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Corwin Woodson v. Warden Donna Zickefoose

September 16, 2011

CORWIN WOODSON, PETITIONER,
v.
WARDEN DONNA ZICKEFOOSE, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bumb, District Judge

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Petitioner Corwin Woodson, a prisoner currently confined at the Federal Correctional Institution at Fort Dix, New Jersey, has submitted a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241.*fn1 (Docket Entry No. 1.) The sole respondent is Warden Donna Zickefoose, who filed an answer to the petition. (Docket Entry No. 10.) Petitioner filed a reply to Respondent's answer. (Docket Entry No.11.) For the following reasons, the petition will be denied without prejudice.

I. BACKGROUND

On May 17, 1995, Petitioner was sentenced in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to a 180 month term of imprisonment for Conspiracy to Distribute Excess of 50 grams of Cocaine Base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; and Possession with Intent to Distribute in Excess of 50 grams of Cocaine Base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 851. He was sentenced to a concurrent 120 months for Money Laundering; aiding and abetting in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(1)(B)(i) and Monetary Transactions in Property derived from Illegal Activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1957(a). He also received a 60 month consecutive sentence for Unlawfully Carrying a Firearm During Drug Trafficking Offense, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). (Resp.'s Answer at 3.)

Following his conviction, Petitioner appealed. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit vacated Petitioner's § 924(c) conviction for unlawfully carrying a firearm, pursuant to Bailey v. United States, 516 U.S. 137 (1995), and remanded for re-sentencing. On September 6, 1996, Petitioner was re-sentenced in District Court to 240 months incarceration for Conspiracy to Distribute Excess of 50 grams of Cocaine Base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; and Possession with Intent to Distribute in Excess of 50 grams of Cocaine Base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 851; a concurrent 240 months for Money Laundering; aiding and abetting in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(1)(B)(i); and a concurrent 120 months incarceration for Monetary Transactions in Property derived from Illegal Activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1957(a). The 240 months included a sentence enhancement imposed by the District Court for possession of a firearm during a drug offense. Id. (citing United States v. Woodson, 125 F.3d 850 (4th Cir. 1997)). The District Court overruled Petitioner's objection to the enhancement. Petitioner appealed, alleging that the enhancement violated his rights under the Double Jeopardy and Due Process Clauses, but the Fourth Circuit affirmed the imposition of the enhancement. (Id. at 4.)

On December 6, 2005, Petitioner was sent to Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) Butner, located in Butner, North Carolina. On or about December 16, 2008, Petitioner was advised that he was eligible to participate in the Residential Drug Abuse Treatment Program (RDAP) but was not eligible for a reduction in sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3621(e), due to his instant offense. (Id. at 5.)

On March 5, 2009, Petitioner was sent to Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Fort Dix, located in Fort Dix, New Jersey. Petitioner began the RDAP at FCI Fort Dix on March 29, 2010. He completed the residential portion of the program on January 28, 2011. Petitioner filed and exhausted his administrative remedies challenging his denial of early release eligibility. (Id.) Thereafter, he filed the instant Petition, alleging that the denial of early release eligibility associated with the completion of the RDAP program was an abuse of discretion. He further alleges that the decision violates the Equal Protection Clause, because other inmates have received a reduction in sentence even though they also received a two-level sentencing enhancement for possession of a firearm.

In her Answer, Respondent argues that Petitioner was properly denied early release eligibility due to his two-level sentence enhancement for possession of a firearm and that Petitioner's Equal Protection claim fails because he cannot identify a fundamental right, is not a member of a suspect class, and has not established that he was treated differently from similarly situated inmates.

Petitioner replied to Respondent's answer and argues that Angel Guzman, a fellow inmate that Petitioner alleges is similarly situated to himself for equal protection purposes, filed an administrative remedy with the then-current Warden of FCI Fort Dix, Jeff Grondolsky, on May 14, 2009. Guzman was appealing the decision not to award him early release upon his completion of the RDAP because of his firearms sentence enhancement. Warden Grondolsky denied Guzman's request, stating that he was ineligible for early release because he had received a two point firearms enhancement. Upon Guzman's appeal to the Regional Office, the Regional Director issued a response stating that FCI Fort Dix had reconsidered his request and determined that he was eligible for early release. Petitioner argues that because Guzman, who had the same two point firearms enhancement as he did, was given early release based on his completion of RDAP and Petitioner was denied early release, his equal protection rights have been violated.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

"Habeas corpus petitions must meet heightened pleading requirements." McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849, 856 (1994). A petition must "specify all the grounds for relief" and must set forth "facts supporting each of the grounds thus specified." See Rule 2(c) of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases in the U.S. District Courts (amended Dec. 1, 2004) ("Habeas Rules"), made applicable to § 2241 petitions through Rule 1(b) of the Habeas Rules.

Nevertheless, a pro se pleading is held to less stringent standards than more formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). A pro se habeas petition and any supporting submissions must be construed liberally and with a measure of tolerance. See Royce v. Hahn, 151 F.3d 116, 118 (3d Cir. 1998); Lewis v. Attorney General, 878 F.2d 714, 721-22 (3d Cir. 1989); United States v. Brierley, 414 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir. 1969).

B. Legal Analysis

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 amended 18 U.S.C. § 3621 to require the BOP to "make available appropriate substance abuse treatment for each prisoner the Bureau determines has a treatable condition of substance addiction or abuse." 18 U.S.C. § 3621(b). To carry out this requirement, the BOP must provide residential substance abuse treatment for all eligible inmates, subject to the availability of appropriations.

18 U.S.C. § 3621(e)(1). An "eligible prisoner" is one who is "determined by the Bureau of Prisons to have a substance abuse problem," and who is "willing to participate in a residential substance abuse treatment program." 18 U.S.C. § 3621(e)(5)(B)(i) and (ii). As an incentive for the successful completion of the residential treatment program, the BOP may, in its discretion reduce an inmate's ...


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