Federal Prison Newsletter Week of Aug 17

Quite an active week for 2255 motions! Here’s a rundown of some cases I found that could be helpful to those seeking relief from wrongful convictions and sentences. As always, hit me up if you want to talk about pursuing relief. I’ve got a ton of info on postconviction relief from my books that I can share with you.

Lack of Knowledge of State Indictment May Have Affected Federal Guilty Plea, 2255 Denial Reversed

United States v. Cuff, No. 18-30694, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 21621 (5th Cir. Aug. 17, 2023)

The defendant, a federal prisoner, appealed the denial of a 2255 motion alleging breach of his plea agreement and ineffective assistance of counsel. The Fifth Circuit disagreed with the district court’s application of the procedural bar to the breach-of-plea agreement claim and reversed and remanded but affirmed its disposition of the ineffective assistance of counsel claim. The court explained that further fact-finding is necessary to decide whether the defendant was prejudiced. The government argued that the defendant cannot establish prejudice because the Louisiana USAO did not breach the plea agreement and the defendant would have pled guilty even if he knew of the second indictment. The court remanded the district court with instructions to determine whether the defendant or his counsel knew or should have known of the Texas indictment before sentencing and whether he was prejudiced. The court emphasized the importance of the district court thoroughly evaluating whether the defendant or his counsel had any prior knowledge of the indictment and assessing whether any potential lack of awareness resulted in prejudice for the defendant.

Counsel Failed to Investigate Prior Durg Offenses for 851 Mandatory Life Sentence, 2255 Denial Reversed

Coleman v. United States, No. 22-1678, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 21201 (7th Cir. Aug. 15, 2023)

In 2013, Coleman was convicted of conspiring to distribute crack cocaine and sentenced to life imprisonment due to his prior convictions for a felony drug offense. Coleman’s 2255 motion to vacate his sentence argued that his appointed counsel was ineffective for failing to inform him of the government’s pretrial Notice of Enhancement, under 21 U.S.C. 851, indicating its intention to seek mandatory life imprisonment based on his two prior Illinois cocaine-related convictions. Counsel responded that he had repeatedly informed Coleman that he faced a mandatory life sentence, and that the government was unwilling to waive the enhancement. The district court denied Coleman’s motion and motion to amend, but the Seventh Circuit reversed. The district court must determine whether counsel considered a possible categorical challenge to Coleman’s predicate offenses and his reasons for not raising it.

Rule 60(b) Proper to Challenge Court’s Ruling that Habeas Petition was Not Subject to Equitable Tolling Due to Mental Illness that Delayed Filing

Justus v. Clarke, No. 20-6351, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 21232 (4th Cir. Aug. 15, 2023)

In 2003, a man was charged with capital murder in state court after killing his estranged wife and her boyfriend. The trial court rejected his insanity defense but cited his severe mental illness as a mitigating factor. The man attempted to attack his 2007 convictions and sentence in state court, but his state habeas petitions were dismissed. He sought habeas relief in federal court, but the district court dismissed his 2013 federal habeas 2254 petition as untimely. The man moved for reconsideration of the dismissal, arguing that his multiple mental health disabilities prevented him from effectively petitioning the court for relief. The district court dismissed his motion, and the case was appealed. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s order and remanded the case to the district court. The court reaffirmed that the man’s Rule 60(b) motion was timely filed and found him entitled to an evidentiary hearing on whether his mental illness during the relevant period when he should have filed his petition entitled him to relief under Rule 60(b)(6) and equitable tolling of the statute of limitations governing his habeas petition. The court explained that the man suffers from a serious mental illness and has sufficiently alleged and provided evidence supporting its severity and continuing nature.

Stacked 924(c) Sentences were Extraordinary and Compelling Reasons for Compassionate Release

United States v. Brown, No. 21-7752, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 21403 (4th Cir. Aug. 16, 2023)

In 2014, a jury convicted a defendant on seven counts, including two counts of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The defendant was sentenced to thirty years in prison for his 18 U.S.C. 924(c) convictions and fifty-seven years’ imprisonment total. In 2020, the defendant moved for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. Section 3582(c)(1)(A), arguing that his release was warranted due to the risk of serious illness from COVID-19 and the amendment to Section 924(c) sentencing under the First Step Act. The district court twice denied the motion, each time without addressing the disparity between his Section 924(c) sentence and the shorter mandatory minimums prescribed by the First Step Act. The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded, stating that the district court abused its discretion by denying the defendant’s motion, as his disparate sentence creates an “extraordinary and compelling reason” for his early release. The court explained that a sentence reduction is necessary to mitigate the gross disparity between Brown and similarly situated defendants.

