United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, Pikeville
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
K. CALDWELL, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.
April 1999, when Roberto Sandoval was only sixteen years old,
he participated in the murder of Rogelio Guzman, a member of
a rival gang in Atlanta, Georgia. Six years later, after he
had reached adulthood, Sandoval and 17 other members of the
Surenos-13 gang were indicted by a federal grand jury for
numerous offenses committed over the course of a decade,
including drug trafficking, racketeering, firearms
possession, robbery, murder, and conspiracy.
was convicted of several of these offenses, the most serious
of which was under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt
Organizations Act (“RICO”). For that offense, in
February 2008 the trial court sentenced him to life in
prison, a sentence enhanced pursuant to 18 U.S.C.
§§ 1961(1), 1963(a) because the 1999 murder was an
overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy and because under
Georgia law, Guzman's murder was punishable by life
imprisonment. United States v. Sandoval, No. 1:
05-CR-324-CAP-JFK-4 (N.D.Ga. 2005). Although Sandoval had
been indicted in 2005, he was sentenced after the Supreme
Court's decision in United States v. Booker, 543
U.S. 220, 245 (2005), and the trial court properly weighed
the sentencing factors, viewing the Sentencing Guidelines as
advisory rather than mandatory. See In re: Roberto
Sandoval, No. 16-11470-E (11th Cir. Apr. 16, 2016).
conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal.
United States v. Flores, 572 F.3d 1254, 1259-60,
1268-70 (11th Cir.) (citing United States v. Gibbs,
182 F.3d 408 (6th Cir. 1999)), cert. denied, 558
U.S. 1015 (2009). The trial court denied Sandoval's
initial motion for relief from his conviction and sentence
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, and the Eleventh Circuit
denied his request for a certificate of appealability in
April 2016, Sandoval filed a motion in the Eleventh Circuit
seeking permission to file a second or successive motion
under Section 2255 to argue that his life sentence ran afoul
of the Supreme Court's decision in Miller v.
Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012). In that
case, the Court held that imposing a sentence of life
imprisonment without the possibility of parole upon a
defendant who committed murder while a juvenile would violate
the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against imposing
“Cruel and Unusual Punishments” if that sentence
was mandatory, meaning imposed under a sentencing scheme that
deprived the sentencing authority of discretion to consider
juvenile offender characteristics, such as lessened
culpability and heightened capacity for rehabilitation.
Miller, 132 S.Ct. at 2460-62, 2645-68. Four years
later, the Supreme Court declared the rule of Miller
to be a new substantive rule of constitutional law, and hence
retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review.
Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 718
(2016). But the Eleventh Circuit denied Sandoval's
motion, concluding that Miller was inapplicable
because (1) Sandoval was sentenced to life imprisonment for
violating RICO, not committing murder; (2) Sandoval committed
the conduct that resulted in his RICO conviction while an
adult; and (3) his life sentence was not mandatory. In
re: Roberto Sandoval, No. 16-11470-E (11th Cir. Apr. 16,
two weeks later Sandoval filed his motion in the trial court
anyway, invoking both Section 2255 and 28 U.S.C. § 2241,
and asserting his claims under Miller and
Montgomery. To the extent Sandoval sought relief
under Section 2255, the trial court denied the motion as a
second or successive 2255 motion unauthorized by the Court of
Appeals. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(h). As for Sandoval's
invocation of Section 2241, the trial court noted that a
habeas corpus petition challenging present confinement must
be filed in the district of incarceration, and therefore
transferred the construed petition to this Court in light of
Sandoval's incarceration at the federal penitentiary in
Inez, Kentucky. [R. 1-1; 1-2]
Court must conduct an initial review of Sandoval's habeas
corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2243.
Alexander v. Northern Bureau of Prisons, 419 F.
App'x 544, 545 (6th Cir. 2011). But his petition fares no
better under Section 2241 than it did under Section 2255. If
the Court were to reach the substance of his claims under
Miller, which it does not, the Court would agree
with the Eleventh Circuit that Miller is wholly
inapposite because Sandoval was sentenced to life in prison
for violating RICO, not committing murder, based upon conduct
he committed while an adult.
Court cannot entertain Sandoval's claims, however,
because his petition does not challenge the validity of his
RICO conviction but only the life sentence he received. Such
claims do not fall within the narrow scope of the savings
clause. See United States v. Peterman, 249 F.3d 458,
462 (6th Cir. 2001) (vacating habeas relief where petitioners
“do not argue innocence but instead challenge their
sentences. Courts have generally declined to collaterally
review sentences that fall within the statutory
maximum.”); Hayes v. Holland, 473 F. App'x
501, 502 (6th Cir. 2012) (“Hayes does not assert that
he is actually innocent of his federal offenses. Rather, he
claims actual innocence of the career offender enhancement.
The savings clause of section 2255(e) does not apply to
occasion, the Sixth Circuit has permitted a challenge to a
sentence to be asserted in a Section 2241 petition, but only
because (1) the petitioner's sentence was imposed
pre-Booker, when the Sentencing Guidelines were
mandatory; (2) the petitioner was foreclosed from asserting
the claim in a successive petition under § 2255; and (3)
after the petitioner's sentence became final, the Supreme
Court issued a retroactively applicable decision establishing
that - as a matter of statutory interpretation - a prior
conviction used to enhance his federal sentence no longer
qualified as a valid predicate offense. Hill v.
Masters, 836 F.3d 591, 599-600 (6th Cir. 2016). But
Sandoval's claim is unlike that permitted by
Hill in two critical respects. First, his sentence
was imposed after Booker, not before, and the trial
court properly treated the Guidelines as advisory rather than
mandatory. Second, Sandoval relies upon Miller, a
Supreme Court decision not founded upon statutory
interpretation but upon the Eighth Amendment, and which does
not address sentencing enhancements for career offenders at
all. Sandoval's claim therefore plainly does not satisfy
at least the first and third criteria of Hill, and
his sentencing claim therefore does not fall within the
narrow scope of Section 2255(e)'s savings clause.
Peterman, 249 F.3d at 462.
IT IS ORDERED that:
Petitioner's motion to expedite [R. 5] is GRANTED.
petition filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 by Roberto
Sandoval [R. 1] is DENIED.
Court will enter an appropriate judgment.
matter is STRICKEN ...