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Keel v. Ladner

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division

March 5, 2019




         This matter comes before the court on the pro se petition of James Keel for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Mr. Keel argues that the State has computed his release date improperly by running his second sentence consecutive to, rather than concurrent with, the first.[1] The State has moved to dismiss the instant petition as procedurally defaulted. Mr. Keel has responded to the motion, and the matter is ripe for resolution. For the reasons set forth below, the State's motion to dismiss will be granted, and the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus will be denied on the merits and, in the alternative, dismissed as procedurally defaulted.

         Habeas Corpus Relief Under 28 U.S.C. § 2241

          The writ of habeas corpus, a challenge to the legal authority under which a person may be detained, is ancient. Duker, The English Origins of the Writ of Habeas Corpus: A Peculiar Path to Fame, 53 N.Y.U.L.Rev. 983 (1978); Glass, Historical Aspects of Habeas Corpus, 9 St. John's L.Rev. 55 (1934). It is “perhaps the most important writ known to the constitutional law of England, ” Secretary of State for Home Affairs v. O'Brien, A.C. 603, 609 (1923), and it is equally significant in the United States. Article I, § 9, of the Constitution ensures that the right of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, except when, in the case of rebellion or invasion, public safety may require it. Habeas Corpus, 20 Fed. Prac. & Proc. Deskbook § 56.

         Its use by the federal courts was authorized in Section14 of the Judiciary Act of 1789. Habeas corpus principles developed over time in both English and American common law have since been codified:

The statutory provisions on habeas corpus appear as sections 2241 to 2255 of the 1948 Judicial Code. The recodification of that year set out important procedural limitations and additional procedural changes were added in 1966. The scope of the writ, insofar as the statutory language is concerned, remained essentially the same, however, until 1996, when Congress enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, placing severe restrictions on the issuance of the writ for state prisoners and setting out special, new habeas corpus procedures for capital cases. The changes made by the 1996 legislation are the end product of decades of debate about habeas corpus.

Id. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, a federal court may issue the writ when the petitioner is in state custody pursuant to something other than a state judgment (such as pretrial detention, pretrial bond order, etc.), permitting a federal court to order the discharge of any person held by a state in violation of the supreme law of the land. Frank v. Mangum, 237 U.S. 309, 311, 35 S.Ct. 582, 588, 59 L.Ed. 969 (1915).

         Nature of Proceedings: § 2254 v. § 2241

         When a state prisoner challenges unconstitutional parole procedures or rules which affect his release, and resolution would entitle him to accelerated release, the challenge is properly brought as a habeas corpus proceeding. Davis v. Fechtel, 150 F.3d 486, 490 (5th Cir.1998). A challenge to the execution of a sentence, as opposed to its duration, is appropriately brought under Title 28 U.S.C. § 2241, as opposed to § 2254. Id., at 490; see also, Batiste v. State Bd. of Pardon and Parole, 1999 WL 102027 at *1 (E.D.La.1999) (quoting King v. Lynaugh, 729 F.Supp. 57, 58 (W.D.Tx.1990)); McIntosh v. U.S. Parole Comm'n, 115 F.3d 809, 811 (10th Cir.1997) (petitions under § 2241 are used to attack execution of a sentence); Hall v. Saffle, 10 Fed.Appx. 768, 2001 WL 589514 at *2 (10th Cir. May 31, 2001) (unpub.) (due process challenge to the execution of a sentence is properly considered under § 2241). Section 2241 is an appropriate vehicle to challenge government action that affects the actual duration of the petitioner's custody (rather than the length of the sentence imposed), “such as challenges to administrative orders revoking good-time credits, computation of a prisoner's sentence by prison officials, a right to release on parole, or other equivalent sentence-shortening devices.” § 5:7. Federal prisoners-Section 2241 habeas corpus petitions, Postconviction Remedies § 5:7. The petitioner in this case thus seeks the appropriate form of federal habeas corpus relief.

