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Quinones-Portocarrero v. Meeks

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

April 28, 2014

AURELIO QUINONES-PORTOCARRERO, Petitioner,
v.
BOBBY L. MEEKS, Respondent.

CHIEF JUDGE JOY FLOWERS CONTI

MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

SUSAN PARADISE BAXTER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

I. RECOMMENDATION

It is respectfully recommended that the petition for a writ of habeas corpus be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

II. REPORT

Petitioner, Aurelio Quinones-Portocarrero, is a federal inmate incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution McKean, which is located in Bradford, Pennsylvania. He has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 in which he challenges the legality of the sentence imposed upon him by the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida on two counts of violations of the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act ("the MDLEA"), 46 U.S.C. app. §§ 1903(g) and (j).[1] As relief, he seeks an order from this Court directing that he be released from confinement because the MDLEA is unconstitutional.

A. Relevant Background

In or around January 2001, a grand jury in the District Court for the Middle District of Florida returned a two-count superseding indictment against Petitioner that charged him and ten other individuals with the offenses of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute and possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States in violation of the MDLEA, which at the time was codified in relevant part at 46 U.S.C. app. §§ 1903(g) and (j). On April 12, 2001, a petit jury found Petitioner guilty on all charges. The District Court for the Middle District of Florida sentenced him on July 13, 2001, to 360 months of imprisonment, to be followed by five years of supervised release as to each count to be served concurrently. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed Petitioner's convictions and sentence in an opinion issued in 2003. [ECF No. 11-3, Resp's Ex. B, Criminal Docket, United States v. Aurelio Quinones-Portocarrero, No. 8:00-cr-432 (M.D. Fl.), Dkt. Nos. 48, 185, 277, 278, 445.]

On February 8, 2005, Petitioner filed in the District Court for the Middle District of Florida his first motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. He raised claims that are not relevant to this case. The court denied the motion and Petitioner did not file an appeal. [Id. at Dkt. Nos. 485, 486.] In July 2012, he filed a second § 2255 motion in the District Court for the Middle District of Florida in which he once again raised claims that are not relevant to this proceeding. The court denied that motion. [ECF No. 11-6 at 2, Resp's Ex. E, Order, Quinones-Portocarrero, No. 8:00-cr-432.]

In 2012, the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued United States v. Bellaizac-Hurtado, 700 F.3d 1245 (11th Cir. 2012), the case upon which Petitioner now relies to support his assertion that he is entitled to habeas relief. In Bellaizac-Hurtado, the four defendants were observed by the United States Coast Guard in a fishing vessel in the territorial waters of Panama. Their vessel was searched and approximately 760 kilograms of cocaine was discovered. Panama consented to the prosecution of the defendants in the United States, and a federal grand jury indicted them for drug-related crimes on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States under the MDLEA. Bellaizac-Hurtado, 700 F.3d at 1248. The defendants pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and were sentenced. They then appealed their convictions and argued that the MDLEA, as applied to them, was unconstitutional. Id. The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit agreed. It held that Congress lacked the authority under the United States Constitution to proscribe conduct in the territorial waters of another sovereign and, therefore, the MDLEA was unconstitutional as applied to the defendants in that case because they were convicted of conduct that occurred in the territorial waters of Panama. Id. at 1249-58.[2]

Petitioner is incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution McKean, which is located within the territorial boundaries of the Western District of Pennsylvania. He has filed with this Court the pending petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. [ECF No. 6. See also Memorandum, ECF No. 7]. He alleges that he is entitled to habeas relief based on the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit's decision in Bellaizac-Hurtado.

Respondent has filed his Answer [ECF No. 11] in which he contends that this Court does not have jurisdiction to consider this § 2241 petition. Petitioner has filed a Reply [ECF No. 12], and the case is now ready for the Court's review.

B. Discussion

"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute[.]" Cardona v. Bledsoe, 681 F.3d 533, 535 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)). "Two federal statutes, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241 & 2255, confer federal jurisdiction over habeas petitions filed by federal inmates."[3]Id. "The 'core' habeas corpus action is a prisoner challenging the authority of the entity detaining him to do so, usually on the ground that his predicate sentence or conviction is improper or invalid." McGee v. Martinez, 627 F.3d 933, 935 (3d Cir. 2010). That type of action is brought in the district court that tried and sentenced the prisoner by way of a motion filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, which permits a federal prisoner to challenge his conviction or sentence "upon the ground that [it] was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack[.]" In contrast, § 2241 "confers habeas jurisdiction to hear the petition of a federal prisoner who is challenging not the validity but the execution of his sentence, " McGee, 627 F.3d at 935, such as, for example, the way in which the Bureau of Prisons is computing his sentence. ...


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