United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.
On November 11, 2013, Petitioner, Edward McDonald, an inmate currently confined at the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, filed this pro se petition for habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. (Doc. 1.) In the petition, McDonald challenges his 2008 conviction and sentence imposed by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas ("trial court"). ( Id. ) For the following reasons, the habeas petition will be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.
On March 7, 2007, McDonald, at that time an inmate confined at the Federal Correctional Complex in Beaumont, Texas, was indicted for one count of assaulting an inmate with a dangerous weapon (under 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(3)) and two counts of possessing a dangerous weapon in a federal prison (under 18 U.S.C. § 1791(a)(2)). United States v. McDonald, 1:07-cr-00033, Doc. 1 (E.D. Tex. 2008). On August 21, 2007, McDonald entered a guilty plea to one count of possessing a dangerous weapon and the other two counts were dismissed. Id. at Doc. 51. On February 8, 2008, McDonald was sentenced to 27 months imprisonment to run consecutive to a previous sentence. Id. at Doc. 57. On March 12, 2008, McDonald appealed his conviction and sentence, and on July 8, 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit dismissed his appeal as frivolous. Id. at Doc. 60, 73.
On November 11, 2013, McDonald sought to again challenge his conviction and sentence by filing the current petition in the trial court. (Doc. 1.) McDonald initially styled this as a "First Amendment Petition, " asserting that the trial court had jurisdiction over his petition "in the spirit of the First Amendment, " rather than through the provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241 or 2255. ( Id. at 1.) McDonald objected to the trial court's initial characterization of his petition as a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 and insisted that his petition was a "First Amendment Petition." (Doc. 5 at 1.)
On May 1, 2014, the trial court informed McDonald that it lacked jurisdiction to review the validity of his conviction unless it construed his petition as a motion to vacate, set aside or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, and ordered him to notify the court whether he wanted his petition characterized as such. (Doc. 7.) McDonald responded that he wished to maintain his initial characterization of the petition. (Doc. 8.) On June 3, 2014, construing the petition as a civil rights action arising under the First Amendment, a magistrate judge recommended that the action be dismissed, since the relief sought was not available under that form of action. (Doc. 10.) On July 21, 2014, McDonald objected to the recommendation, explaining that he initially sought to avoid the "stringent" procedural requirements of § 2255 by styling his petition as resting solely on the First Amendment, but that he now wished to invoke the "savings clause" of § 2255 and have his petition construed as a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. (Doc. 13.) On July 29, 2014, the trial court determined that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the case under § 2241 because McDonald was not confined within its jurisdiction, and transferred the case to this court. (Doc. 15.)
In his petition, McDonald raises two grounds for relief. First, McDonald claims that the sentencing court unconstitutionally determined his status as a "career offender" without it having been listed as an element in the indictment and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. (Doc. 1 at 1-2.) Second, McDonald claims that his conduct did not fall within the jurisdictional element of the crime he was charged with, rendering his conviction unconstitutional. (Doc. 1 at 2-3.) In almost all circumstances, such challenges to a federal conviction or sentence can only be brought in a motion to vacate, set aside or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. As part of its preliminary review of the petition, this court must determine whether the petition could fit within the narrow exception to this rule in order to exercise jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 2241.
A. Standard of Review
District courts are required to "promptly examine" each petition for writ of habeas corpus before serving a copy of the petition on the respondent. Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases (applicable to § 2241 petitions through Rule 1(b)). When examining the petition, it is the duty of the court to dismiss the petition sua sponte if "it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court." Id. ; see also McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849, 856 (1994) ("Federal courts are authorized to dismiss summarily any habeas petition that appears legally insufficient on its face."). Such summary dismissal is appropriate "when the petition is frivolous, or obviously lacking in merit, or where... the necessary facts can be determined from the petition itself without need for consideration of a return." Allen v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134, 141 (6th Cir. 1970), cert. denied, 400 U.S. 906 (1970).
B. The Savings Clause of 28 U.S.C. § 2255
In general, the sole method available for federal prisoners to collaterally challenge the legality of their convictions or sentences is a motion to vacate, set aside or correct a sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e); see also, e.g., Okereke v. United States, 307 F.3d 117, 120 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Davis v. United States 417 U.S. 333, 342 (1974). If a prisoner instead attempts to challenge the legality of his or her conviction or sentence through a petition for writ of habeas corpus, that petition must normally be dismissed. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e). McDonald admits that he is challenging the legality of his conviction and sentence through a petition for a writ of habeas corpus,  but seeks to invoke the "savings clause" of § 2255(e). (Doc. 13 at 1.) This clause allows federal prisoners to file a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 in situations where the remedy provided by § 2255 "is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality" of the prisoner's conviction and/or sentence. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e).
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held that this clause applies only in "rare situation[s], " where "the petitioner can show that a limitation of scope or procedure would prevent a § 2255 proceeding from affording him a full hearing and adjudication of his wrongful detention claim." Okereke, 307 F.3d at 120 (citing Cradle v. United States, 290 F.3d 536, 538 (3d. Cir. 2002)). It has also emphasized that § 2255 should not be considered "inadequate or ineffective" "merely because that petitioner is unable to meet [its] stringent gatekeeping requirements." Id. Essentially, the "savings clause" of § 2255 is only applicable in the rare situation where a prisoner is unable to proceed under § 2255 and yet has had no earlier opportunity to challenge his conviction or else is "being detained for conduct that has subsequently been rendered noncriminal by an intervening Supreme Court decision." In re Dorsainvil, 119 F.3d 245, 251-252 (3d Cir. 1996).
This court will now examine the grounds set forth in McDonald's petition to determine if either one satisfies ...