Movant Should Have Filed His 2255 Motion When Prosecutor Refused to Turn Over Evidence of Prosecutorial Misconduct

United States v. Webster, No. CR 07-128-BLG-SPW, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 142852 (D. Mont. Aug. 15, 2023)

After losing at trial when several cooperating witnesses testified against him, Lamar Webster had some leads that those witnesses were rewarded for their testimony, but the government never disclosed this crucial evidence to him. Instead, the government simply responded that it would search its files and turn over the evidence if he filed a 2255 motion. But Lamar didn’t do this for another year and, when he finally did, the court said it was too late. Under 2255(f)(4), the one-year clock to file a 2255 motion restarts on the date the facts could have been discovered using due diligence. The district court said that Lamar should have filed his 2255 motion when the government refused to give him the “facts” needed for his motion. The lesson here is that filing a 2255 motion ASAP when there’s a hunch something went wrong is the best practice because a 2255 motion allows for discovery of the evidence being sought to support the motion.

Courts are Still Not on the Same Page When It Comes to Extending the Time to File a 2255 Motion

United States v. Maurstad, No. 18-CR-300(1) (SRN), 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 142064 (D. Minn. Aug. 15, 2023)

In some courts, you can file a motion for an extension of time (MET) to file a late 2255 motion and it would be granted. But in most courts, they say they don’t have jurisdiction to grant an MET unless a 2255 motion is filed to open the civil case. Tevin Maurstad found out the hard way that an MET doesn’t work in the Eighth Circuit. He asked for more time to file due to prison lockdowns, and the district court dismissed his motion for lack of jurisdiction. This case is a reminder that there’s really no way to request more time to file a 2255 motion, unless you actually file the motion, in most courts. But see Rowland v. United States, No. 5:23-CV-05010-RAL, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 141359 (D.S.D. Aug. 10, 2023) (construing an MET as a 2255 motion to grant more time to file). Want a hint? Some movants have filed just the 2255 application alleging general claims to meet the one-year deadline and then filed a memorandum in support later on in support of those claims.

St Hubert Finally Gets 2255 Relief, After Supreme Court Overturns Eleventh Circuit Precedent

Michael St. Hubert v. United States, No. 21-22099-CV-WILLIAMS, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 140633 (S.D. Fla. Aug. 11, 2023)

The Eleventh Circuit used Michael St Hubert to say that attempted Hobbs Act robbery was still a crime of violence for purposes of use of a firearm under 18 U.S.C. 924(c). He lost that argument on direct appeal, and his consecutive 924(c) sentences were upheld. But then the Supreme Court decided United States v. Taylor, 142 S. Ct. 2015 (2022), holding that attempted Hobbs Act robbery was not a crime of violence for 924(c). Filing his 2255 motion, St Hubert went back to court and got one of those 924(c) sentences that were attached to attempted Hobbs Act robbery knocked off, cutting his sentence by 25 years.

If Only All Courts Were Like Those in the Fourth Circuit Regarding Resentencing After 2255 Relief is Granted

Joyner v. United States, No. 2:20-CR-11-FL-1, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 139320 (E.D.N.C. Aug. 9, 2023)

Imagine that three of your several prior convictions qualified at the time of sentencing as ACCA predicates. While some others may have qualified, the government didn’t rely on those. Now imagine that one of those three predicates used for the ACCA became invalid and the court granted 2255 relief. In lots of these cases, the government has successfully convinced the 2255 court to deny relief simply because the PSR contained other predicate offenses that qualify for the ACCA, even though the government never relied on them. However, in the Fourth Circuit, a court can’t rely on a substitute predicate offense without giving the movant an opportunity to challenge the use of it. Thus, one invalid predicate offense requires full resentencing in the Fourth Circuit (and some other courts, as well).

Much respect to everyone!

Zen Law Guy, LLC

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