United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
JEREMY L. AIKEN, Petitioner,
WILLIAM TAYLOR, Respondent.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed by pro se
petitioner, Jeremy Lujan Aiken, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
2241 and the saving clause of 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e). (Doc.
1). Petitioner, who is incarcerated at FCI Talladega,
challenges his June 13, 2005 conviction in the Western
District of North Carolina for possession with intent to
distribute cocaine base. (Id. at 1; Doc. 2 at 3).
This matter is fully briefed and ripe for adjudication.
(See Docs. 7, 13). As explained below, the petition
is due to be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.
2004, a grand jury indictment in the Western District of
North Carolina charged Petitioner with: (1) possession with
intent to distribute more than 50 grams of cocaine base under
21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a) and (b)(1)(A) (“Count
I”); (2) possession with intent to distribute more than
5 grams of cocaine base under 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)
and (b)(1)(B) (“Count II”); and (3) two counts of
being a felon in possession of a firearm under 18 U.S.C.
§ 922(g) (“Count III”, “Count
IV”). (See Doc. 2 at 3; Doc. 7 at 3-4). The
prosecution subsequently filed a notice indicating Petitioner
had a “prior felony drug offense” justifying
enhanced penalties under 21 U.S.C. § 851. (See
Doc. 2 at 3; Doc. 7 at 4). Petitioner eventually pled guilty
to Counts I and IV. (See Doc. 2 at 3; Doc. 7 at 4).
As to Count I, the plea agreement acknowledged the statutory
maximum sentence was life and the mandatory minimum sentence
was either 10 or 20 years, depending on whether Petitioner
had been found guilty of a prior felony drug offense.
(See Doc. 7 at 4). The plea agreement stipulated
“the amount of cocaine base . . . was at least 50 grams
but less than 150 grams.” (See id.). The
agreement also noted the possibility that the prosecution
would file a substantial-assistance motion under U.S.S.G.
§ 5K1.1 and 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e). (See
pled guilty in accordance with the agreement, and a
pre-sentence report (“PSR”) was prepared.
(See Doc. 7 at 4). The PSR noted Petitioner
qualified as a career offender based on “two sets of
convictions:” (1) drug convictions; and (2) convictions
for felony robbery with a dangerous weapon. (Id. at
5). The PSR's calculation of the sentence was based on
Petitioner's status as a career offender, including the
applicable 20 year mandatory minimum sentence for Count I.
(See Id. at 4-5). The PSR yielded an advisory
sentence range of 262 to 327 months. (See id. at 5).
During the sentencing hearing, the prosecution-citing
Petitioner's assistance and cooperation-moved for a
downward departure, yeilding a sentence range of 210 to 262
months. (Id. at 5-6). The sentencing court granted
the prosecution's downward departure motion, imposing a
224 month sentence on Count I and a concurrent 120 month
sentence on Count IV. (Id. at 6; Doc. 2 at 3-4).
appealed, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed. United States
v. Aiken, 165 F. App'x 272 (4th Cir. 2006);
(See Doc. 7 at 6). On October 19, 2007, Petitioner
filed a motion to vacate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255,
alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. (See
Doc. 1 at 2). The sentencing court dismissed the § 2255
motion as untimely. (See id.; Doc. 7 at 6). On May
21, 2014, Petitioner filed a second § 2255 motion, which
the sentencing court dismissed as successive. (See
Doc. 7 at 6; Doc. 2 at 4). Petitioner also filed a motion
under 18 U.S.C. § 3582, seeking a sentence reduction
pursuant to U.S.S.G. Amendment 782. (See Doc. 2 at
4). The sentencing court denied the motion due to
Petitioner's status as a career offender. (See
id.). Petitioner sought reconsideration, advancing the
same arguments presented in the instant petition. (See
id.). The sentencing court denied the motion as seeking
relief unavailable via 18 U.S.C. § 3582. (See
asserts he was erroneously sentenced as a career offender.
(Doc. 1 at 6-7). Petitioner's contention is based on
United States v. Simmons, 649 F.3d 237 (4th Cir.
