp. 2-12; see also Taylor, Criminal Action No. 4: 07-1285-RBH-1, Record No. 36.]
On May 1, 2008, Taylor signed a written plea agreement in which he agreed to plead guilty to all three counts of the indictment. [ Id. at Record No. 37] As part of the agreement, the parties stipulated that Taylor would receive a fifteen-year term of imprisonment. [ Id. ] Taylor also expressly agreed to "waive the right to contest either the conviction or the sentence in any direct appeal or other post-conviction action, including any proceedings under 28 U.S.C. § 2255." [ Id., p. 7] On September 26, 2008, the district court sentenced Taylor to concurrent ten-year terms of incarceration on the felon in possession and drug trafficking convictions (Counts 1 and 2), to run consecutively to a five-year term of incarceration on the § 924(c) conviction (Count 3), for a fifteen-year cumulative term. [ See Record No. 1, p. 3; see also Taylor, Criminal Action No. 4:07-1285-RBH-1, Record No. 53.]
Taylor did not directly appeal his conviction or sentence. However, despite the explicit waiver provision of his written plea agreement, on July 6, 2010, Taylor filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. [ Taylor, Criminal Action No. 4: 07-1285-RBH-1, Record No. 65] The government subsequently filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, arguing that Taylor's § 2255 motion was untimely and that his claims were without merit. [ Id. at Record No. 73] On September 20, 2010, the district court granted the government's motion to dismiss and denied Taylor's § 2255 motion. [ Id. at Record Nos. 78, 79]
On May 9, 2012, Taylor filed a second § 2255 motion. Relying on Simmons v. United States, 649 F.3d 237 (4th Cir. 2011), he asserted that his sentence was in error. Specifically, he argued that because he was only sentenced to a term of eight to ten months for each of his two prior state drug convictions, these convictions were improperly used in determining that he qualified as a career offender. [ Id. at Record No. 90] The district court denied Taylor's second § 2255 motion, without prejudice, to allow him to seek permission from the Fourth Circuit to file a second or successive § 2255 motion. [ Id. at Record No. 96] The Fourth Circuit subsequently denied Taylor's request. In re: Robert Taylor, No. 12-301 (4th Cir. Aug. 28, 2012).
Again relying on Simmons, 649 F.3d 237, Taylor has also filed numerous motions seeking to reduce his sentence and to modify his career offender status. [ Taylor, Criminal Action No. 4: 07-1285-RBH-1, Record Nos. 81, 101] The district court denied each of these motions, informing Taylor that the proper manner of seeking the relief sought would be a § 2255 motion but that, nonetheless, his Simmons argument was without merit. [ Id. at Record Nos. 87, 88, 104] Unsatisfied, on October 18, 2013, Taylor filed his petition for habeas relief under § 2241. [Record No. 1]
In conducting an initial review of habeas petitions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2243, the Court must deny the relief sought "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)). Because Taylor 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). Thus, at this stage of the proceedings, Taylor's factual allegations are accepted as true and his legal claims are liberally construed in his favor.
In his current petition, Taylor again argues that the district court erred by determining that he qualified as a career offender under 21 U.S.C. § 841. More specifically, he contends that, in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder, 560 U.S. 563 (2010), and the Fourth Circuit's application of Carachuri-Rosendo to North Carolina's structured sentencing scheme in Simmons and Miller v. United States, 735 F.3d 141 (4th Cir. 2013), his prior North Carolina drug trafficking convictions were not felonies punishable by one year or more in prison. As indicated above, in each case, the North Carolina court sentenced Taylor to an eight to ten month term of incarceration. [Record No. 1-2, pp. 2-9] Therefore, he contends that, at the time of his § 922(g) conviction, he was not a prohibited person ( i.e., a convicted felon) and that this renders his § 922(g) conviction invalid. He also maintains that this same fact renders the career offender enhancement of his § 841(a) sentence improper. [Record No. 1, pp. 6-8]
In Carachuri-Rosendo, the Supreme Court held that to determine whether a lawful permanent resident may seek cancellation of removal action because he had not committed an "aggravated felony" under the Immigration and Nationality Act, courts must look at the offense the alien was actually convicted of committing, not the offense for which his conduct would have warranted conviction. Carachuri-Rosendo, 560 U.S. at 581-82 ("[T]he defendant must also have been actually convicted of a crime that is itself punishable as a felony under federal law. The mere possibility that the defendant's conduct, coupled with facts outside of the record of conviction, could have authorized a felony conviction under federal law is insufficient to satisfy the statutory command that a noncitizen be convicted of a[n] aggravated felony' before he loses the opportunity to seek cancellation of removal.") (emphasis in original)). Thus, the Court rejected the Fifth Circuit's "hypothetical approach, " that "any conduct' that hypothetically' could have been punished as a felony had it been prosecuted in federal court is an aggravated felony' for federal immigration law purposes." Id. at 573 (and citations omitted).
The Supreme Court later remanded a number of cases to consider the impact of its decision on determinations regarding whether a prior conviction is one "punishable by imprisonment for more than one year" for purposes of the career offender enhancement found in 21 U.S.C. § 841(b). Simmons was such a case. In Simmons, the Fourth Circuit held that, under North Carolina's structured sentencing scheme, a prior conviction is "punishable by imprisonment for more than one year" for purposes of § 841(b) only where the "class of offense, " "prior record level, " and any aggravating and mitigating factors actually found by the North Carolina court establish that the defendant was subject to more than one year imprisonment under North Carolina law. Id. at 240, 243-45 ( citing United States v. Pruitt, 545 F.3d 416 (6th Cir. 2008)).
In the present case, Taylor's claims fail to provide a basis for habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 for a multitude of reasons. A petition filed under § 2241 is reserved for challenges to actions taken by prison officials that affect the manner in which the prisoner's sentence is being carried out ( i.e., the Bureau of Prisons' calculation of sentence credits or other issues affecting the length of his sentence). Terrell v. United States, 564 F.3d 442, 447 (6th Cir. 2009). To challenge the legality of a federal conviction or sentence, a prisoner must file a motion for post-conviction relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 in the court in which he was convicted and sentenced. Capaldi v. Pontesso, 135 F.3d 1122, 1123 (6th Cir. 2003). The prisoner may not use a habeas corpus petition ...