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7th Circuit Instructs District Court to Grant Federal Prisoner’s Habeas Based on § 2255(e) Savings Clause

by Douglas Ankney

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed a district court’s judgment and remanded with instructions to grant a federal prisoner’s 28 U.S.C. § 2241 habeas petition seeking resentencing based on the savings clause of 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e).

In 2009, Deandre Beason pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to a 15-year mandatory minimum term of imprisonment under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) based upon his prior juvenile armed robbery conviction and his two previous drug offense convictions in Wisconsin. At sentencing, Beason objected to the use of the drug offenses as qualifying predicate felonies under the ACCA.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Beason’s sentencing argument and finding that his previous drug convictions qualified under the ACCA because each sentence carried a maximum penalty of at least 10 years as required to trigger sentence enhancement. 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(A).

In 2013, Beason petitioned for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, wherein he argued that his armed robbery conviction as a juvenile did not count as a predicate offense under the ACCA. The district court denied relief. Then in 2017, Beason again sought relief. This time, he filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under § 2241, arguing that due to intervening changes in the law none of his prior convictions counted as qualifying predicate offenses under the ACCA. While Beason’s drug convictions under Wis. Stat. §§ 939.50(3)(f) (“Class F felony”) and 939.50(3)(g) (“Class G felony”) carried maximum sentences of 12.5 years and 10 years, respectively, each sentence had to be broken into a term of confinement followed by a term of supervision. The Class F felony conviction permitted a maximum prison term of 7.5 years’ confinement while the Class G felony conviction permitted a maximum prison term of 5 years’ confinement. Furthermore, United States v. Spencer, 739 F.3d 1027 (7th Cir. 2014), held that because the maximum term of confinement was 7.5 years, a conviction for a Class F felony cannot be counted as a predicate drug offense under the ACCA. The district court and the Government agreed that Beason was correct on the merits of his claim, but the district court denied relief on the grounds that Beason was statutorily precluded from filing a petition under § 2241. Beason appealed.

The Seventh Circuit observed that, generally, § 2255 is the exclusive means for a federal prisoner to collaterally attack his conviction. And petitions under § 2255 must be filed within one year of the final disposition of the conviction being challenged. But the savings clause of § 2255(e) preserves and authorizes access to traditional habeas corpus relief under § 2241 if the remedy under § 2255 was “inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.” In re Davenport, 147 F.3d 605 (7th Cir. 1998).

To satisfy the savings clause and pursue relief under § 2241, a petitioner must show: (1) the claim relies on a decision announcing a change in statutory interpretation, and not a change in constitutional law, thereby precluding a successive § 2255 petition; (2) that he could not have invoked the decision in his first § 2255 petition and the decision applies retroactively; and (3) the error is grave enough to be deemed a miscarriage of justice. Montana v. Cross, 829 F.3d 775 (7th Cir. 2016).

The Government conceded on appeal that Beason satisfied factors (1) and (3). But as for factor (2), the Government argued that since Spencer was decided while Beason’s § 2255 petition was pending, he could have amended his petition to invoke the decision. The Court rejected that argument for two reasons. First, by the time Spencer was decided it had been more than one year since Beason’s conviction became final; consequently, any new claim via an amendment was time barred. And second, in Beason’s direct appeal, the Court had ruled his drug convictions qualified as predicate offenses. As such, the “law of the case” doctrine prohibited him from re-litigating the issue in his § 2255 petition.

Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded with instructions to grant the petition to authorize resentencing. See: Beason v. Marske, 926 F.3d 932 (7th Cir. 2019). 

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