United States District Court, C.D. California
November 17, 2014
MELVIN D. LOCKETT, Petitioner,
RICHARD B. IVES, Warden, Respondent
Melvin D. Lockett, Petitioner, Pro se, Adelanto, CA.
For Richard B. Ives, Warden, Respondent: Justin R Rhoades, LEAD ATTORNEY, AUSA - U.S. Attorney's Office, Los Angeles, CA; Assistant U.S. Attorney LA-CV, AUSA - Office of U.S. Attorney, Civil Division, Los Angeles, CA.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
HON. MICHAEL R. WILNER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
This Report and Recommendation is submitted to the Honorable Philip S. Gutierrez, United States District Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and General Order 05-07 of the United States District Court for the Central District of California.
I. SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATION
This is a habeas action brought by a federal prisoner. Petitioner seeks review of the sentence -- and the armed career criminal designation -- that a federal court in Minnesota imposed on him in 2004. Petitioner contends that he is entitled to pursue habeas relief in this Court under the " escape hatch" provisions of 28 U.S.C. § § 2241 and 2255.
However, Petitioner has made numerous previous attempts to challenge his federal sentence in the charging district. As a result, he has had what the Ninth Circuit describes as " an unobstructed procedural shot" at bringing this claim in his court of conviction. Petitioner does not present an " exceptional case" that would allow him to challenge his sentence again a decade later. The Court therefore recommends that the action be dismissed.
A. Petitioner's Federal Criminal Conviction and Direct Appeal
In late 2003, a federal jury in the District of Minnesota convicted Petitioner of firearm and felon-in-possession charges. (Docket # 7-1 at 2.) The trial court sentenced Petitioner to a term of 262 months in prison in early 2004. (Docket # 7-2 at 3.) In imposing sentence, the district court concluded that Petitioner's prior criminal convictions made him an armed career criminal under federal law. (Id.) The district court sentenced Petitioner to the low end of the Sentencing Guidelines.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed Petitioner's conviction on direct appeal. United States v. Lockett, 393 F.3d 834 (8th Cir. 2005). The appellate decision did not address the calculation of Petitioner's sentence. However, after the Supreme Court's then-recent ruling in
United States v. Booker, the parties submitted post-decision briefs addressing Petitioner's sentence. The court denied further relief. (Docket # 7-4 at 3.) The United States Supreme Court subsequently denied certiorari. Lockett v. United States, 546 U.S. 1198, 126 S.Ct. 1395, 164 L.Ed.2d 98 (2006).
B. Petitioner's Later Habeas Actions
In late 2006, Petitioner filed a motion in the Minnesota district court to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Petitioner expressly challenged the adequacy of his lawyer's performance at sentencing and the district judge's analysis of the prior convictions used to establish that he qualified as an armed career criminal. (Docket # 7-2 at 4.) In a lengthy reasoned decision, the district court denied the motion. (Id. at 13.)
Petitioner pursued additional habeas relief after that. In 2008, Petitioner filed a habeas action in this district. Lockett v. Ives, CV 08-5987 PSG (AGR) (C.D. Cal.). At the time, Petitioner was not housed at a federal prison in this district. In November 2008, the Court transferred the action to the District of Minnesota. (CV 08-5987, Docket # 9.) Neither the docket sheet nor the government's filing explains the outcome of that case.
However, Petitioner filed another habeas action in the Eastern District of California (he was housed in that district) in December 2008 to challenge his sentence. (Docket # 7-3.) That action was also transferred to the Minnesota federal court. (Docket # 7-4.) The district court dismissed Petitioner's action as a successive petition for which he did not have permission from the appellate court to file as required by 28 U.S.C. § 2255(h). (Id. at 3.)
Petitioner apparently tried again in May 2014. According to a letter from the clerk of the Minnesota court, Petitioner filed a new habeas action under Section 2255. (Docket # 7-5.) The court returned the petition to Petitioner because he " previously challenged [his] conviction and/or sentence in a motion brought under 28 U.S.C. § 2255" and again failed to obtain pre-authorization from the Eighth Circuit before filing a successive petition. (Id.)
C. Petitioner's Current Habeas Petition
Petitioner is currently housed at FCC Victorville in this district. In September 2014, he filed the current habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. (Docket # 1.) Petitioner expressly challenges the Minnesota court's imposition of the armed career criminal finding at sentencing. Petitioner contends that state court criminal convictions he sustained in California before the federal gun conviction in Minnesota do not properly support that finding, and that he was subject to an illegal sentence. (Id.)
The government moved to dismiss or transfer the petition. (Docket # 7.) Among the numerous grounds raised in the government's papers, it contends that Petitioner's exclusive route to challenge his long-final federal sentence is a Section 2255 petition in the sentencing court. Because Petitioner already pursued this relief -- and has not been prevented from seeking further relief in the Minnesota federal court -- the government argues that Petitioner is not entitled to maintain his action in this Court under the " escape hatch" provision of Section 2241.
A. Applicable Law
Federal prisoners have two statutory paths by which they may seek a writ of habeas corpus. " As a general rule, " federal inmates may collaterally attack their conviction only under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Alaimalo v. United States, 645 F.3d 1042, 1046 (9th Cir. 2011);
see also Ivy v. Pontesso, 328 F.3d 1057, 1059 (9th Cir. 2003) (section 2255 provides " the exclusive procedural mechanism by which a federal prisoner may test the legality of his detention").
