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Watts v. Ortiz

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 21, 2019

DAVID EARL WATTS, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN DAVID ORTIZ, Respondent.

          David Earl Watts, Petitioner pro se #16258-171 FCI Fort Dix Inmate Mail/Parcels

          OPINION

          HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         David Earl Watts, a federal prisoner confined at FCI Fort Dix, New Jersey, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. [Docket Entry 3]. For the reasons expressed below, this Court will dismiss the petition for lack of jurisdiction.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Following a jury trial, Petitioner was sentenced in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina on February 5, 2010 to a custodial term of 360 months for conspiracy to distribute narcotics, 21 U.S.C. § 846. [Docket Entry 3 at 16; United States v. Watts, No. 4:08-cr-00372 (D.S.C. Mar. 10, 2010)]. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the convictions and sentence on appeal. United States v. Watts, 453 Fed.Appx. 309 (4th Cir. 2011).[1]

         Petitioner filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 in May 2014, alleging trial counsel “fail[ed] to inform Watts of the existence of the ‘Proffer Statement of Watts's codefendant and to hand it offer [sic] to Watts.'” [Docket Entry 3 at 19]. The § 2255 motion was denied by the sentencing court. Order Denying § 2255 Motion, Watts, No. 4:08-cr-00372 (May 5, 2014 Docket Entry 998).

         Petitioner subsequently filed the instant petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 challenging the validity of his conviction. [Docket Entry 3].[2] He raises four grounds for relief: (1) ineffective assistance of counsel based on the district court's finding that “Watts was culpable for 6.3 kilograms of Meth by the mere preponderance of the evidence, using the unlawful proffer. . .”; (2) ineffective assistance of counsel based on the district court's finding that “Watts was the leader & or organizer by the mere preponderance of the evidence low standard of proof & deeming this substantial enhancement as a ‘Sentencing Factors' when in actuality it is a ‘element of a crime'”; (3) ineffective assistance of counsel based on the government's failure to turn over Petitioner's co-defendant's proffer statement; and (4) ineffective assistance of counsel based on the government's “constructive amendment” of the indictment without returning to the grand jury. [Docket Entry 3 at 21-23].

         This matter is now ripe for disposition.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Petitioner brings this petition as a pro se litigant. The Court has an obligation to liberally construe pro se pleadings and to hold them to less stringent standards than more formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Higgs v. Attorney Gen. of the U.S., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011), as amended (Sept. 19, 2011) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). 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 Gen., 878 F.2d 714, 721-22 (3d Cir. 1989); United States v. Brierley, 414 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir. 1969), cert. denied, 399 U.S. 912 (1970).

         Nevertheless, a federal district court must dismiss a habeas corpus petition if it appears from the face of the petition that the petitioner is not entitled to relief. 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Rule 4 (made applicable through Rule 1(b)); see also McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849, 856 (1994); Siers v. Ryan, 773 F.2d 37, 45 (3d Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 490 U.S. 1025 (1989).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Section 2241 “confers habeas jurisdiction to hear the petition of a federal prisoner who is challenging not the validity but the execution of his sentence.” Coady v. Vaughn,251 F.3d 480, 485 (3d Cir. 2001). 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 Fed.Appx. 87, 88 (3d Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (citing Okereke v. United States, 307 F.3d 117, 120 (3d Cir. 2002)). “[Section] 2255 expressly prohibits a district court from considering a challenge to a prisoner's federal sentence under § 2241 unless the remedy under § 2255 is ‘inadequate or ineffective to test the ...


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