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Graham v. Matevousian

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 20, 2018



          Ellen L. Hollander United States District Judge.

         Kenneth Graham, who is self-represented, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus on March 8, 2018, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2241. ECF 2. The case was initiated in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, and that court transferred the case to this Court on March 13, 2018. ECF 1.

         I. Background

         Petitioner's habeas petition is rooted in a criminal case litigated in this District. That case (13-620) was assigned to Judge William D. Quarles, Jr., who has since retired. In particular, following a jury trial in February 2015, defendant was convicted of Hobbs Act robbery; possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence; discharge of the firearm; and possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon. See ECF 132 (jury verdict). Judge Quarles sentenced Graham to a total term of incarceration of 382 months. See ECF 151. The Fourth Circuit affirmed on April 4, 2016 (ECF 165) and the mandate issued on April 26, 2016. ECF 166.

         In December 2016, Graham wrote a letter to the Clerk of this Court, asking for an extension of time to file a § 2255 motion. ECF 171. On February 16, 2018, Graham filed correspondence in his criminal case, construed as a motion to vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 petition. ECF 172. See Related Civil Case 18-491. On that date, the case was reassigned to me, due to the retirement of Judge Quarles. See Docket. In an Order dated March 5, 2018, I granted petitioner 28 days to file supplemental materials to support the § 2255 motion, because the correspondence did not state a substantive claim. See ELH-13-620 at ECF 173. A few days later, Graham filed his habeas action in the California court.

         II. Discussion

         Graham asserts that the underlying state criminal convictions relied upon to enhance his federal criminal sentence in United States v. Graham, Criminal Case ELH-13-620 (D. Md.) are no longer a valid basis for the enhancements pursuant to the holding in Johnson v. United States, U.S., 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). ECF 2. Petitioner avers that his claim regarding sentencing enhancements is presented as a petition pursuant to §2241 because the claim is untimely for purposes of a §2255 motion. ECF 2 at 5.

         Thus, the threshold question presented is whether this claim is properly raised in a '2241 petition or is more properly construed under 28 U.S.C. §2255. A writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2241 and a motion to vacate, set aside or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2255, are separate and distinct mechanisms for obtaining post-conviction relief. A '2241 petition attacks the manner in which a sentence is executed. See 28 U.S.C. §2241(a). By contrast, a '2255 motion challenges the validity of a conviction or sentence. See In re Jones, 226 F.3d 328, 332 (4th Cir. 2000); In re Vial, 115 F.3d 1192, 1194 n. 5 (4th Cir. 1997) (en banc).

         Although a federal prisoner generally may not seek collateral relief from a conviction or sentence by way of '2241, there is an exception under the so-called ''savings clause'' in '2255.[1] It provides that a prisoner may seek relief under '2241 if the remedy under '2255 is ''inadequate or ineffective to test the validity of his detention.'' 28 U.S.C. §2255.

         In Jones, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concluded that '2255 is inadequate and 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. Jones, 226 F.3d at 333-34 (concluding that the petitioner was entitled to file a § 2241 petition where the § 2255 motion would be barred as second or successive). The inability to obtain relief under §2255, however, does not render it inadequate and ineffective for purposes of applicability of the savings clause. Id. at 333.

         The instant petition is not an attack on the execution of the sentence imposed, as would be appropriate for a § 2241 petition. Rather, it is a challenge to the validity of the underlying criminal proceeding. Here, petitioner has contemporaneously filed correspondence that the Court chose to construe as a § 2255 motion. A time-bar defense raised in response to the claim as asserted may be defeated if petitioner can establish he is entitled to an equitable tolling of the filing deadline applicable to a motion to vacate or that it is otherwise timely filed.

         Under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. §2255, the limitation period runs from the latest of:

(1) the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final;
(2) the date on which the impediment to making a motion created by governmental action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the movant was prevented from ...

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