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Robertson v. Butler

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky

December 16, 2014

JOHN CURTIS ROBERTSON, Petitioner,
v.
SANDRA BUTLER, Warden, Respondent.

SOUTHERN DIVISION AT LONDON MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

KAREN K. CALDWELL, Chief District Judge.

John Curtis Robertson is confined at the Federal Correctional Institution in Manchester, Kentucky. Proceeding pro se, Robertson has filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 [R. 1], challenging the imposition of an enhanced sentence based on the quantity of drugs associated with the conviction as determined by the trial court, rather than by the jury. Robertson requests that his sentence be vacated that he be resentenced without any enhancement.

In conducting an initial review of habeas petitions under 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 Robertson 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, the Court accepts Robertson's factual allegations as true and liberally construes his legal claims in his favor.

Having reviewed the petition, the Court must deny it because Robertson cannot pursue his claims under 28 U.S.C. § 2241.

BACKGROUND

In December of 1999, Robertson and seven co-defendants were indicted in the Western District of Kentucky for drug trafficking and firearms offenses, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846, and 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). See United States v. Caporale, et al., No. 3:99-cr-139-JGH (W.D. Ky. 1999) [R. 1 therein].[1]Robertson was charged in Counts 1, 5, and 6 of the indictment. Id. Robertson proceeded to a jury trial and was convicted on Counts 1 and 6 of the indictment. Id., at R. 194 therein. On December 18, 2000, Robertson received a 300-month sentence of imprisonment on Count, and a concurrent 120-month sentence on Count 6, for a total sentence of 300 months, to be followed by a ten-year term of supervised release. Id. at R. 270 therein. Robertson appealed, but his conviction and sentence were affirmed on May 9, 2003. United States v. John Curtis Robertson, 67 F.Appx. 257 (6th Cir. 2003) (unpublished).

Subsequently, on June 18, 2004, Robertson filed a motion in the trial court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, to vacate or set aside his sentence due to ineffective assistance of counsel and the sufficiency of the indictment. See John Curtis Robertson v. United States, No. 3:04-cv-278-JGH (W.D. Ky. 2004) [R. 1 therein]. On October 13, 2004, the trial court denied Robertson's § 2255 motion. Id. at R. 4 therein. Both the trial court and the Sixth Circuit denied Robertson's request for a certificate of appealability. See United States v. Caporale, et al., No. 3:99-cr-139-JGH (W.D. Ky. 1999) [R. 425; R. 432 therein]. On May 30, 2006, the United States Supreme Court denied Robertson's petition for a writ of certiorari. See John Curtis Robertson v. United States, No. 3:04-cv-278-JGH (W.D. Ky. 2004) [R. 6 therein].

CLAIMS ASSERTED IN § 2241 PETITION

Robertson claims that the district court, instead of the jury, improperly determined a drug quantity using a preponderance of the evidence standard, resulting in its finding at sentencing that he was responsible for 50 to 100 kilograms of cocaine, although no drug quantity was charged in Count 1 of the indictment, the jury was not instructed as to drug quantity, and the jury made no finding as to drug quantity. [R. 1-2] Robertson claims that the district court's determination of drug quantity increased his mandatory minimum sentence to twenty (20) years, in violation of his rights under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees due process of law, and the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to a jury trial in a criminal proceeding.

Robertson relies upon Alleyne v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 2151 (2013), in support of his argument that his federal sentence should not have been enhanced. In Alleyne, the Supreme Court held that any fact that increases a mandatory minimum sentence for a crime is an "element" of the crime, not a "sentencing factor, " that must be found by a jury. Id., 133 S.Ct. at 2162-63. Robertson contends that Alleyne renders him actually innocent of his sentence, applies retroactively to his case, and affords him relief from his sentence.

DISCUSSION

As a general rule, 28 U.S.C. § 2255 provides the correct avenue to challenge a federal conviction or sentence, whereas a federal prisoner may file a § 2241 petition if he is challenging the execution of his sentence ( i.e., the BOP's calculation of sentence credits or other issues affecting the length of his sentence). See United States v. Peterman, 249 F.3d 458, 461 (6th Cir. 2001); see also Charles v. Chandler, 180 F.3d 753, 755-56 (6th Cir. 1999). The Sixth Circuit has explained the difference between the two statutes as follows:

[C]ourts have uniformly held that claims asserted by federal prisoners that seek to challenge their convictions or imposition of their sentence shall be filed in the [jurisdiction of the] sentencing court under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, and that claims seeking to challenge the execution or manner in which the sentence is served shall be filed in the court having jurisdiction over the prisoner's custodian under 28 U.S.C. § 2241.

Terrell v. United States, 564 F.3d 442, 447 (6th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). In short, 28 U.S.C. § 2255 provides the primary avenue for federal prisoners seeking relief from an unlawful conviction or sentence, not § 2241. See ...


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