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United States v. Wilson

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

August 4, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff/Respondent,
MICHAEL THOMAS WILSON, Defendant/Petitioner.



         This matter is before the Court on the letter filed by Michael Thomas Wilson (“Wilson”) on June 23, 2016 (DE #55), and Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody, filed by Wilson on August 15, 2016 (DE #57). For the reasons set forth below, the relief sought in both the letter and motion is DENIED.


         On March 4, 2010, Wilson was charged with two counts of distribution of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography. He pled guilty to all three counts and was sentenced to 210 months of imprisonment for each of Counts One and Two and 120 months of imprisonment on Count Three, to be served concurrently.

         Wilson did not file a direct appeal, but on June 23, 2016, he filed a letter with this Court inquiring regarding his eligibility for a sentence reduction under Johnson v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 35 S.Ct. 2551');">135 S.Ct. 2551 (June 26, 2015). This Court construed the letter as a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. section 2255 and directed Wilson to notify this Court whether he wished to withdraw the instant petition or whether he wished to add any other arguments for collateral relief on or before July 29, 2016. He was further instructed to provide a memorandum accompanied with citations to legal authority. In response, Wilson filed the instant section 2255 motion. The motion is not accompanied by a memorandum or citation to any legal authority, but contains four separate grounds for relief.

         Wilson asks this Court to determine “whether the removal of the residual clause by the United States Sentencing Commission on January 8, 2016 applies to [his] case.” (DE #57 at 4). He further seeks a determination regarding “whether Amendment 794 lowers [his] base offense level.” (Id.). He claims that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel. (Id.). And, lastly, he seeks a determination of whether his Sixth and Fifth Amendment rights were violated at sentencing. (Id. at 5).


         Habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. section 2255 is reserved for “extraordinary situations.” Prewitt v. United States, 83 F.3d 812, 816 (7th Cir. 1996). In order to proceed on a habeas corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. section 2255, a federal prisoner must show that the district court sentenced him in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack. Id.

         A section 2255 motion is neither a substitute for nor recapitulation of a direct appeal. Id.; Belford v. United States, 975 F.2d 310, 313 (7th Cir. 1992), overruled on other grounds by Castellanos v. United States, 26 F.3d 717 (7th Cir. 1994). As a result:

[T]here are three types of issues that a section 2255 motion cannot raise: (1) issues that were raised on direct appeal, absent a showing of changed circumstances; (2) nonconstitutional issues that could have been but were not raised on direct appeal; and (3) constitutional issues that were not raised on direct appeal, unless the section 2255 petitioner demonstrates cause for the procedural default as well as actual prejudice from the failure to appeal.

Belford, 975 F.2d at 313. Additionally, aside from demonstrating “cause” and “prejudice” from the failure to raise constitutional errors on direct appeal, a section 2255 petitioner may alternatively pursue such errors after demonstrating that the district court's refusal to consider the claims would lead to a fundamental miscarriage of justice. McCleese v. United States, 75 F.3d 1174, 1177 (7th Cir. 1996).

         In assessing Petitioner's motion, the Court is mindful of the well-settled principle that, when interpreting a pro se petitioner's complaint or section 2255 motion, district courts have a “special responsibility” to construe such pleadings liberally. Donald v. Cook Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't, 95 F.3d 548, 555 (7th Cir. 1996); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976) (a “pro se complaint, ‘however inartfully pleaded' must be held to ‘less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers'”) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972)); Brown v. Roe, 279 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2002) (“pro se habeas petitioners are to be afforded ‘the benefit of any doubt'”) (quoting Bretz v. Kelman, 773 F.2d 1026, 1027 n.1 (9th Cir. 1985)). In other words:

The mandated liberal construction afforded to pro se pleadings “means that if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the [petitioner] could prevail, it should do so despite the [petitioner's] failure to cite proper legal authority, his confusion of various legal theories, his poor syntax and sentence construction, or his unfamiliarity with pleading requirements.”

Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999) (habeas petition from state court conviction) (alterations in original) (quoting Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991)). On the other hand, “a district court should not ‘assume the role of advocate for the pro se litigant' and may ‘not rewrite a petition to include claims that were never ...

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