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United States of America v. Christopher Young

May 15, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.


Christopher Young ("Petitioner") is a federal prisoner incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution Elkton in Lisbon, Ohio. Before being sentenced, Petitioner filed two separate pro se motions for habeas corpus asserting that this Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over his case. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Petitioner's § 2241 motion and dismiss without prejudice. The Court will also advise Petitioner that his second habeas petition will be construed as a § 2255 petition, unless he notifies the Court of a different choice.


Petitioner, along with three other co-conspirators, was charged with robbing a Wal-Mart of $334,763.00 in the early morning hours following Black Friday in 2006. Indictment, United States v. Christopher Young, No. 06-710-02 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 14, 2006), Crim. ECF No. 1.*fn1 At his arraignment on December 20, 2006, Petitioner pled not guilty to all charges. Subsequently, however, on March 7, 2007, Petitioner changed his plea to guilty on all counts, pursuant to a plea agreement with the Government.*fn2

Crim. ECF Nos. 66, 67.

Before being sentenced, on July 2, 2007, Petitioner filed a pro se motion to dismiss the indictment based on four arguments: (1) that the Court lacked personal jurisdiction over Petitioner because Petitioner is a sovereign citizen of the state of Pennsylvania; (2) that the Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because Petitioner's crime did not have a nexus with interstate commerce, as required by the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a); (3) that the Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a) and § 924(c) do not apply to independent sovereign states and; (4) that the Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because the federal government cannot abrogate a state's sovereign immunity. Crim. ECF No. 89. Petitioner subsequently filed a pro se motion to withdraw his guilty plea on November 19, 2007.*fn3 Crim. ECF No. 156. The Court denied Petitioner's motion to withdraw his guilty plea and declined to consider several of Petitioner's pro se motions, including his motion to dismiss the indictment, because as Petitioner had counsel at the time, he was not entitled to "hybrid representation." See Memorandum 9-10, Jan. 17, 2008, Crim. ECF No. 171. In a footnote, the Court noted that even if it had considered Petitioner's motion to dismiss the indictment, the motion was procedurally improper and failed on the merits because Petitioner's crime did have the necessary nexus with interstate commerce. Id. at 10 n.8.

On August 27, 2007, Petitioner filed a habeas corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241.*fn4 See Habeas Petition, Civ. No. 07-3533, ECF No. 1. Petitioner noted that he had filed a motion to dismiss the indictment in his criminal case, but had "never received anything from [sic] District Court stating the disposition of said motion." Habeas Petition 1. He raises the same arguments in his habeas petition as those raised in his pro se motion to dismiss in his criminal case. Id. at 6-60.

Petitioner subsequently filed a second habeas petition on March 31, 2008, entitled "Verified Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Ad Subjiciendum the 'Great Writ.'" Habeas Petition, Civ. No. 08-1532, ECF No. 1 [hereinafter Second Habeas]. On May 8, 2008, the Court ordered the Respondents to respond to this petition, which they did on June 6, 2008. ECF Nos. 3, 4 & 5.

Petitioner filed both of his habeas motions while he was awaiting sentencing in his criminal case. On August 27, 2008, Petitioner was sentenced to 196 months on Counts One and Two and 84 months on Count Three to run consecutively to Counts One and Two. Judgment, Crim. ECF No. 213. Petitioner appealed his sentence on September 2, 2008, and the Third Circuit affirmed the judgment of this Court on November 8, 2011. Crim. ECF Nos. 215, 239, 240, & 241.


Federal prisoners challenging their conviction or sentence generally must seek post-conviction relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a) (Supp. IV 2011).*fn5 In a § 2255 motion, a federal prisoner may attack his sentence on any of the following grounds: (1) the judgment was rendered without jurisdiction; (2) the sentence imposed was not authorized by law or otherwise open to collateral attack; or (3) there has been such a denial or infringement of the constitutional rights of the prisoner as to render the judgment vulnerable to collateral attack. See id. § 2255(b).

Section 2241 confers jurisdiction on district courts to issue writs of habeas corpus in response to a petition from a state or federal prisoner who "is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241(a) and (c)(3). Congress restricted the exercise of § 2241 jurisdiction by enacting 28 U.S.C. § 2255, such that federal prisoners seeking to challenge the legality of their convictions or sentences must proceed by way of motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. See generally United States v. Hayman, 342 U.S. 205, 210-19 (1952) (detailing the history and purpose of § 2255); In re Dorsainvil, 119 F.3d 245, 251 (3d Cir. 1997). A challenge to the execution of a sentence as opposed to the imposition of a sentence is properly filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Coady v. Vaughn, 251 F.3d 480, 485 (3d Cir. 2001).

However, § 2255 explicitly recognizes an important exception to the general rule that a federal prisoner must use § 2255 instead of § 2241 when challenging the legality of a conviction or sentence. Specifically, § 2255 provides:

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 ...

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