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Cortez v. Hollingsworth

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 7, 2014



ROBERT B. KUGLER, District Judge.


Petitioner is a federal prisoner currently incarcerated at F.C.I. Fort Dix in Fort Dix, New Jersey. He pled guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine. In 2005, he received a sentence of 295 months imprisonment. Petitioner is proceeding pro se with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241.

On December 11, 2013, this Court administratively terminated this case as petitioner had neither paid the $5.00 filing fee nor submitted an application to proceed in forma pauperis. Subsequently, petitioner paid the $5.00 filing fee. Therefore, the Clerk will be ordered to reopen this case. For the following reasons, the habeas petition will be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.


Petitioner pled guilty to one count of conspiracy with intent to distribute cocaine and received a 295-month prison sentence from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in July, 2005. ( See E.D. Tex. Crim. No. 04-0156-4, Dkt. No. 88.)[1] The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ultimately dismissed petitioner's direct appeal in 2006. ( See id. Dkt. No. 111.) Petitioner then filed a motion to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 in August, 2007. ( See E.D. Tex. Civ. No. 07-374.) In that motion, petitioner argued that he was denied effective assistance of counsel, his rights to due process and a jury finding were violated and his plea agreement was unknowing and involuntary based on ineffective assistance of counsel. ( See id. Dkt. No. 1.) On May 20, 2010, the Magistrate Judge assigned to the case recommended that the § 2255 motion be denied on the merits. ( See id. Dkt. No. 19.) On July 19, 2010, the District Judge adopted the Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation and the § 2255 motion was denied. ( See id. Dkt. No. 21.) The Fifth Circuit denied a certificate of appealability in July, 2011. ( See Dkt. No. 31.)

Petitioner has now filed the instant habeas petition in this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241.[2] He claims that he is actually innocent of the sentencing court's judicial findings with respect to sentencing enhancements that included to the drug quantity involved, petitioner's role as leader and organizer and a gun enhancement. Thus, he claims that he should have been sentenced to only 120 months imprisonment as opposed to 295 months.


With respect to screening the instant petition, 28 U.S.C. § 2243 provides in relevant part:

A court, justice or judge entertaining an application for a writ of habeas corpus shall forthwith award the writ or issue an order directing the respondent to show cause why the writ should not be granted, unless it appears from the application that the applicant or person detained is not entitled thereto.

As petitioner is proceeding pro se, his petition is held to less stringent standards than those pleadings drafted by lawyers. See Rainey v. Varner, 603 F.3d 189, 198 (3d Cir. 2010) ("It is the policy of the courts to give a liberal construction to pro se habeas petitions.") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); United States v. Otero, 502 F.3d 331, 334 (3d Cir. 2007) ("we construe pro se pleadings liberally.") (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)). Nevertheless, "a district court is authorized to dismiss a [habeas] petition summarily when it plainly appears from the face of the petition and any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court[.]" Lonchar v. Thomas, 517 U.S. 314, 320 (1996).


Petitioner is challenging the sentence he received in the Eastern District of Texas in this § 2241 federal habeas action. Generally, a challenge to the validity of a federal conviction or sentence must be brought under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. See Jackman v. Shartle, 535 F.Appx. 87, 88 (3d Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (citing Okereke v. United States, 307 F.3d 117, 120 (3d Cir. 2002)). This is generally true because § 2255 prohibits a district court from entertaining a challenge to a prisoner's federal sentence through § 2241 unless the remedy under § 2255 is "inadequate or ineffective." See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e). Indeed, § 2255(e) states that:

[a]n application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a prisoner who is authorized to apply for relief by motion pursuant to this section, shall not be entertained if it appears that the applicant has failed to apply for relief, by motion, to the court which sentenced him, or that such a court has denied him relief, unless it also appears that the ...

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