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Eddie Louis Denton, Jr v. Conrad Graber


April 17, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary A. Feess United States District Judge



The Court will dismiss this putative 28 U.S.C. § 2241 habeas petition summarily because the face of the petition indicates that it is an abusive, disguised motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Petitioner asserts challenges to his 2003 federal drug-trafficking conviction that may only be asserted in the sentencing court, the Northern District of Iowa, pursuant to § 2255; in the Eighth Circuit; or in the United States Supreme Court. Petitioner expressly states that he has unsuccessfully appealed and unsuccessfully sought § 2255 relief. His current resort to challenging the same 2003 conviction here, having labeled his challenge as a putative § 2241 petition, is obviously improper.


Petitioner Eddie Louis Denton, Jr. is a federal prisoner housed at Terminal Island, in this judicial district. In February 2003, a federal jury in the Northern District of Iowa convicted him of drug trafficking offenses. He successfully moved for a competency exam prior to sentencing, but the trial court ultimately sentenced Petitioner to life imprisonment after finding him competent. See Mem. at 2. In February 2005, Petitioner appealed. In March 2005, he moved for § 2255 relief, but the trial court dismissed that motion due to that court's lack of jurisdiction pending appeal. The Eighth Circuit affirmed in January 2006. United States v. Denton, 434 F.3d 1104 (8th Cir. 2006); see docket in N.D. Iowa case no. CR 02-2030 LRR 5. The appellate court expressly held that Petitioner was indeed competent to stand trial. 434 F.3d at 1112-13.

Petitioner now turns to this Court with a challenge to the underlying competency determination, having re-labeled it as § 2241 habeas petition.


28 U.S.C. § 2255 generally provides the sole procedural mechanism by which a federal prisoner may test the legality of his detention. Lorentsen v. Hood, 223 F.3d 950, 953 (9th Cir. 2000). That section bars courts from entertaining most habeas petitions where "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[.]" In light of this rule, the statute on its face appears to bar the present action. Section 2255 itself permits resort to a 28 U.S.C. § 2241 petition when a § 2255 motion is "inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of [the] detention." 28 U.S.C. § 2255. This clause is sometimes referred to as the "escape hatch" to § 2255's exclusivity provision. Lorentsen, 223 F.3d at 953.

The escape hatch rarely opens. A § 2255 motion cannot and should not be viewed as "inadequate" merely because the sentencing court has denied relief on the merits.

Id. Any contrary ruling would nullify the statute's gatekeeping provisions, and Congress then would have accomplished little in its attempts to limit federal collateral review in passing laws such as the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). See Triestman v. United States, 124 F.3d 361, 374-76 (2nd Cir. 1997) (discussing Congressional intent to narrow collateral attacks).

"Along with many of our sister circuits," the Ninth Circuit has explained, we have held that a § 2241 petition is available under the "escape hatch" of § 2255 when a petitioner (1) makes a claim of actual innocence, and (2) has not had an "unobstructed procedural shot" at presenting that claim.

Stephens v. Herrera, 464 F.3d 895, 898 (9th Cir. 2006) (collecting cases).*fn1

Here, the hatch must remain shut. Petitioner had an unobstructed procedural shot at obtaining relief. The mere fact that Petitioner missed that shot, by failing to persuade the trial court and the Eighth Circuit that he was not competent to be tried and sentenced, does not somehow render the prior proceedings "inadequate or ineffective" for purposes of allowing a § 2241 escape hatch petition.


For the foregoing reasons, the action is DISMISSED without prejudice to Petitioner's pursuit of relief in the Northern District of Iowa, the Eighth Circuit or the Supreme Court.

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