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West v. Barnhart

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division

July 18, 2018

J. BARNHART, Respondent.


          Danny C. Reeves United States District Judge

         Petitioner James Robert West has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 and has paid the filing fee. [Record No. 1] The Court conducted an initial screening of West's petition and directed the United States to respond. See 28 U.S.C. § 2243; Alexander v. Northern Bureau of Prisons, 419 Fed.Appx. 544, 545 (6th Cir. 2011). Having reviewed the matter and being otherwise sufficiently advised, the Court's will grant West's petition.


         West pleaded guilty in August 2010 to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. [Lexington Criminal Action No. 5: 10-034-KKC] He was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment under the Armed Career Criminal Act based, in part, on prior convictions in Kentucky for third-degree burglary. [See id. at Record No. 48.] West filed a motion to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 in 2016, arguing that the career offender designation was improper in light of Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015) (holding that ACCA's residual clause was void for vagueness). This Court denied West's motion, concluding that he was not sentenced under the residual clause of ACCA. Therefore, Johnson was not implicated. [Id. at Record No. 69]

         West has filed the current petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, arguing that he is entitled to relief from the career-offender enhancement because his prior convictions for burglary no longer qualify as “crimes of violence” under Descamps v. United States, 570 U.S. 254 (2013), and Mathis v. United States, __ U.S. __, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016). West attempts to utilize the “savings clause” provision of 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e) to assert this claim in his § 2241 petition.


         A challenge to the validity of a federal conviction or sentence typically is brought as a habeas corpus challenge under § 2255. Hill v. Masters, 836 F.3d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 2016). Petitions under § 2241, on the other hand, are ordinarily limited to claims challenging the manner or execution of a sentence. Id. Second or successive petitions under § 2255 are normally barred unless the petition relies on new evidence or is based on a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review. Id. (citing § 2255(h)).

         When a petitioner seeks to file a second or successive habeas petition but cannot meet the requirements of § 2255(h), however, he may look to the “savings clause” of § 2255(e). It provides:

[a]n application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a prisoner who is authorized to apply for relief by motion pursuant to this section, shall not be entertained if it appears that the applicant has failed to apply for relief, by motion, to the court which sentenced him, or that such court has denied him relief, unless it also appears that the remedy by motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.

28 U.S.C. § 2255(e). Accordingly, “where the remedy under § 2555 is inadequate or ineffective, the savings clause allows a federal prisoner to ‘bring a claim challenging his conviction or imposition of sentence under § 2241.'” Id. (quoting Charles v. Chandler, 180 F.3d 753, 756 (6th Cir. 1999)). When the target of the § 2241 petition is a misapplied sentence (as opposed to a conviction) the petitioner must show: (1) a case of statutory interpretation (2) that is retroactive and could not have been invoked in the initial § 2255 motion and (3) the misapplied sentence presents an error sufficiently grave to be deemed a miscarriage of justice or fundamental defect. Id. at 595 (citing Brown v. Caraway, 719 F.3d 583, 586 (7th Cir. 2013)).

         Hill v. Masters, 836 F.3d 591 (6th Cir. 2016), involved a federal inmate who had been sentenced to 300 months of imprisonment under the (then-mandatory) United States Sentencing Guidelines. He received a career offender enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1 based, in part, on a prior felony conviction in Maryland for second-degree assault. Id. at 593. The court recognized that, after Descamps v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2276 (2013), and its progeny, Hill's second-degree assault conviction no longer constituted a crime of violence for purposes of the career-offender enhancement. Id. at 596. The court found that labeling Hill a “repeat violent offender” and requiring him to serve the enhanced sentence constituted a miscarriage of justice. Id. at 600. Thus, the petition was properly brought under § 2241. Id.

         The Sixth Circuit limited its holding in Hill to “only a narrow subset of § 2241 petitions. This narrow subset includes: “(1) prisoners who were sentenced under the mandatory guidelines regime pre-United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), (2) who are foreclosed from filing a successive petition under § 2255, and (3) when a subsequent, retroactive change in statutory interpretation by the Supreme Court reveals that a previous conviction is not a predicate offense for a career-offender enhancement.” 836 F.3d at 599-600 (internal citations omitted).

         Subsequent unpublished decisions of the Sixth Circuit indicate that Hill's holding applies to defendants who were sentenced to mandatory minimum sentences under the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). For example, Gary Sutton was sentenced to 280 months' imprisonment for being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(e). Sutton v. Quintana, No. 16-6534, 2017 WL 4677548 (6th Cir. July 12, 2017). He was sentenced under the ACCA based on state court convictions which included second-degree burglary. Id. at *1. Following an unsuccessful appeal and attempts at collateral relief, Sutton filed a petition under § 2241, arguing that he was no longer a career offender in light of Johnson, 135 S.Ct. 2551, and Mathis 136 S.Ct. 2243. The court determined that Sutton satisfied the first two prongs of Hill's three-part test because Mathis is a case of statutory interpretation, which is retroactive, and it was unavailable to Sutton when he filed previous post-conviction motions. Id. at *2. Additionally, it was unclear whether second-degree burglary would count as predicate conviction in light of Mathis. Because Sutton's sentence exceeded the 10-year maximum he would have faced absent the enhancement, he was permitted to bring his petition under § 2241. Id.

         Likewise, Edgar Muir pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to 211 months imprisonment under the ACCA. Muir v. Quintana, No. 17-6050 (6th Cir. Apr. 26, 2018). He filed a § 2241 petition in 2017, arguing that his ACCA enhancement was invalid in light of Descamps v. United States, 570 U.S. 254 (2013), and Mathis, 136 S.Ct. 2243. Following this Court's dismissal of Muir's petition [Lexington Civil No. 5: 17-327, Record No. 4], the Sixth Circuit reaffirmed that, in light of Hill, prisoners may challenge an ACCA enhancement under § 2241. But see Campbell v. Quintana, No. 17-6077 (July 11, 2018) (“Assuming for the sake of argument that Hill authorizes challenges to enhancements under the ACCA . . . .”). ...

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