United States District Court, C.D. California
September 25, 2014
RICHARD PULLEY, Petitioner,
PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, Respondent.
ORDER OF DISMISSAL
PERCY ANDERSON, District Judge.
On September 19, 2014, Petitioner filed a "Petition for the Writ of Coram Nobis to Vacate Predicate State Conviction, Under the All Writs Act, etc." ("the Petition"). It plainly appears from the face of the Petition that Petitioner is not entitled to relief from this Court. For the reasons discussed below, the Petition is denied and dismissed without prejudice.
Petitioner, who evidently is currently serving a federal sentence, seeks to challenge a Sacramento Superior Court conviction from the early 1990's. Petitioner no longer is in custody on his Superior Court conviction, for which he reportedly received a sentence of 15 years and four months (Petition at 1-2, 5).
"Coram nobis relief is not available in federal court to attack a state court conviction." Casas-Castrillon v. Warden, 265 Fed.App'x 639 (9th Cir. 2008); accord Finkelstein v. Spitzer , 455 F.3d 131, 134 (2nd Cir. 2006), cert. denied, 549 U.S. 1169 (2007) ("district courts lack jurisdiction to issue writs of coram nobis to set aside judgments of state courts"); Obado v. New Jersey , 328 F.3d 716, 718 (3rd Cir. 2003) (same); Sinclair v. Louisiana , 679 F.2d 513, 514 (5th Cir. 1982) ("It is well settled that the writ of error coram nobis is not available in federal court to attack state criminal judgments"); Hensley v. Municipal Court , 453 F.2d 1252 n.2 (9th Cir. 1972), reversed on other grounds, 411 U.S. 345 (1973) ("We are unable to treat this petition as one seeking coram nobis relief because [the petitioner] seeks to challenge a state court proceeding in federal court. Coram nobis lies only to challenge errors occurring in the same court"); Rafus v. United States, 2014 WL 3954871, at *2 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 13, 2014) (same); see also Chavez v. Superior Court , 194 F.Supp.2d 1037, 1039 (C.D. Cal. 2002) (district court has no jurisdiction under the "All Writs Act" to entertain a petition for writ of error coram nobis attacking state convictions); Rendall v. Carey , 2002 WL 1346354, *2 n.3 (N.D. Cal. May 31, 2002) ("the All Writs Act cannot be used as a substitute for habeas corpus.... In any event, the All Writs Act empowers federal courts only to act to preserve their jurisdiction, which jurisdiction must have an independent source in the law...") (citing Jackson v. Vasquez , 1 F.3d 885, 888-89 (9th Cir. 1993)). Accordingly, Petitioner's "Coram Nobis" Petition fails at the threshold. Id.
If, notwithstanding the title of the Petition, this Court were to construe the Petition as a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. section 2254, the result would be the same. Subject matter jurisdiction over habeas petitions exists only where, at the time the petition is filed, the petitioner is "in custody" under the conviction challenged in the petition. Maleng v. Cook , 490 U.S. 488, 490-91 (1989); 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241(c), 2254(a). A habeas petitioner does not remain "in custody" under a conviction once the sentence imposed for the conviction has "fully expired." Maleng v. Cook , 490 U.S. at 492. It is evident that Petitioner previously completed service of the sentence for the remote Superior Court conviction challenged in the present Petition. Thus, as Petitioner concedes, Petitioner was not "in custody" under the challenged conviction at the time he filed the present Petition (Petition at 5). Accordingly, habeas jurisdiction is unavailable. See Maleng v. Cook , 490 U.S. at 492.
Neither can Petitioner challenge his extant federal sentence through coram nobis in this instance. As a threshold qualification for coram nobis relief, a petitioner must demonstrate, inter alia, that "a more usual remedy is not available." Matus-Leva v. United States , 287 F.3d 758, 760 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 1022 (2002). Where, as here, the petitioner still is in "custody" under the federal sentence, the theoretical availability of relief under 28 U.S.C. section 2255 means that a "more usual remedy" "is available [and therefore] the writ of error coram nobis is not." Id. at 761 (denying coram nobis relief sought under the "All Writs Act" because of the theoretical availability of section 2255 relief). In this circumstance, coram nobis relief must be denied even where the theoretically available section 2255 relief actually would be barred by the applicable statute of limitations or otherwise. Id . ("To hold otherwise would circumvent the [Anti-Terrorist and Effective Death Penalty Act's] overall purpose of expediting the presentation of claims in federal court and enable prisoners to bypass the limitations and successive petitions provisions").
