Friday, December 21, 2018

2241 Relief for Incorrect Mandatory Guideline Career Offender Sentence

Lesterv. Flournoy: Lester was sentenced as a career offender in 2004 under the mandatory Guideline scheme, effectively doubling his sentence from about 11 years to nearly 22. When the law changed and one of his prior convictions was no longer a crime of violence, he sought relief in a 2241 proceeding (because he had previously filed a 2255). Lester argued that under that provision’s “savings clause,” he was entitled to relief because 2255 was “inadequate or ineffective to test the legality” of his sentence. The district court denied the motion, holding that the savings clause didn’t allow challenges to Guideline calculation errors.

The Fourth Circuit reversed. Applying US v. Wheeler, the court concluded that Lester’s sentence was legal when it was imposed, that the substantive law has since changed, and that he “can’t satisfy the gatekeeping provisions of 2255.” The court then went on to conclude that the issue was an “error sufficiently grave to be deemed a fundamental defect” because the erroneous career offender calculation was an “erroneous increase to his mandatory sentencing range.” The lack of discretion under the mandatory Guideline scheme implicated due process concerns that were not mitigated by the fact that the district court could have theoretically departed from the Guidelines.

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