United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
K. CALDWELL, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN
DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
Stephon Mason has filed an original and amended petitions for
a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241.
[R. 1, 11] This matter is before the Court to conduct an
initial screening of Mason's second amended petition. 28
U.S.C. § 2243; Alexander v. Northern Bureau of
Prisons, 419 F. App'x 544, 545 (6th Cir. 2011).
Because Mason's claims cannot be asserted in a petition
under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 and they are substantively
without merit, the Court will deny the petition.
2003, Mason and more than a dozen other persons were indicted
in Maryland for their roles in operating a large-scale drug
trafficking ring. The government filed a notice pursuant to
21 U.S.C. § 851 indicating that Mason's sentence was
subject to enhancement in light of several prior offenses,
including a 1992 conviction for Possession with Intent to
Distribute in Case No. CT922181X and a 1993 conviction for
Possession with Intent to Distribute Cocaine and Possession
with Intent to Distribute Cocaine in a Drug-Free Zone in Case
No. CF970604. Mason was therefore subject to a mandatory
minimum sentence of life imprisonment pursuant to 21 U.S.C.
subsequently found Mason guilty of numerous charges ranging
from conspiracy, drug trafficking, and money laundering to
being a felon in possession of a firearm and firearms
possession in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Mason
qualified as a career offender under § 4B1.1 of the
sentencing guidelines; however, even without that enhancement
his guidelines range was 360 months to life imprisonment. On
September 29, 2005 - eight months after the Supreme Court
issued its decision in United States v. Booker, 543
U.S. 220 (2005) - the trial court imposed a cumulative
sentence of life plus five years imprisonment. This included
a 30-year sentence for possession with intent to distribute
cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) as set
forth in Count Ten and a concurrent life sentence for
conspiracy to distribute over five kilograms of cocaine and
over 50 grams of crack cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C.
§ 846 as set forth in Count One. United States v.
Mason, No. 8: 03-CR-321-DKC-4 (D. Md. 2003). The Fourth
Circuit affirmed on direct appeal, rejecting arguments that
the sentences imposed ran afoul of Booker.
United States v. Melvin, 2007 WL 2046735 (4th Cir.
petition, Mason argues that the enhancement of his federal
sentence pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A) violates
his due process and equal protection rights because his prior
convictions were not evaluated as possible predicate offenses
using the same “categorical approach” described
in Mathis v. United States, __ U.S. __, 136 S.Ct.
2243 (2016), which is applied to evaluate prior convictions
for possible sentence enhancements imposed pursuant to 18
U.S.C. § 924(e)(1).
habeas corpus petition filed pursuant to § 2241 may be
used to challenge actions taken by prison officials that
affect the manner in which the prisoner's sentence is
being carried out, such as computing sentence credits or
determining parole eligibility. Terrell v. United
States, 564 F.3d 442, 447 (6th Cir. 2009). If a federal
prisoner instead wishes to challenge the legality of his
federal conviction or sentence, he must do so by filing a
motion for post-conviction relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255
in the court that convicted and sentenced him. Capaldi v.
Pontesso, 135 F.3d 1122, 1123 (6th Cir. 2003). A habeas
corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 may not be
used for this purpose because it does not function as an
additional or alternative remedy to the one available under
§ 2255. Hernandez v. Lamanna, 16 F. App'x
317, 320 (6th Cir. 2001).
“savings clause” of 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e)
creates an extraordinarily narrow exception to this
prohibition if the remedy afforded by § 2255 is
“inadequate or ineffective” to test the legality
of the prisoner's detention. Truss v. Davis, 115
F. App'x 772, 773-74 (6th Cir. 2004). A motion under
§ 2255 is not “inadequate or ineffective”
simply because the prisoner's time to file a § 2255
motion has passed; he did not file a § 2255 motion; or
he did file such a motion and was denied relief. Copeland
v. Hemingway, 36 F. App'x 793, 795 (6th Cir. 2002);
Taylor v. Gilkey, 314 F.3d 832, 835 (7th Cir. 2002)
(holding that § 2241 is available “only when a
structural problem in § 2255 forecloses even one round
of effective collateral review ...”). In other words,
prisoners cannot use a habeas petition under § 2241 as
yet another “bite at the apple.” Hernandez v.
Lamanna, 16 F. App'x 317, 360 (6th Cir. 2001).
properly invoke the savings clause, the petitioner must be
asserting a claim that she is “actual innocent”
of the underlying offense by showing that after the
petitioner's conviction became final, the Supreme Court
re-interpreted the substantive terms of the criminal statute
under which she was convicted in a manner that establishes
that her conduct did not violate the statute. Wooten v.
Cauley, 677 F.3d 303, 307-08 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing
United States v. Peterman, 249 F.3d 458, 461-62 (6th
Cir. 2001)); Hayes v. Holland, 473 F. App'x 501,
501-02 (6th Cir. 2012) (“To date, the savings clause
has only been applied to claims of actual innocence based
upon Supreme Court decisions announcing new rules of
statutory construction unavailable for attack under section
2255.”). The Supreme Court's newly-announced
interpretation must, of course, be retroactively applicable
to cases on collateral review. Wooten, 677 F.3d at
petition must be denied because his claims are not ones of
actual innocence, and hence are not cognizable in a §
2241 petition. Mason asserts that the enhancement of his
sentence pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A) is
unconstitutional because it was not the product of the
categorical approach applicable to enhancements under 18
U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). First, this is not a claim based
upon statutory interpretation but a constitutional claim, and
hence falls outside the purview of § 2241. Second, it is
not a claim based upon Mathis at all; rather, it is
predicated upon the categorical approach, a doctrine
established more than a decade before Mason's sentence
was imposed. See Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S.
575, 600-601 (1990); Shepard v. United States, 544
U.S. 13, 26 (2005). It is therefore a claim he could and must
have asserted before the trial court, upon direct appeal, or
in a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. For these
reasons, his claims may not be pursued under 28 U.S.C. §
also challenges not his convictions, but his sentence. The
decidedly narrow scope of relief under § 2241 applies
with particular force to sentencing challenges.
Peterman, 249 F.3d at 462; Hayes v.
Holland, 473 F. App'x 501, 502 (6th Cir. 2012)
(“The savings clause of section 2255(e) does not apply
to sentencing claims.”). In Hill v. Masters,
836 F.3d 591 (6th Cir. 2016), the Sixth Circuit articulated a
very narrow exception to this general rule, permitting a
challenge to a sentence to be asserted in a § 2241
petition, but only where (1) the petitioner's sentence
was imposed when the Sentencing Guidelines were mandatory
before the Supreme Court's decision in United States
v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005); (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, 836 F.3d at 599-600.
claim fails to satisfy at least the first and third
requirements. Mason was sentenced in September 2005, eight
months after Booker was decided, and the Fourth
Circuit concluded that the trial court correctly applied the
post-Booker discretionary guidelines regime. And as noted
above, Mason's claims are not based upon any recent
Supreme Court decision, but instead challenge the limited
applicability of the categorical approach on constitutional
grounds, a situation in effect for more than a decade before
his sentence was imposed. Mason's challenge to his
sentence therefore falls outside the limited exception
articulated in Hill and will be denied.
Mason's claim is wholly without merit. Determining
whether a prior conviction was for a “serious drug
offense” within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. §
924(e)(2)(A) may involve a complex assessment of whether the
prior offense involved the manufacture, distribution, or
possession with intent to do one of these things within the
meaning of the statute. Cf. United States v. Hinkle,
832 F.3d 569, 572-73 (5th Cir. 2016). When making that
assessment, the categorical approach guides the district
court when comparing each of the numerous ...