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Watkins v. United States

October 14, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandra M. Snyder United States Magistrate Judge


Petitioner is a federal prisoner proceeding pro se with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241.


Petitioner is currently incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Atwater, California. He challenges his convictions in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina for attempting to possess with intent to distribute cocaine base. He was sentenced to 188-months of imprisonment.

Petitioner appealed his convictions to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and United States Supreme Court. On February 2, 2004, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the conviction. Petitioner petitioned for a writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court which was denied.

On January 18, 2005, Petitioner filed a motion to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 in the sentencing court, which was denied on April 9, 2007.

On September 29, 2009, Petitioner filed the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. The petition was transferred to this Court on October 5, 2009. (Court Doc. 3.) Petitioner argues that the Government did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt any drug quantities at trial. "The sole basis for the cocaine quantity arise from distinct state-charges with absolutely no direct nexus to the federal prosecution, (not implying that under the proper standards, that the cocaine quantity could not be attributed)." (Petition, Argument One.) Petitioner also contends that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge his sentence. (Petition, Argument Two.)


A prisoner who wishes to challenge the validity or constitutionality of his federal conviction or sentence must do so by way of a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct the sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Tripati v. Henman, 843 F.2d 1160, 1162 (9th Cir.1988); Thompson v. Smith, 719 F.2d 938, 940 (8th Cir.1983); In re Dorsainvil, 119 F.3d 245, 249 (3rd 1997); Broussard v. Lippman, 643 F.2d 1131, 1134 (5th Cir.1981). In such cases, only the sentencing court has jurisdiction. Tripati, 843 F.2d at 1163. A prisoner may not collaterally attack a federal conviction or sentence by way of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Grady v. United States, 929 F.2d 468, 470 (9th Cir.1991); Tripati, 843 F.2d at 1162; see also United States v. Flores, 616 F.2d 840, 842 (5th Cir.1980).

In contrast, a prisoner challenging the manner, location, or conditions of that sentence's execution must bring a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Capaldi v. Pontesso, 135 F.3d 1122, 1123 (6th Cir. 1998); United States v. Tubwell, 37 F.3d 175, 177 (5th Cir. 1994); Kingsley v. Bureau of Prisons, 937 F.2d 26, 30 n.5 (2nd Cir. 1991); United States v. Jalili, 925 F.2d 889, 893-94 (6th Cir. 1991); Barden v. Keohane, 921 F.2d 476, 478-79 (3rd Cir. 1991); United States v. Hutchings, 835 F.2d 185, 186-87 (8th Cir. 1987); Brown v. United States, 610 F.2d 672, 677 (9th Cir. 1990).

In this case, Petitioner is challenging the validity and constitutionality of his federal sentence rather than an error in the administration of his sentence. Therefore, the appropriate procedure would be to file a motion pursuant to § 2255 and not a habeas petition pursuant to § 2241. Petitioner concedes this fact. Petitioner admits bringing this petition as a § 2241 petition instead of a § 2255 petition to avoid 28 U.S.C.§ 2244(b)'s constraints on second petitions. However, a petition contending Petitioner's conviction is invalid is still a § 2255 petition regardless of what Petitioner calls the petition. See Brown, 610 F.2d at 677.

In rare situations, a federal prisoner authorized to seek relief under § 2255 may seek relief under § 2241 if he can show the remedy available under § 2255 to be "inadequate or ineffective to test the validity of his detention." United States v. Pirro, 104 F.3d 297, 299 (9th Cir.1997) (quoting § 2255). Although there is little guidance from any court on when § 2255 is an inadequate or ineffective remedy, the Ninth Circuit has recognized that it is a very narrow exception. Id; Aronson v. May, 85 S.Ct. 3, 5 (1964) (a court's denial of a prior § 2255 motion is insufficient to render § 2255 inadequate.); Tripati, 843 F.2d at 1162-63 (9th Cir.1988) (a petitioner's fears of bias or unequal treatment do not render a § 2255 petition inadequate); Williams v. Heritage, 250 F.2d 390 (9th Cir.1957); Hildebrandt v. Swope, 229 F.2d 582 (9th Cir.1956). The burden is on the petitioner to show that the remedy is inadequate or ineffective. Redfield v. United States, 315 F.2d 76, 83 (9th Cir. 1963).

To the extent Petitioner claims that § 2255 is inadequate and ineffective, it is without merit. The Ninth Circuit has provided little guidance on what constitutes "inadequate and ineffective" in relation to the savings clause. The Ninth Circuit has acknowledged that "[o]ther circuits have held that . . . a federal prisoner who is actually innocent of the crime of conviction, but who has never had an unobstructed procedural shot at presenting a claim of innocence, may resort to § 2241 if the possibility of relief under § 2255 is foreclosed." Lorentsen v. Hood, 223 F.3d 950, 954 (9th Cir.2000) (internal citations omitted). Nevertheless, the Ninth Circuit in Lorentsen specifically declined to decide whether to adopt the holdings of any other circuits. Id. Notably, however, the Ninth Circuit did find that the Petitioner in Lorentsen could not invoke the "escape hatch in § 2255" because the Petitioner was not "actually innocent" of the underlying conviction. Id.

It is clear that Petitioner's arguments do not demonstrate the ยง 2255 forum to be inadequate or ineffective. First, as Petitioner concedes, he has had several unobstructed procedural opportunities to present his claims, and he has done so. Whether the earlier courts specifically ruled on his claims is beside the point. The savings clause can only be satisfied if Petitioner has been denied the opportunity to present his claims, which he concedes he has not. The savings clause does not serve as a further level of appeal. Moreover, the Court notes that the earlier courts did in fact address Petitioner's claims. In its May ...

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