Monday, December 20, 2010

Fourth Circuit appears to subscribe to immediate-custodian rule

Hudson v. Cauley, No. 2:03-00242-01, 2010 WL 5109878 (S.D. W. Va. Dec. 9, 2010):

2255 vs. 2241.  A defendant convicted in federal court is obliged to seek habeas relief through § 2255 unless § 2255 proves inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of an inmate's detention.  To qualify for the exception and use § 2241 instead, the following conditions are attached: (1) at the time of conviction, settled law of this circuit or the Supreme Court established the legality of the conviction; (2) subsequent to the prisoner's direct appeal and first § 2255 motion, the substantive law changed such that the conduct of which the prisoner was convicted is deemed not to be criminal; and (3) the prisoner cannot satisfy the gatekeeping provisions of § 2255 because the new rule is not one of constitutional law.

This petitioner satisfies these three prerequisites.  

Jurisdiction.  The rule governing jurisdiction under section 2241 follows from the 'immediate custodian rule':  a district court properly exercises jurisdiction over a habeas petition whenever it has jurisdiction over the petitioner's custodian.  Nevertheless, appellate decisions indicate that a court's power over a custodian under section 2241 raises jurisdictional issues of the personal, and not subject matter, variety.  Cast as such, waiver principles apply.  (The Court cites cases from the 2d, 7th, 8th, 9th, and D.C. Circuits.)  Thus, the United States can waive a personal jurisdiction question.

The Fourth Circuit has not explicitly resolved this matter, but appears to subscribe to the view that the immediate-custodian rule does not implicate the Court's subject-matter jurisdiction (but, rather, venue rules).

In this case, the Government obliquely references the jurisdictional/venue issue.  Because they did not explicitly challenge this point, the Court would have transferred the petition.  Having not been timely raised, however, the Court deems the defenses waived and the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the Warden appropriate.

The Watson Rule.  In Watson, the Supreme Court said that a person who trades drugs for a gun cannot be convicted for using a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense.  In this case, however, Petitioner was convicted of possessing, not using, a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense.  This is not prohibited by WatsonSee United States v. Robinson, No. 08-4276 (4th Cir. Dec. 1, 2010).

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