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Garza v. Terris

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

May 30, 2019

J. A. TERRIS, Respondent.




         Petitioner Randy Chris Garza, an inmate at the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, filed a pro se application for the writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241.[1] The petition challenges Petitioner's sentence for a federal drug offense on the basis that he was improperly sentenced as a career offender. For the reasons given below, the Court will deny the petition.

         I. Background

         On April 5, 2011, Petitioner pleaded guilty in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas to possession with intent to distribute 82.48 grams of cocaine. See 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). As part of the plea agreement, Petitioner waived his right to appeal his conviction and sentence and the right to contest his conviction or sentence in any post-conviction proceeding. See Mem. of Plea Agreement, ¶ 7, United States v. Garza, No. 2:11-cr-117-1 (S.D. Tex. April 5, 2011) (Document 27).

         During the sentencing phase, Petitioner was designated a career offender under the United States Sentencing Guidelines, because he was at least eighteen years old when he committed the current offense, his current offense was a felony involving a controlled substance, and he had two prior felony convictions for either a crime of violence or a crime involving a controlled substance. See Mem. Op. and Order Denying Mot. to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence and Denying a Certificate of Appealability, pp. 3-4, Garza, No. 2:11-cr-117-1 (Document 84), 2017 WL 932933, at *2. Petitioner's prior convictions included a federal conviction for use of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) and a state conviction for possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. Id., Mem. Op. and Order, p. 4, 2017 WL 932933, at *2.

         The sentencing guidelines were scored at 151 to 188 months. The trial court, however, sentenced Petitioner to a term of 120 months (ten years) in prison. See Judgment in a Criminal Case, p. 2, Garza, No. 2:11-cr-117-1 (Document 40); see also 6/23/11 Sentencing/Revocation Hr'g Tr., pp. 4, 9-10, Garza, No. 2:11-cr-117-1 (Document 76).

         Petitioner did not appeal his conviction and sentence, but on June 21, 2016, he challenged his sentence in a motion filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. See Mot. for Relief under § 2255, Garza, No. 11-cr-117-1 (Document 72). He argued that the residual clause of the career-offender provision in the Sentencing Guidelines was unconstitutionally vague under Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 2563 (2015), and therefore, he was entitled to a new sentence. The sentencing court denied Petitioner's motion because the motion was time-barred and the underlying claim lacked substantive merit. See Mem. Op. and Order, pp. 2-5, Garza, No. 2:11-cr-117-1 (Document 84), 2017 WL 932933, at *1-*2.

         Petitioner did not appeal the trial court's decision. Instead, on June 29, 2017, he filed his habeas corpus petition in this District. He contends that he is entitled to habeas corpus relief under the Fifth Circuit's decision in United States v. Hinkle, 832 F.3d 569 (5th Cir. 2016). In Hinkle, the Fifth Circuit determined that a federal inmate's prior conviction for the delivery of heroin could not serve as a predicate offense for the career-offender provision of the United States Sentencing Guidelines because the prior conviction was not a “controlled substance offense” under the Guidelines. Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit vacated the petitioner's sentence and remanded his case for re-sentencing.

         Petitioner argues that the Texas statute which he violated mimics the Texas statute at issue in Hinkle and, therefore, his Texas conviction should not have been used to classify him as a career offender and enhance his federal sentence. The Government maintains that Petitioner waived the right to collaterally attack his sentence, that his claim is procedurally defaulted because he could have raised it in his § 2255 motion, and that Petitioner may not challenge his federal sentence in a petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2241.

         II. Discussion

         A. Waiver

         As noted above, Petitioner waived his “right to contest his . . . conviction or sentence by means of any post-conviction proceeding.” Mem. of Plea Agreement, ¶ 7, Garza, No. 2:11-cr-00117-1 (Document 27). “It is well-settled that a knowing and voluntary waiver of a collateral attack is enforceable.” Slusser v. United States, 895 F.3d 437, 439 (6th Cir. 2018) (citing Watson v. United States, 165 F.3d 486, 489 (6th Cir. 1999)), cert. denied, 139 S.Ct. 1291 (2019). Moreover, the transcript of Petitioner's plea proceeding indicates that his plea was informed and voluntary. His waiver of the right to contest his sentence, therefore, bars relief in this collateral proceeding. Subsequent developments in the law did “not suddenly make [his] plea involuntary or unknowing or otherwise undo its binding nature.” Id. at 440 (quoting United States v. Bradley, 400 F.3d 459, 463 (6th Cir. 2005)). For this reason alone, the Court need not address the merits of Petitioner's claim.

         B. Using Section 2241 to ...

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