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Crist v. Bledsoe

April 28, 2009

JOHN CRIST, PETITIONER
v.
B.A. BLEDSOE, RESPONDENT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Rambo)

MEMORANDUM

Petitioner John Crist ("Crist"), an inmate currently incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania ("USP-Lewisburg"), filed the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, challenging the Federal Bureau of Prisons' ("BOP") determination that he is not eligible for early release upon completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Program ("RDAP"). Specifically, Crist asserts that the BOP's decision to deny him early release consideration based on his firearms conviction violates the Administrative Procedures Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). For the reasons that follow, the petition will be denied.

I. Background

On September 15, 2006, Crist was convicted in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia of conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine, see 21 U.S.C. § 841, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, see 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). (Doc. 4-2 at 44.) On the drug conviction, Crist was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 210 months followed by a five-year term of supervision. (Id.) On the firearms conviction, he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 60 months, followed by a five-year term of supervision. (Id. at 45.) On April 29, 2008, the sentencing court reduced Crist's total sentence from 270 months to 90 months pursuant to the amended sentencing guidelines with regard to crack cocaine sentencing. (Id. at 46.) Crist's projected release date from BOP custody via good conduct time is October 14, 2011. (Id.)

On March 3, 2008, Crist was designated to USP-Lewisburg's satellite camp, where RDAP is available. (Id. at 43.) In April 2008, Crist was told that he would not be eligible for early release pursuant to the Director's discretion which does not allow early release for inmates whose crime involved the carrying, use, or possession of a firearm.*fn1 (See id.; Doc. 1 at 3.) Crist subsequently appealed this determination to the Warden, Regional Director, and the BOP's Central Office. (See Doc. 1.) He was denied relief at all levels, thereby exhausting his administrative remedies.

Crist filed the instant habeas petition on March 19, 2009. In his petition, Crist claims that the BOP violated the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA") when it denied him early release consideration pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3621(e)(2)(B). Specifically, he contends that the BOP regulation used him to deny him early release, 28 C.F.R. § 550.58, as amended 28 C.F.R. § 550.55(b)(5)(ii), is invalid because it was not promulgated in accordance with the APA. In support, he claims that the BOP's failure to state a rationale for promulgating the regulation renders it arbitrary and capricious, in violation of 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). (See Doc. 1 at 7.) Respondents have filed a response. (Doc. 4.) The petition is now ripe for disposition.

II. Discussion

A petition for writ of habeas corpus under § 2241 is the proper vehicle for relief "where petitioner challenges the effect of events 'subsequent' to his sentence," Gomori v. Arnold, 533 F.2d 871, 874 (3d Cir. 1976), and where he challenges the execution of his sentence rather than its validity, see United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185-88 (1979); Coady v. Vaughn, 251 F.3d 480, 485 (3d Cir. 2001). Thus, Crist has properly invoked section 2241 to challenge the BOP's determination of his eligibility for early release and has done so in the proper district, where he is imprisoned. Barden v. Keohane, 921 F.2d 476, 478-79 (3d Cir. 1990).

Turning to the RDAP, under 18 U.S.C. § 3621, the BOP is required to "make available appropriate substance abuse treatment for each prisoner the Bureau determines has a treatable condition of substance addiction or abuse." 28 U.S.C. § 3621(b). To carry out this requirement, the BOP must provide residential substance abuse treatment for all eligible inmates, subject to the availability of appropriations. 18 U.S.C. § 3621(e)(1). An "eligible prisoner" is one who is "determined by the Bureau of Prisons to have a substance abuse problem," and who is "willing to participate in a residential substance abuse treatment program." 18 U.S.C. § 3621(e)(5)(B)(i) and (ii). As an incentive for the successful completion of the treatment program, the BOP may, in its discretion reduce an inmate's sentence by up to one year. 18 U.S.C. § 3621(e)(2)(B); see also Lopez v. Davis, 531 U.S. 230 (2001).

In order to implement this statutory requirement, in 1994 the BOP promulgated the relevant regulation at 28 C.F.R. § 550.58. In particular, 28 C.F.R. § 550.58(a)(1)(vi)(b) denied early release consideration to several categories of prisoners, including inmates whose current offense is a felony attended by "the carrying, possession, or use of a firearm." Further, in Lopez v. Davis, 531 U.S. 230 (2001), the United States Supreme Court upheld the BOP's authority to categorically exclude inmates who have had a prior involvement with firearms from eligibility for early release under § 3621(e)(2)(B).

On March 16, 2009, the BOP adopted a new version of the regulation at issue here.*fn2 This new version, codified at 28 C.F.R. § 550.55, is essentially identical to the former version codified at 28 C.F.R. § 550.58. 28 C.F.R. § 550.55 states, in part,

(b) Inmates not eligible for early release. As an exercise of the Director's discretion, the following categories of inmates are not eligible for early release:

(5) Inmates who have a current felony conviction for: * * *

(ii) An offense that involved the carrying, possession, or use of a firearm . . . . 28 C.F.R. ยง 550.55(b)(5)(ii). However, unlike the prior version, the new final rule contains a considerably more detailed rationale for why inmates convicted of carrying, possessing, or using a firearm in connection with a drug trafficking ...


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