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King v. Terris

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

June 24, 2015

RODNEY KING, Petitioner,
v.
J. A. TERRIS, Respondent.

OPINION AND ORDER DISMISSING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS (ECF #1)

MATTHEW F. LEITMAN, District Judge.

Petitioner Rodney King ("Petitioner") is an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution in Milan, Michigan. On December 8, 2014, Petitioner, acting pro se, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 (the "Petition"). ( See ECF #1.) Petitioner argues that certain prior convictions were improperly used to enhance his sentence for a federal firearms conviction. ( See id. ) The Court DISMISSES the Petition because Petitioner may not challenge his sentence pursuant to § 2241.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On March 6, 2006, Petitioner was indicted in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio on two felony counts: (1) possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B), and (2) felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). ( See ECF #10-3 at 1, Pg. ID 203.) Petitioner pleaded not guilty and was tried before a jury in 2007. The jury convicted him of both charges. ( See id. )

At sentencing, the district court determined that Petitioner was subject to a mandatory minimum sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (the "ACCA"), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). Under the ACCA, "an individual who violates § 922(g)(1) and has three previous convictions for a violent felony is subject to a mandatory minimum penalty of 15 years imprisonment." United States v. Welch, 774 F.3d 891, 893 (6th Cir. 2014), petition for cert. filed, No. 14-9971 (U.S. May 26, 2015). On May 8, 2007, the district court sentenced Petitioner as an "armed career criminal" to two concurrent terms of 264 months (twenty-two years) in prison, followed by four years of supervised release. ( See ECF #10-3 at 2-4, Pg. ID 204-206.)

Petitioner appealed his convictions to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Petitioner challenged the sufficiency of the evidence, the district court's ruling on two issues pertaining to a detective's testimony, and the reasonableness of his sentence. See United States v. King, 339 Fed.App'x 604 (6th Cir. 2009). The Sixth Circuit affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence in an unpublished decision. See id.

In 2010, Petitioner filed a motion with the district court to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Petitioner asserted three grounds for relief: (1) his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge his sentence under the ACCA and for not moving to suppress his pretrial statements; (2) the trial court violated his right to represent himself when it prohibited him from filing pretrial motions pro se; and (3) the trial court committed "clear error" when it sentenced him under the ACCA because two of his four prior convictions were not crimes of violence' as defined by the statute. The district court denied Petitioner's motion. See United States v. Rodney King, No. 06-cr-170 at Dkt. #103 (N.D. Ohio Oct. 21, 2010). The Sixth Circuit then denied Petitioner a certificate of appealability. That court stated that "the district court did not err in determining that all four of King's prior convictions qualified under the ACCA" and that "there were, in fact, at least three prior convictions on which to base his sentence as a career criminal." King v. United States, No. 10-4372, Dkt. #41 at 5 (6th Cir. Nov. 21, 2011) (unpublished).

In 2013, Petitioner next filed a motion to correct his sentence under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 36 ("Rule 36"). He argued that the statutory maximum sentence for his firearm offense was ten years and, therefore, his twentytwo year sentence was unlawful. The district court denied Petitioner's motion on the ground that Rule 36 can be used only to correct clerical errors. Petitioner appealed that decision, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed. See United States v. King, No. 13-4006, Dkt. #22 (6th Cir. June 30, 2014) (unpublished).

In 2014, Petitioner sought leave from the Sixth Circuit to file a second or successive motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under § 2255 (the "Motion for Leave"). Petitioner again argued in the Motion for Leave that three of his prior convictions should not have been used to enhance his sentence under the ACCA and that he was therefore innocent of the armed career criminal enhancement. The Sixth Circuit denied the Motion for Leave because: (1) Petitioner did not provide any new evidence showing that he was innocent of the underlying offense; (2) the evidence on which he relied was available to him when he filed his first § 2255 motion and, therefore, it was not "newly discovered" evidence under § 2255(h)(1); and (3) Petitioner challenged the ACCA enhancement in his first § 2255 motion and was barred from doing so again. See In re Rodney F. King, No. 14-3582, Dkt. #6-1 (6th Cir. Oct. 17, 2014) (unpublished).

On December 8, 2014, Petitioner filed the instant Petition. ( See ECF #1.) He makes the same argument that he made in the Motion for Leave, namely that he is innocent of the armed career criminal enhancement because the district court should not have counted three of his prior convictions as predicate offenses under the ACCA. Petitioner relies upon 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(20) (the "Exclusion Statute"), which states that "[a]ny conviction which has been expunged or set aside or for which a person has been pardoned or has had civil rights restored shall not be considered a conviction... unless such pardon, expungement, or restoration of civil rights expressly provides that the person may not ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms."

Petitioner insists that the Exclusion Statute barred the district court from treating three of his prior convictions as ACCA predicate offenses. First, Petitioner asserts that his 1974 Ohio conviction for armed robbery should not have been considered a predicate offense under the ACCA because on November 12, 1981, his civil rights were automatically restored under Ohio law. Second, Petitioner contends that his 1967 or 1968 Ohio conviction for armed robbery should not have counted because that case was ultimately terminated by a nolle prosequi order. Finally, Petitioner says that his 1968 Federal Youth Act conviction for bank robbery should not have counted because that conviction was automatically set aside by operation of federal law. Petitioner concludes that because the three above-described prior convictions should not have been treated as ACCA predicate offenses, his federal sentence was improperly enhanced under the ACCA. He now seeks relief from that allegedly-improper enhancement.

ANALYSIS

A. Petitioner Cannot Attack the Legality of His Federal Sentence Under 28 U.S.C. § 2241

Petitioner seeks relief from his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. That statute allows a petitioner to challenge "the execution or manner in which [a] sentence is served." United States v. Peterman, 249 F.3d 458, 461 (emphasis added). However, § 2241 is generally not an appropriate vehicle for a federal prisoner to challenge the legality of his conviction or sentence. The primary mechanism for challenging the legality of a federal sentence is a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct the sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. See id. "The remedy afforded under § 2241 ...


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