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Samuel Acevedo Muniz v. Donna Zickefoose

July 21, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert B. Kugler, United States District Judge



1. On May 13, 2010, Petitioner, a federal prisoner confined at the F.C.I. Fort Dix, filed a § 2241 petition challenging calculation of his sentence. See Docket Entry No. 1. The Petition arrived together with Petitioner's duly executed in forma pauperis application. See Docket Entry No. 1-2.

2. Petitioner's challenge questioned the calculation of his period of federal confinement;*fn1 he suggested that the Petition was duly exhausted. See Docket Entry No. 1. The Court, therefore, granted Petitioner in forma pauperis status and directed Respondent to answer the Petition. See Docket Entry No. 2.

3. Respondent moved for extension of time to answer since, at that point, Respondent was in the process of recalculating Petitioner's sentence by factoring in the time credited by his federal sentencing judge against Petitioner's federal confinement. See generally, Docket Entries Nos. 4, 5 and 6.

4. On January 25, 2011, Respondent moved this Court for dismissal of this matter as moot on the grounds that Petitioner's sentence was, by that time, already adjusted giving Petitioner the very relief Petitioner sought in his Petition. See Docket Entry No. 6.

5. Upon examination of the documents attached to Respondent's motion, the Court found Respondent's position well merited and, correspondingly, dismissed the Petition as moot; this Court's order directing Respondent's filing of an answer was vacated accordingly. See Docket Entries Nos. 7 and 8.

6. On February 9, 2011, Petitioner filed a submission at bar, which Petitioner titled "Informative Motion & Request for Determination" ("Motion"). See Docket Entry No. 9.

7. In his Motion, Petitioner asserted that, although he had his federal period of confinement adjusted to correspond to the downgrading given to him by his federal sentencing judge pursuant to § 5G1.3, Petitioner now wished to seek another recalculation. Specifically, when Respondent recalculated Petitioner's federal period of confinement to a shorter term (to reflect the wishes of Petitioner's sentencing judge), Respondent correspondingly recalculated the good-conduct-time ("GCT") credits available to Petitioner in order to match this, now shortened, term of Petitioner's federal confinement. Petitioner, however, argued in his Motion that, while his federal period of confinement was properly reduced, Petitioner should have been entitled to keep his original GCT credits, i.e., the GCT credits corresponding to the entire length of his federal sentence, rather than to the period of his federal confinement reduced by the amount of time given to Petitioner by his federal judge in light of the time spent by Petitioner in state custody prior to the commencement of his federal confinement. See id.

8. Respondent filed an opposition to Petitioner's Motion arguing that this new line of Petitioner's challenges was wholly unexhausted and, in addition, that a number of federal courts found Petitioner's GCT position without merit. See Docket Entry No. 10.

9. Petitioner traversed to Respondent's opposition, see Docket Entry No. 11, effectively stating that, once Petitioner's federal judge factored in Petitioner's time spent in state custody prior to commencement of Petitioner's federal confinement, Petitioner's federal confinement retroactively began at the time when that state custody period began to run and, thus, the GCT credits should be calculated on the basis of both Petitioner's period of federal confinement and his period of pre-federal state custody that was factored in by his federal sentencing judge under § 5G1.3. In addition, Petitioner asserted that his GCT challenges should be deemed duly exhausted because these challenges were, in a way, implied in Petitioner's administrative applications requesting reduction of his period of federal confinement by the period of pre-federal-confinement state custody factored into Petitioner's sentence by his federal sentencing judge. See id.

10. Two distinct considerations drive this Court's analysis at this juncture. One is whether Petitioner's instant GCT challenges are properly raised in this matter by means of the Motion at hand, while another is whether these GCT challenges should be deemed duly exhausted (and, if exhausted, then meriting habeas relief). In order to address these considerations, the Court finds it warranted to visit, without making a legal finding, the substantive law of Petitioner's now-asserted GCT claim.

11. As of now, this Court is not aware of any decision issued by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit with regard to the challenges substantially similar to Petitioner's GCT claim.

12. As Respondent correctly noticed, a number of federal district courts addressed the GCT arguments raised in the context substantively indistinguishable from Petitioner's instant GCT challenges. See Docket Entry No. 7, at 2 (citing Schuschny v. Fisher, 2008 WL 5381493, *3 (N.D. Fla. Dec. 19, 2008); Gouch v. Eichenlaub, 2008 WL 2831250, *1 (E.D. Mich. July 21, 2008); Green v. United States of America, 2009 WL 2982864, *3 (N.D. Oh. September 11, 2009); Hickman v. United States, 2006 WL 20489, *2 (S.D.N.Y. 2006)). In fact, by now at least one circuit court addressed this very challenge. See Schleining v. Thomas, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 13076 (9th Cir. June 27, 2011). The Ninth Circuit's decision in Schleining concluded, and not unreasonably, that GCT credits cannot be given for the time exceeding the period actually served in federal confinement. See id. at *3 (providing a detailed discussion of the issue, citing a panoply of relevant authorities and observing, inter alia, that "[u]nder the terms of 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b)(1), GCT can accrue only on the time a prisoner has 'actually served' on his federal sentence. See Barber v. Thomas, 130 S. Ct. 2499, 2506-07 (2010). Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3585(a), 'a sentence to a term of imprisonment commences on the date the defendant is received in custody awaiting transportation to, or arrives voluntarily to commence service of sentence at, the official detention facility at which the sentence is to be served.' Although this court has not yet been called upon to determine when a federal sentence begins for a prisoner already serving a state term of imprisonment, other courts have interpreted to mean that a federal sentence cannot begin before the defendant ...

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