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Cruz-Danzot v. Baltazar

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 12, 2017

J. BALTAZAR, WARDEN, Respondent.


          Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge

         I. BACKGROUND

         Miguel Angel Cruz-Danzot, an inmate presently confined at the Canaan United States Penitentiary, Waymart, Pennsylvania (USP-Canaan) filed this pro se habeas corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Named as Respondent is USP-Canaan Warden J. Baltazar. Accompanying the petition is an in forma pauperis application which will be granted for the filing of this action with this Court.

         Petitioner states that he entered a guilty plea in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico on a charge of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute at least 28 grams of cocaine base within 1, 000 feet of a protected location Following his plea, Petitioner was sentenced on July 20, 2012 to a seventy-eight (78) month term of imprisonment. See Doc. 1, ¶ 4.

         An exhibit attached to the petition indicates that Cruz-Danzot filed an appeal which was dismissed as untimely on January 20, 2016. See Doc. 3-2, p. 2. Petitioner also admits that he previously filed a motion with the sentencing court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 which was dismissed as untimely on April 19, 2017. See Doc. 1, ¶ 10.

         Cruz-Danzot's pending action claims that he is entitled to federal habeas corpus relief under Burrage v. United States, 134 S.Ct. 881 (2014), McFadden v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2298 (2015), and Rosemond v. United States, 134 S.Ct. 1240 (2014). Petitioner argues that under the principles announced in those post-sentence decisions, his guilty plea was involuntary and unintelligent.

         In Burrage, the Supreme Court in addressing a sentencing enhancement issue held that death only results from drug trafficking when the use of the controlled substance is the but for cause of the victim's death. It added that a penalty enhancement can only be applied if a jury finds beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim's use of a drug distributed by the defendant was a “but for” cause of death. McFadden recognized that the government must prove that a defendant charged with a controlled substance offense knew that the substance was a controlled substance. Rosemond established that an accomplice must have advanced knowledge of the crime the principal is planning to commit.


         A. Standard of Review

         Habeas corpus petitions are subject to summary dismissal pursuant to Rule 4 (“Preliminary Review”) of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts, 28 U.S.C. foll. § 2254 (2004). See, e.g., Mutope v. Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, 2007 WL 846559 *2 (M.D. Pa. March 19, 2007)(Kosik, J.). The provisions of Rule 4 are applicable to § 2241 petitions under Rule 1(b)). See, e.g., Patton v. Fenton, 491 F.Supp. 156, 158-59 (M.D. Pa. 1979).

         Rule 4 provides in pertinent part: “If it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court, the judge must dismiss the petition and direct the clerk to notify the petitioner.” A petition may be dismissed without review of an answer “when the petition is frivolous, or obviously lacking in merit, or where. . . the necessary facts can be determined from the petition itself. . . .” Gorko v. Holt, Civ. No. 4:05-cv-956, 2005 WL 1138479 *1 (M.D. Pa. May 13, 2005)(McClure, J.)(quoting Allen v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134, 141 (6th Cir. 1970).

         B. Dorsainvil

         Since he initiated his action before this Court, Petitioner is apparently arguing that he may bring his present claims of an unconstitutional guilty plea and sentence via a § 2241 petition. It would appear that it is Cruz-Danzot's contention that this Court has jurisdiction over his § 2241 action by virtue of his ongoing detention at USP-Canaan.

         When challenging the validity of a federal sentence and not its execution, a federal prisoner is generally limited to seeking relief by way of a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255.[1]In re Dorsainvil, 119 F.3d 245, 249 (3d Cir. 1997); Russell v. Martinez, 325 Fed.Appx. 45, 47 (3d Cir. 2009)(“a section 2255 motion filed in the sentencing court is the presumptive means for a federal prisoner to challenge the validity of a conviction or sentence”). A challenge can only be brought under § 2241 if “it . . . appears that the remedy by [a § 2255] motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e). This language in § 2255, known as the safety-valve clause, must be strictly construed. Dorsainvil, 119 F.3d at 251; Russell, 325 Fed.Appx. at 47 (the safety valve “is extremely narrow ...

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