United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
GREGORY E. VAN TATENHOVE, District Judge.
Michael Terrell Williams is an inmate confined in the United States Penitentiary-McCreary located in Inez, Kentucky. Proceeding without counsel, Williams has filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, challenging his federal drug and firearm conviction. [R. 1] Williams has paid the $5.00 filing fee. [R. 3]
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 under Rule 1(b)). The Court evaluates Williams's 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), accepts his 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 petition, the Court must deny it because Williams cannot pursue his claims under 28 U.S.C. § 2241.
On April 16, 2008, Williams pleaded guilty in an Indiana federal court to possession with intent to distribute marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(two of four counts charged in the indictment). United States v. Michael Terrell Williams, No. 3:07-CR-133-RLM-CAN-1 (N.D. Ind. 2007) [R. 14; R. 15.] On September 16, 2008, the district court sentenced Williams to a 120-month prison term on Count 1, and to a consecutive 72-month prison term on Count 2 (18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(I)), for an aggregate prison term of 192 months. [R. 28.] Williams appealed, but the court dismissed the appeal, stating that in his plea agreement, Williams had waived his right to appeal; that the plea agreement was enforceable; and that accordingly, his appeal was frivolous. [R. 46-2; see also United States v. Michael Terrell Williams, No. 08-3607, p. 2 (7th Cir. November 4, 2009)]
On January 31, 2011, Williams filed a motion to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. [R. 47.] Williams alleged that his trial counsel had been ineffective for not informing him that he would be subject to a career offender enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1, and for advising him that he would be facing a prison term of no more than 66-88 months based on his two prior convictions. [ Id. ]
The district court denied the motion, finding that because Williams had filed his § 2255 motion more than two years after his sentence was imposed and more than one year after his appeal was dismissed on November 4, 2009, it was time-barred, and that Williams had not demonstrated good cause for his procedural default. [R. 48, p. 2; see also Williams v. United States, Nos. 3:07-CR-133-RM, 3:11-CV-49-RM, 2011 488642, at *1 (N. D. Inc. Feb. 7, 2011)] The district court further determined that Williams's guilty plea was knowing and voluntary, noting that the Plea Agreement which Williams signed specified the mandatory minimum and maximum sentences he was facing, and that at sentencing, Williams "... was told of and understood the maximum sentences for the offense to which he was pleading guilty, and that he waived his right to appeal his conviction and sentence and to contest his conviction and sentence in a § 2255 proceeding." Williams, 2011 488642, at *1. Finally, the district court determined that Williams did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel during his criminal proceeding. [ Id., at *4]. Williams did not appeal that ruling.
In his § 2241 petition, Williams argues that the district court improperly sentenced him as a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1; that one of his prior state drug convictions did not qualify as predicate offense under § 4B1.1; that he is actually innocent of being a career offender; and that his 192-month sentence violates his right to due process of law guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. In support of his claim, Williams cites McQuiggin v. Perkins, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 1924, 1931-32 (2013), in which the Supreme Court held that a habeas petitioner who can show actual innocence under the rigorous standard of Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298 (1995), is excused from the procedural bar of the statute of limitations under the miscarriage-of-justice exception.
Williams is not challenging the execution of his sentence, such as the 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, Williams challenges the constitutionality of his underlying federal conviction and sentence on Fifth Amendment grounds. But § 2241 is not 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 unlawful conviction or sentence, Terrell v. United States, 564 F.3d 442, 447 (6th Cir. 2009), and is the mechanism for collaterally challenging errors that occurred "at or prior to sentencing." Eaves v. United States, 4:10-CV-36, 2010 WL 3283018, at *6 (E.D. Tenn. Aug. 17, 2010).
Section 2255(e) provides a narrow exception to this rule, and permits a prisoner to challenge the legality of his conviction through a § 2241 petition, where his remedy under Section 2255 "is inadequate or ineffective" to test the legality of his detention. The only circumstance in which a petitioner may use this provision is where, after his conviction has become final, the Supreme Court re-interprets the terms of the statute the petitioner was convicted of violating in such a way that his actions did not violate the statute. Martin v. Perez, 319 F.3d 799, 804 (6th Cir. 2003); See Barnes v. United States, 102 F.Appx. 441, 443 (6th Cir. 2004) ("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."); Lott v. Davis, 105 F.Appx. 13, 14-15 (6th Cir. 2004). This exception does not apply where the prisoner failed to seize an earlier opportunity to correct a fundamental defect in his ...