2011). (Doc. 1 at 6-7; Doc. 2 at 6). In Simmons, the
Fourth Circuit held that, in order for a prior felony to
serve as a predicate offense for sentencing enhancement
purposes, the conviction must expose the defendant to the
possibility of more than one year imprisonment.
Simmons, 649 F.3d at 243. Under North Carolina's
structured sentencing regime, the maximum sentence Petitioner
faced on his prior drug offenses was 10 months. (Doc. 2 at
6-7). Accordingly, Petitioner contends the federal sentencing
court erred in finding his prior North Carolina drug
convictions rendered him a career offender under the
Guidelines. (Id.). Petitioner asks this Court to
take jurisdiction over his claims under the saving clause and
transfer this matter to the sentencing court. (Id.
general habeas statute authorizes “district courts . .
. within their respective jurisdictions” to grant writs
of habeas corpus to prisoners who are “in custody in
violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the
United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2241. When a prisoner
seeks post-conviction relief based on a challenge to the
validity of a federal conviction or sentence, he generally
must do so by filing a § 2255 motion “to vacate,
set aside or correct the sentence” in the sentencing
court. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a); see Antonelli v. Warden,
USP Atlanta, 542 F.3d 1348, 1351 (11th Cir. 2008);
McGhee v. Hanberry, 604 F.2d 9, 10 (5th Cir. 1979).
Thus, in most cases a prisoner cannot seek a writ of habeas
corpus under § 2241 to assert a claim attacking a
federal sentence or conviction. See Antonelli, 542
F.3d at 1351.
under the saving clause of 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e), a
federal court may grant habeas relief under § 2241 where
the “remedy by [§ 2255] motion is inadequate or
ineffective to test the legality of [the] detention.”
28 U.S.C. § 2255(e); see Gilbert v. United
States, 640 F.3d 1293, 1305-06 (11th Cir. 2011) (en
banc). If a federal prisoner satisfies his burden of
demonstrating the requirements of the saving clause are met,
he may assert the claim in a § 2241 habeas application,
which must be filed in the district of confinement. See
Fernandez v. United States, 941 F.2d 1488, 1495 (11th
Cir. 1991). Whether the saving clause applies is a
jurisdictional inquiry which must be decided before
addressing the merits of a claim. See McCarthan v. Dir.
of Goodwill Indus.-Suncoast, Inc., 851 F.3d 1076, 1099
(11th Cir. 2017) (en banc).
instant petition appears to presume that Fourth Circuit law
governs this matter. (See Doc. 2 at 4). Respondents
do not address this contention, although they largely rely on
Eleventh Circuit law. (See generally Doc. 7; Doc.
19). There is authority holding that § 2241 petitions
challenging a federal conviction are governed by the law of
the circuit in which the sentencing court sat. See
Hernandez v. Gilkey, 242 F.Supp.2d 549, 554 (S.D. Ill.
2001); Chaney v. O'Brien, No. 07-0012, 2007 WL
1189641, at *3 (W.D. Va. April 23, 2007), aff'd,
241 F. App'x 977, 977, at *1 (4th Cir. 2007). As
explained below, this court need not decide which law applies
because Petitioner's claims fail under both Eleventh
Circuit and Fourth Circuit law.
Fourth Circuit law, § 2255 is only inadequate or
ineffective to test the legality of a conviction when:
(1) at the time of conviction, settled law of this circuit or
the Supreme Court established the legality of the conviction;
(2) subsequent to the prisoner's direct appeal and first
§ 2255 motion, the substantive law changed such that the
conduct of which the prisoner was convicted is deemed not to
be criminal; and (3) the prisoner cannot satisfy the
gatekeeping provisions of § 2255 because the new rule is
not one of constitutional law.
In re Jones, 226 F.3d 328, 333-34 (4th Cir. 2000).
Here, Petitioner cannot satisfy the second requirement of the
Jones test. Simmons did not decriminalize
the conduct leading to ...