United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
HENRY R. WILHOIT, Jr., District Judge.
Richard Len Taylor, Jr., is an inmate confined by the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") in the Federal Correctional Institution ("FCI")-Ashland, located in Ashland, Kentucky. Taylor has filed a pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 [D. E. No. 1], challenging the enhancement of his federal sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA"), 18 U.S.C.A. § 924(c)(1)(A). Taylor has paid the $5.00 filing fee. [D. E. No.2]
In conducting an initial review of habeas petitions under 28 U.S.C. § 2243, the Comi 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, the Court accepts Taylor's factual allegations as true and liberally construes his legal claims in his favor.
The Court has reviewed Taylor's petition but for the reasons set forth below, determines that that it cannot grant the relief which Taylor seeks, i.e., an order either transferring this action to federal court in North Carolina, or setting aside part of his 322-month sentence. The Court will therefore deny Taylor's § 2241 petition and dismiss this proceeding.
TAYLOR'S LITIGATION HISTORY
Between June 28, 2004, and December 14, 2004, a series of indictments were handed down in federal court in Statesville, North Carolina, charging Taylor and other defendants with committing various drug and firearm offenses. United States v. Richard Len Taylor, Jr., No. 5:04-CR-28-RLV-CH-2 (W.D. N.C. 2004) Early in the criminal proceeding, the Government filed a notice under 21 U.S.C. § 851, informing Taylor that it intended to seek enhanced penalties against him based on his two prior felony drug convictions from state court in North Carolina. [R. 2, therein] In the Third Superseding Indictment, Taylor was charged with two counts of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a) and 846 (Counts One and Four); and using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c) and (2) (Count Five). [R. 66, therein]
On March 14, 2005, Taylor entered into a Plea Agreement pursuant to which he agreed to plead guilty to Counts One and Five of the Third Superseding Indictment. [ Id., R. 96, therein] On August 9, 2005, Taylor appeared with counsel before the district court for a Factual Basis and Sentencing Hearing, at which the district court accepted counsels' stipulation that a factual basis existed, and concluded that the stipulation, together with Taylor's pleas of guilty and his submissions, were sufficient to find a factual basis to support his guilty pleas. Id. [R, 200, p. 3) On August 30, 2006, the district court sentenced Taylor to a 262-month prison on Count One (conspiracy to possess methamphetamine with intent to distribute) and to a consecutive 60-month term on Count Five (using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime and aiding and abetting), for a total prison term of 322 months. Id., [R. 183, "Amended Judgment in a Criminal Case, " at pp. 1-2].
Taylor did not file a direct appeal, but instead, on August 16, 2006, filed a motion to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, alleging several instances of ineffective assistance of counsel, including counsel's alleged failure to honor his instruction to file a timely notice of appeal. [R. 181, therein] ("the First § 2255 Motion") The district court granted the First § 2255 Motion and entered an Amended Judgment in his criminal case, id., R. 182, therein, from which Taylor filed a timely notice of appeal. In an unpublished opinion, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Taylor's convictions and sentence. United States v. Taylor, 253 F.Appx. 325 (4th Cir. 2007).
On February 2, 2009, Taylor filed a second § 2255 motion in the district court, in which he raised additional claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. [R. 219, therein] ("the Second § 2255 Motion] The district court ordered the Government to respond to the Second § 2255 Motion, but after reviewing that response and the record of the criminal proceedings, it concluded that Taylor's ineffective assistance of counsel claims were without merit, and on May 6, 2010, entered an Order denying the Second § 2255 motion. [R. 220, therein] Taylor did not appeal that Order.
On February 17, 2012, Taylor filed a third motion seeking relief from his sentence under § 2255. [R. 221, therein, ("the Third § 2255 Motion") Taylor argued that the Fourth Circuit's holding in United States v. Simmons, 649 F.3d 237 (4th Cir. 2011),  demonstrated that his prior state felony drug convictions did not qualify him for a § 851 sentencing enhancement, and that accordingly, he was entitled to relief from his 322-month sentence.
On October 9, 2012, the district court entered an order denying the Third § 2255 Motion, concluding that Taylor was not entitled to relief from his sentence. [R. 222, therein] The district court explained that by enacting 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A), Congress provided district courts with a defined range within which to sentence defendants and thus concluded, "Even without consideration of any prior felony drug offenses, the Court had the discretion to sentence Petitioner [Taylor] to a term of no less than ten years and not more than life imprisonment. Petitioner's term of 262 months was thus well within the authorized maximum sentence." Id., p. 4, therein (emphasis added).
Taylor appealed, but the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals denied him a certificate of appealability, finding that he had not made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right. [R. 225, therein; see also United States v. Richard Len Taylor, Jr., 516 F.Appx. 284, 285 (4th Cir. Apr. 2, 2013)]
CLAIMS ASSERTED IN THE § 2241 PETITION
In his § 2241 petition Taylor again asserts that based on the Fourth Circuit's decision in Simmons, the district court improperly used one of his prior North Carolina state court drug convictions as a basis for enhancing his sentence under the ACCA. In addition to Simmons, Taylor also contends that three other cases support his argument that his sentence was improperly enhanced, the first being Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder, 560 U.S. 563, 130 S.Ct. 2577 (2010). In Carachuri-Rosendo, the defendant, who was facing deportation, was convicted of a crime that the State of Texas categorized as a misdemeanor, but his offense would have been a felony under the Controlled Substances Act (18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(2)) because he had a prior conviction. Carachuri-Rosendo, 560 U.S., at 566-67, 130 S.Ct. at 2580-81. The Court held that the offense did not constitute an "aggravated felony" because the state prosecutor had not charged the existence of a prior conviction and, thus, the defendant was not "... actually convicted of a crime that is itself punishable as a felony under federal law." Id., 560 U.S. at 581-82, 130 S.Ct., ...