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Federal Appellate Court in Atlanta returns defendant back to jail for remainder of 24 year sentence

In Gilbert v. U.S. the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled en banc that the savings clause of 28 U.S.C. §2255 does not permit a federal prisoner to challenge his sentence through a habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. §2241 if he was otherwise barred by §2255 from filing second or successive motions. At the risk of becoming mired in the procedural history of the case, here is a short summary of what happened.

Convicted of a drug offense, Gilbert’s sentence was enhanced under Guidelines Section §4B1.1 because he was deemed a career offender for his convictions for crack sale and carrying a concealed weapon. On direct appeal he raised and lost on the issue that the gun possession was not a crime of violence (U.S. v. Gilbert) His petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court was denied and subsequently he lost his motion to vacate conviction under §2255 on the same grounds. Then the Supreme Court decided in Begay v. United States that the offense of driving under the influence was not violent felony within the definition of the Armed Career Criminal Statute, 18 U.S.C. §924(e). Following Begay, the Eleventh Circuit decided in U.S. v. Archer that carrying a concealed weapon was not a crime of violence under the §4B1.1 career offender enhancement.

The Eleventh Circuit effectively reversed the Gilbert decision in Archer. Understandably, Gilbert wanted his sentence reduced after Archer and he filed a second §2255 motion to be sentenced without the armed career enhancement. Unfortunately, he already raised his post conviction §2255 motion and the district court denied his second under §2255(h) which bars successive petitions. The Eleventh Circuit panel reversed the district court with a finding that the “savings clause” exception of §2255(h) applied and allowed for traditional habeas relief under §2241. The panel also found the “actual innocence” exception to §2255(h) applied because he had been enhanced for a nonexistent violent crime.

The en banc Court disagreed with the panel’s decision that the savings clause applied. The Court ruled that a federal prisoner can not resort to habeas relief under §2241, at least where the sentence under challenge does not exceed the statutory maximum. The Court also found that the actual innocence exception to the bar did not survive the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. Under this decision, the savings clause does not allow a federal prisoner to bring a § 2241 petition, which would otherwise be barred by §2255(h), on a claim that the sentencing guidelines were misapplied in a way that resulted in a longer sentence not exceeding the statutory maximum. This decision was intended to strictly enforce the savings clause while upholding the finality of convictions for federal convictions. The end result meant that Gilbert, who was free on bond since July of 2010 after serving 14 years in prison, had to return to prison to finish serving the original 292 month sentence. Three dissenting Judges (Barkett, Hill and Martin) filed vigorous dissent opinions.