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Edwards v. Marske

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

March 29, 2019

ALBERT EDWARDS, Petitioner,
v.
MATTHEW MARSKE, Respondent.[1]

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON DISTRICT JUDGE

         Petitioner Albert Edwards, proceeding pro se, is a prisoner incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Oxford, Wisconsin. Edwards seeks a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, challenging his sentence following a 1994 conviction in the Northern District of Illinois for conspiring to distribute cocaine base and using firearms in relation to a drug trafficking offense. The court found Edwards to be a career offender under the sentencing guidelines and sentenced him to 440 months of imprisonment.

         Edwards challenges his sentence under Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016), contending that the criminal statutes defining his predicate offenses for the career-offender guidelines prohibited conduct broader than the conduct contemplated by the guidelines. The petition is now fully briefed. I conclude that Edwards is not entitled to habeas relief, so I will dismiss the petition.

         BACKGROUND

         In his petition, Edwards challenges his sentence enhancement under USSG § 4B1.1. Under this guideline, the criminal defendant is a career offender if three conditions are satisfied:

(1) the defendant was at least eighteen years old at the time the defendant committed the instant offense of conviction; (2) the instant offense of conviction is a felony that is either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense; and (3) the defendant has at least two prior felony convictions of either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense.

         Edwards was sentenced on May 13, 1994. The sentencing court concluded that Edwards was a career offender. The first two conditions are not in dispute. As for the third condition, the sentencing court determined that Edwards had three qualifying predicate convictions: (1) a 1988 Illinois mob-activity conviction; (2) a 1989 Oklahoma conviction for distribution of a controlled dangerous substance; and (3) a 1993 Arkansas conviction for conspiracy to deliver cocaine. Edwards needs to invalidate at least two of these three convictions to obtain habeas relief.[2]

         ANALYSIS

         A. Preliminary matters

          At the outset, I note that Edwards has filed a motion for appointment of counsel along with his reply brief. Dkt. 29. Under 18 U.S.C. § 3006A(a)(2), a district court may appoint counsel for a habeas petitioner if “the interests of justice so require” and the petitioner is “financially eligible.” I conclude that the interests of justice do not require appointment of counsel here. Although I will deny Edwards's habeas petition, he was able to fully brief his various claims in an understandable fashion. Ultimately, he cannot prevail on Mathis-type challenges to his sentence enhancements, but it is not because he was unable to present the issues. Rather, the relevant legal authorities simply do not support his claims.

         Edwards challenges all three of his predicate convictions under Mathis, a case in which the Supreme Court clarified when it would be inappropriate for sentencing courts to apply the “modified categorical approach” to criminal statutes capable of being violated in multiple ways. 136 S.Ct. 2243. Respondent contends that Mathis does not actually apply to Edwards's petition, arguing that Edwards should have asserted all of his habeas claims at his sentencing back in 1994, because he could have relied on Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575 (1990).

         Taylor established the framework for the “categorical approach, ” which courts apply to assess whether a prior conviction counts toward a sentence enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) or other recidivist provisions. Mathis built on concepts discussed in Taylor and other cases. Mathis involved the distinction between criminal statutes that list alternative elements (thus creating multiple offenses) and statutes that create a single offense with alternative means of satisfying an element of that offense. 136 S.Ct. at 2250-51, 2251 n.1. If a statute lists alternative elements, it is “divisible” and the court can employ the “modified categorical approach, ” which means that a court can look beyond the conviction itself to determine whether the prisoner's conviction qualifies under a generic version of the crime at issue. Id. at 2249. But if the statute defines a single offense with alternative means of satisfying a particular element, it is “indivisible” and the court must employ the “categorical approach, ” which means that the court is limited to comparing the elements of the generic crime to the elements of the crime that is the basis for the conviction. Id. at 2251. As discussed below, Edwards contends that some of his predicate offenses are indivisible and broader than their generic counterparts. Ultimately, I need not resolve respondent's argument about whether Edwards could properly have raised his arguments in an earlier § 2255 motion, because Edwards loses on the merits of his Mathis argument.

         Edwards has also filed a motion asking the court to issue its ruling because he believes that his sentence will be affected by the First Step Act, Pub. L. No. 115-391. Dkt. 44. I will deny the motion without prejudice. If Edwards thinks that he has a basis for a motion under the First Step Act, he should file a motion addressed to his sentencing court.

         B. Predicate offenses

         1. Illinois ...


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