When a federal prisoner purports collaterally to challenge a fully expired state court conviction used to enhance a federal sentence currently being served, courts often recharacterize the petition as a section 2255 motion attacking the current sentence. See Feldman v. Perrill , 902 F.2d 1445, 1448-49 (9th Cir. 1990); see also Maleng v. Cook , 490 U.S. at 493-94. In the present case, however, such a recharacterization would not permit this Court to entertain Petitioner's challenge to his expired state conviction. First, it appears that Petitioner's federal sentencing court was the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, not the Central District of California. See United States v. Pulley, 2013 WL 453279 (E.D. Cal. Feb. 6, 2013). Second, apart from a narrow exception not here applicable, a prisoner cannot challenge collaterally in federal court, by section 2255 motion or otherwise, an expired state conviction. Lackawanna County Dist. Attorney v. Coss , 532 U.S. 394 (2001) ("Coss"); Daniels v. United States , 532 U.S. 374 (2001) ("Daniels"); see Steverson v. Summers , 258 F.3d 520, 523 (6th Cir. 2001) (declining recharacterization of petition as a section 2255 motion because Daniels and Coss "foreclosed the viability" of any such motion).
In Daniels, the Supreme Court reiterated the policies expressed in Custis v. United States , 511 U.S. 485 (1994) ("Custis"):
Two considerations supported our constitutional conclusion in Custis: ease of administration and the interest in promoting the finality of judgments. With respect to the former, we noted that resolving non-Gideon-type constitutional attacks on prior convictions would require sentencing courts to rummage through frequently nonexistent or difficult to obtain state-court transcripts or records. With respect to the latter, we observed that allowing collateral attacks would inevitably delay and impair the orderly administration of justice and deprive the state court judgment of its normal force and effect.
Daniels , 532 U.S. at 378 (citations and quotations omitted).
In prohibiting collateral challenges to expired state court convictions, the Daniels Court rejected the suggestion that some remedy for unconstitutional state convictions must exist at all times:
Our system affords a defendant convicted in state court numerous opportunities to challenge the constitutionality of his conviction. He may raise constitutional claims on direct appeal, in postconviction proceedings available under state law, and in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. These vehicles for review, however, are not available indefinitely and without limitation.... After an enhanced federal sentence has been imposed... the person sentenced may pursue any channels of direct or collateral review still available to challenge his prior conviction.... If, however, a prior conviction used to enhance a federal sentence is no longer open to direct or collateral attack in its own right because the defendant failed to pursue those remedies while they were available (or because the defendant did so unsuccessfully), then that defendant is without recourse.
Id. at 381-82 (citations and quotations omitted; emphasis added).
The Supreme Court's prohibition of collateral challenges to expired state court convictions is broader than a mere prohibition against section 2255 relief. Styling a petition as "coram nobis, " or otherwise fashioning a different label for the collateral challenge, does not escape the prohibition. Cf. United States v. Martinez-Martinez , 295 F.3d 1041, 1044 (9th Cir. 2002), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 1148 (2003) (Custis and Daniels prohibit non-section 2255 collateral attacks in federal court on expired state convictions, including a collateral attack in the form of arguing entitlement to a downward departure from the sentencing guidelines based on the constitutional invalidity of the state conviction). To permit collateral attacks on expired state convictions under some newly-minted label (or under the ancient label of coram nobis) would: (1) transgress the "ease of administration" and "finality of judgments" policies the Custis and Daniels Courts found compelling; and (2) allow a facile circumvention of the Daniels holding.
Moreover, and in any event, a section 2255 motion generally constitutes a federal prisoner's exclusive remedy when collaterally attacking a federal sentence. 28 U.S.C. § 2255; see Porter v. Adams , 244 F.3d 1006 (9th Cir. 2001); Hernandez v. Campbell , 204 F.3d 861, 864 (9th Cir. 2000); 3 Wright, Federal Practice and Procedure: Criminal 2d § 591 (1982). "Under the savings clause of § 2255, however, a federal prisoner may file a habeas corpus petition pursuant to § 2241 to contest the legality of a sentence where his remedy under section 2255 is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.'" Hernandez v. Campbell , 204 F.3d at 864-65. This "savings clause" exception to section 2255 exclusivity is a "narrow" exception. United States v. Pirro , 104 F.3d 297, 299 (9th Cir. 1997).
For the same reasons previously discussed, to permit a section 2241 "savings clause" exception in the present case would transgress the policies of Custis and Daniels and circumvent the holding of Daniels. Cf. Ivy v. Pontesso , 328 F.3d 1057, 1060-61 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 1051 (2003) ("savings clause" exception to section 2255 exclusivity unavailable where the petitioner once could have brought the desired challenge, but failed to do so).
For all of the foregoing reasons, the Petition is denied and dismissed without prejudice.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.