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Pulley v. Saad

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

October 22, 2018




         Before the Court is Movant Burnis Pulley's Amended Petition for Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. [DE 9.] Pulley seeks habeas corpus relief on the basis that the Supreme Court's holding in Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016), renders his sentence in excess of the statutory maximum. For the reasons that follow, I will deny his petition.


          Burnis Pulley pleaded guilty without a plea agreement on February 18, 2005, to illegally possessing a firearm as a felon. [DE 22 in Case No. 2:04-CR-12.] I sentenced him on November 15, 2005 to 200 months' imprisonment based on a finding that Pulley had at least three qualifying violent felonies or serious drug offense convictions under the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). [DE 30 in Case No. 2:04-CR-12.] Pulley's sentence was affirmed on appeal. [DE 42 in Case No. 2:04-CR-12.]

         On July 29, 2013, Pulley filed a motion to vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. [DE 48 in Case No. 2:04-CR-12.] He sought relief under Descamps v. United States, 570 U.S. 254 (2013), and argued that in light of this precedent, he no longer had three qualifying convictions for purposes of ACCA. I denied his motion. [DE 52 in Case No. 2:04-CR-12.] Later, Pulley sought authorization from the Seventh Circuit to file a second or successive § 2255 motion. There he sought relief under Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). The Seventh Circuit denied authorization, however, and noted that Pulley's claim actually arises under Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016). [DE 56 in Case No. 2:04-CR-12; see also Case No. 17-1168 (7th Cir. Filed Feb. 7, 2017).]

         Pulley now seeks relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 on the basis that 28 U.S.C. § 2255, the provision under which he previously sought relief, is inadequate and ineffective to test the legality of his detention. Ordinarily, petitions filed under § 2241 are heard in the district where the petitioner is being housed. Pulley is being housed in the Northern District of West Virginia, so one might wonder why the matter is before this court. It is here because the case was transferred to this district on grounds that I think are rather dubious. [See DE 24.] But the government chose not to fight the transfer [see DE 27 at 3-4], so the matter is before me for decision.


          Federal prisoners who seek to bring collateral attacks on their convictions or sentences must ordinarily bring an action under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, otherwise known as the “federal prisoner's substitute for habeas corpus.” Brown v. Rios, 696 F.3d 638, 640 (7th Cir. 2012). Section 2255 provides that all applications for a writ of habeas corpus, filed on behalf of a prisoner who is authorized to apply for relief under § 2255, shall be brought pursuant to that section, and no other motions for habeas relief are to be entertained. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e). This provision contains one exception, however: “a federal prisoner may petition under [28 U.S.C.] § 2241 ‘if his section 2255 remedy is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.'” Brown v. Caraway, 719 F.3d 583, 586 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Rios, 696 F.3d at 640)); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e). This mechanism has been dubbed the “savings clause.” See Brown, 719 F.3d at 586.

         Divining what Congress meant by “inadequate or ineffective” has been a difficult task, to say the least. The Courts of Appeals have adopted divergent approaches to defining this term of art, and they have developed different tests to decipher what circumstances qualify for relief outside of the § 2255 context. The Seventh Circuit has the most prisoner-friendly standard, which is why this case ended up here in the first place. [See DE 20.]

         In re Davenport establishes three conditions that must apply in order for a federal prisoner to obtain relief. 147 F.3d 605, 611-12 (7th Cir. 1998). First, the prisoner must rely on a case of statutory interpretation, rather than constitutional law. Rios, 696 F.3d at 640. Second, that case must be a retroactive decision that could not have been invoked in a prisoner's first § 2255 motion. Id. Third, the sentence enhancement must have been “a grave enough error to be deemed a miscarriage of justice corrigible therefore in a habeas corpus proceeding.” Id.; see also In re Davenport, 417 F.3d at 611 (a prisoner must show “a fundamental defect in his conviction or sentence.”). With respect to the third condition, the Seventh Circuit, departing from other circuits, allows prisoners to “utilize the savings clause to challenge the misapplication of the [mandatory] career offender Guideline, ” Brown, 719 F.3d at 588, as well as an erroneous enhancement under ACCA, Light v. Caraway, 761 F.3d 809, 813 (7th Cir. 2014).

         Given this standard and the state of the law, this case presents some murky questions about when § 2241 relief is available and what standards should apply. This is all further complicated by the fact, as noted above, that § 2241 motions are typically brought in the district of confinement, which in this case is actually West Virginia. But this case has a much simpler answer. Even assuming Pulley is entitled to have his petition addressed on the merits, it nonetheless must be denied because Pulley's arguments are foreclosed by Seventh Circuit precedent.

         Before diving into the merits of the instant motion, it's necessary to understand a bit about ACCA and why Pulley was sentenced as he was. Section 924(e) provides that:

In the case of a person who violates section 922(g) of this title and has three previous convictions by any court referred to in section 922(g)(1) of this title for a violent felony or a serious drug offense, or both, committed on occasions different from one another, such person shall be fined under this title and imprisoned not less than fifteen years, and, notwithstanding any other provision of law, the court shall not suspend the sentence of, or grant a probationary sentence to, such person with respect to the conviction under section 922(g).

18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). The statute, in effect, imposes a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence if the defendant is convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm - a conviction under § 922(g) - and has three prior convictions that constitute violent felonies or serious drug offenses. Id. Absent the ACCA enhancement, a ...

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