However, a federal prisoner may also seek a writ under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. That statute permits a prisoner to " challenge the manner, location, or conditions of a sentence's execution" by habeas review. Hernandez v. Campbell, 204 F.3d 861, 864 (9th Cir. 2000). A Section 2241 petition must be brought in a federal court in the district in which the inmate is confined, while a challenge under Section 2255 must be filed in the court that originally imposed sentence.
The statutes overlap in the " exceptional case" in which a petition " qualifies for the escape hatch of [Section] 2255, and can legitimately be brought as a [Section] 2241 petition." Harrison v. Ollison, 519 F.3d 952, 958 (9th Cir. 2008). The " escape hatch" provision under Section 2255(e) allows a federal prisoner to pursue relief under Section 2241 where it appears that a habeas petition in the sentencing court is " inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention." Id. at 956.
To apply the escape hatch, a district court must first answer the " threshold jurisdictional question" of " whether a petition is properly brought under § 2241 or is, instead, a disguised § 2255 motion, before it can proceed to the merits of the claim." Marrero v. Ives, 682 F.3d 1190, 1194 (9th Cir. 2012). A prisoner may qualify for the escape hatch -- and bring a Section 2241 petition in the district in which the prisoner is incarcerated -- where the petitioner " (1) makes a claim of actual innocence, and (2) has not had an unobstructed procedural shot at presenting that claim."
Alaimalo, 645 F.3d at 1047 (quotation omitted).
A party has not had such a " shot" where " the legal basis for petitioner's claim did not arise until after he had exhausted his direct appeal and first [Section] 2255 motion, " such as when an intervening court decision causes " a material change in the applicable law" governing petitioner's claim. Harrison,
519 F.3d at 960; see also Mitchell v. Compton, No. CV 06-4153 DDP (AGR), Docket 21 at 11, (C.D. Cal. Aug. 27, 2008) (conviction became final before relevant Supreme Court decision; prisoner lacked " shot" at presenting claim of actual innocence until then). Notably, the " purely legal argument that a petitioner was wrongly classified as a career offender under the Sentencing Guidelines" cannot form the basis for a claim of actual innocence under the escape hatch.
Marrero, 682 F.3d at 1195; Rith v. Rios, 514 F.App'x 684, 685 (9th Cir. 2013) (prisoner's argument that he was " innocent of his career offender status for sentencing purposes is not cognizable as a claim of actual innocence") (quotation omitted).
B. Previous " Procedural Shot" to Present Sentencing Argument
The Court concludes that Petitioner had -- and took -- his " procedural shot" to challenge his sentence after the entry of judgment. He also does not present an " exceptional case" based on any changed circumstances or law that would allow him to obtain reconsideration of his case. Harrison,
519 F.3d at 958. As a result, he cannot fit through the escape hatch and present his current habeas claim in this Court through a Section 2241 petition.
Petitioner raised the issue of the armed career criminal sentencing finding in his Section 2255 petition in the Minnesota court in 2006. (Docket # 7-2.) According to the district judge's reasoned decision, Petitioner cited to the same Supreme Court decision (Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575, 110 S.Ct. 2143, 109 L.Ed.2d 607 (1990)) and raised similar issues regarding the nature of his prior convictions that he wishes to pursue in the present action. (Docket # 7-2 at 9-12.) Moreover, on at least two other occasions -- in 2008 and 2014 (Docket # 7-4, 7-5) -- the Minnesota district court concluded that Petitioner's later sentencing challenges were successive habeas filings prohibited under the one-filing rule under Section 2255(h).
Petitioner fails to convincingly explain why his 2006 habeas action in the court of conviction was anything other than an " unobstructed procedural shot" to present the merits of his armed career criminal sentencing claim.
Alaimalo, 645 F.3d at 1047. His current habeas action points to no recent judicial decision or change of law that plausibly applies retroactively to his case. (Docket # 11.) Furthermore, the very nature of his putative habeas argument -- reconsideration of the convictions that underlie his armed career criminal designation -- is not cognizable as a claim of " actual innocence" under the Ninth Circuit's most recent iteration of the scope of the Section 2241 escape hatch.
Marrero, 682 F.3d at 1195.
Petitioner cannot get past the " threshhold" of demonstrating that he is entitled to review of his claim in this district.
Harrison, 519 F.3d at 958; Marrero, 682 F.3d at 1194. Petitioner had a direct opportunity to bring his claim to the Minnesota sentencing court on collateral review in 2006. That was a legitimate, unobstructed procedural shot at habeas review. He also took several other shots after that in the Central District (2008), the Eastern District (2008), and the District of Minnesota (2014). Further, there is nothing exceptional about his untenable claim that he is " actually innocent" of the sentencing calculation imposed here. Petitioner cannot show that he is legally entitled to yet another shot at reconsideration of his long-concluded criminal sentence. The Court recommends that Petitioner's successive Section 2241 action be dismissed.
IT IS THEREFORE RECOMMENDED that the District Judge issue an order: (1) accepting the findings and recommendations in this Report; (2) directing that judgment be entered denying the Petition; and (3) dismissing the action with prejudice.