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Light v. Caraway

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 4, 2014

AUGUSTUS LIGHT, Petitioner-Appellant,
JOHN F. CARAWAY, Warden, Respondent-Appellee

Argued May 20, 2014

Page 810

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Terre Haute Division. No. 2:12-cv-00292-JMS-MJD -- Jane E. Magnus-Stinson, Judge.

For AUGUSTUS LIGHT, Petitioner - Appellant: Sabrina Guenther, Attorney, Barry Levenstam, Attorney, JENNER & BLOCK LLP, Chicago, IL.

For JOHN F. CARAWAY, Warden, Respondent - Appellee: Gerald A. Coraz, Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Indianapolis, IN.

Before KANNE, TINDER, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.


Page 811

Tinder, Circuit Judge.

In 2003, Petitioner-Appellant Augustus Light was convicted in Minnesota federal district court on one count of firearm possession by a felon. The presentence investigation report (" PSR" ) prepared by the probation office suggested that Light should be treated as an " armed career criminal" under the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e) (" ACCA" ), and subject to the corresponding offense level and criminal history category boosts provided by § 4B1.4 of the Sentencing Guidelines. These enhancements apply when a defendant has " three previous convictions ... for a violent felony or a serious drug offense." [1] The ACCA paragraph of the PSR stated that " in addition to the defendant's two qualifying juvenile acts of violence" he had " at least three prior convictions for a violent felony or serious drug offense." One of the prior adult convictions identified in the PSR as a violent felony was a conviction for criminal vehicular operation resulting in substantial bodily harm (" criminal vehicular operation" ). The ACCA paragraph also identified two other adult convictions--third-degree burglary and a third-degree controlled substances crime. In the " Criminal History" section of the PSR, the probation officer enumerated all of Light's previous criminal history, and specified that, inter alia, Light also had a felony conviction for fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle.

Following the recommendation in the PSR, the Minnesota district court concluded that Light's offense level was 33 with a criminal history category of VI, with a guideline imprisonment range of 235 to 293 months, rather than the range of 120 to 150 months that it would have been without the ACCA enhancement. In sentencing Light to 235 months' incarceration, the district court did not specify which three convictions supported the finding that Light was an armed career criminal. After an unsuccessful direct appeal of his conviction and sentence, Light challenged the ACCA enhancement in a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 petition, contending that the use of the drug offense as one of the three predicate offenses was improper. The district court denied this challenge and declined a certificate of appealability, holding that Light's " criminal history include[d] a sufficient number of other predicate offenses to support an armed career criminal status without any reliance upon the objected to offense." In 2008, the Supreme Court decided the case of Begay v. United States, 553 U.S. 137, 139, 143, 128 S.Ct. 1581, 170 L.Ed.2d 490 (2008), concluding that driving under the influence of alcohol is not a " violent felony" as defined by the ACCA, because the term " violent felony" applies only to crimes within the so-called " residual clause" of the ACCA that are " roughly similar, in kind as well as degree of risk posed," to the specific felonies enumerated in the statute. Light then sought leave from the Eighth Circuit to file successive petitions under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, appealing the use of his criminal vehicular operation conviction as a predicate offense for

Page 812

the ACCA enhancement. The Eighth Circuit denied those requests.

He then filed a pro se habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 in the Southern District of Indiana, where he is incarcerated. (The venue requirement in § 2241 is different from the venue requirement in § 2255: while an action under the latter must be brought in the district of conviction, a petition under § 2241 must be brought in the district of incarceration.) In filing his petition, Light relied on the " savings clause," 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e), which provides that

An application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a prisoner who is authorized to apply for relief by motion pursuant to this section, shall not be entertained if it appears that the applicant has failed to apply for relief, by motion, to the court which sentenced him, or that such court has denied him relief, unless it also appears that the remedy by motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.

His petition contended that in light of Begay, he was entitled to a sentence reduction because one of his predicate ACCA convictions did not qualify as a " violent felony." The Indiana district court dismissed the habeas petition on the grounds that relief under § 2255 had been available to him and had not been " inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention," and consequently Light did not qualify for the savings clause. The district court reasoned that " the remedy afforded by § 2255 was anything but 'unavailable' or ineffective to test the validity" of Light's conviction. Light timely appealed. We review the denial of his habeas ...

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