         Facts and Procedural Posture

         Mr. Keel has sought relief for the claims raised in the instant petition multiple times, but he has never pursued those claims to completion in state court. On June 9, 2016, James Keel was charged in a four-count indictment: conspiracy to sell methamphetamine (Count I), sale of methamphetamine (Count II), conspiracy to sell methamphetamine (Count III), and sale of methamphetamine to a confidential informant (Count IV). See Exhibit B.[2] On April 3, 2017, the Yalobusha County Circuit Court amended Mr. Keel's indictment to charge him as a habitual offender under Miss. Code Ann § 99-19-81 and as a “recidivist offender” under Miss. Code Ann § 41-29-147. See Exhibit C. On May 1, 2017, Mr. Keel pled guilty to conspiracy to sell methamphetamine (Count I) and sale of methamphetamine (Count II).[3] See Exhibit D (Plea Petition, “Plea and Sentence” Transcript, and Sentencing Order in Yalobusha County Circuit Court Cause No. CR2016-18JMY2). The Yalobusha County Circuit Court sentenced Keel to serve a term of twenty (20) years for the sale of methamphetamine (Count II), followed by a term of ten (10) years of post-release supervision for conspiracy to sell methamphetamine (Count I).[4] See Exhibit D. The circuit court ordered that “[t]his sentence imposed shall run concurrent[ly with] any and all sentences previously imposed[, ]” and that Keel be awarded credit for one day served in custody while awaiting trial on these charges. See id. (Sentencing Order at pp. 3-4).

         Since his conviction, Mr. Keel has repeatedly challenged the State's computation of the sentences at issue in the instant petition. As detailed below, Mr. Keel filed four motions in his criminal case in the Yalobusha County Circuit Court. He then attempted, unsuccessfully, to appeal the denial of his fourth motion to the Mississippi Supreme Court. Mr. Keel also filed multiple grievances with the MDOC Administrative Remedy Program (ARP), and, in doing so, created a backlog of ARP filings by filing a new grievance before prison officials could address previously filed grievances.[5]

         On July 12, 2017, he submitted a prison grievance, which was stamped as “received” on July 15, 2017, and assigned ARP Number CMCF-17-2309. See Exhibit G. In the grievance, Mr. Keel argued that his MDOC Inmate Time Sheet computed on June 5, 2017, and received on July 7, 2017, and did not reflect his previously imposed sentences. See id. He sought an amendment to his time sheet to correct what he characterized as an “ambiguous error.” See id. Mr. Keel argued that the time sheet failed to reflect that his previously imposed sentences were to run concurrently with his Yalobusha County Circuit Court sentences. See id. On August 9, 2017, the MDOC ARP issued a First Step Response Form to Keel's complaint in CMCF-17-2309, advising Keel that - at the time - he was serving the sentence in Yalobusha County Cause Number CR2016-18-JMY2, “and that case only.” See id. Thus, it appears that, by the time he raised the issue in a grievance, he had completed his previously-imposed sentences - and was serving out the remainder of his sentence in Cause Number CR2016-18-JMY2.

         Dissatisfied with the First Step Response, Mr. Keel proceeded to step two of the MDOC ARP, again arguing that his sentencing order in Yalobusha County Cause Number CR2016-18-JMY2 stated that his sentence shall run concurrently with his previously imposed sentences. See id. On October 20, 2017, the MDOC ARP issued a Second Step Response Form to Keel's complaint in CMCF-17-2309, stating that Mr. Keel was only serving his twenty-year sentence in Yalobusha County Cause Number CR2016-18-JMY2. Thus, there were no other sentences with which the twenty-year sentence could run concurrently. See id. The MDOC ARP further advised Keel that there was nothing more that it could address in this matter. See id. On December 18, 2017, Keel signed the Second Step Response Form, certifying that he had fulfilled the requirements of the ARP and was eligible to seek judicial review within thirty (30) days of receipt of the Second Step Response. See id.

         As detailed below, however, Mr. Keel did not seek timely judicial review of the Second Step Response in CMCF-17-2309. He filed four motions challenging the computation of his sentences in the Yalobusha County Circuit Court (docketed in his criminal matter); however, he filed three of the motions prematurely (before his receipt of the Second Step Response Form on December 18, 2017) - and filed his final motion late - on June 4, 2018 (approximately five months after his deadline to seek judicial review expired).

         On October 24, 2017, before completion of the MDOC ARP process in CMCF-17-2309, Keel filed a “Motion for Court to Send Order to MDOC Records Department” in the Yalobusha County Circuit Court, asserting that the MDOC was not running his sentence concurrently with his sentence from Lafayette County, as ordered. See Exhibit H. Keel requested that the Yalobusha County Circuit Court send an order to the MDOC Records Department clarifying the terms of his sentence. See id.

         By Order filed on November 6, 2017, the Yalobusha County Circuit Court denied Keel's motion, finding that it was without merit. See Exhibit I. The court reiterated the terms of Keel's sentence in ...

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