Eighth Circuit Rules on Out of Time 2255 case: Jackson
The Eighth Circuit delivers the end to a cautionary tale about pro-se 2255 filings in Jackson.
Facts: 2255 filed by pro se filer after the deadline
Jackson was found guilty of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute and was sentenced to 330 months. His appeal was affirmed and his cert petition was denied. He had until June 24, 2020 to file a 2255 motion.
Jackson was housed at the Oklahoma Federal Transfer Center when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the Bureau of Prisons. Jackson remained at the Oklahoma FTC for several months. On April 1, 2020 Jackson's mother filed a motion for extension of time to file a motion to vacate his sentence, indicating that she had power of attorney for Jackson and that Jackson had approved the filing of the motion. The court denied the motion for extension the next day. The court also refused to construe the document as a motion to vacate as well.
On April 27, 2020 Jackson filed a pro se motion for reconsideration of the denial of the motion for extension (instead of filing his 2255). He listed potential grounds for a 2255 in that document as well. Jackson ALSO filed a notice of appeal from the order denying the motion for extension (WHILE THE RECONSIDERATION WAS PENDING AND INSTEAD OF JUST FILING A 2255). The court denied this and stated that if Jackson wanted the court ton construe these allegations as a timely filed 2255 then the court would do so. Jackson submitted nothing to clarify if he wanted his motion for reconsideration to be a 2255.
On September 15, 2020 Jackson's mother wrote the court and attached a letter from Jackson indicating that Jackson was concerned about his ability to receive mail and file a timely 2255 motion. She also indicated that Jackson did not have any resources and that she requested that the district court keep Jackson's 2255 open until they can resolve the issue.
On July 27 of 2021 Jackson filed a 2255 motion indicating, among other things that the district court should deem his 2255 motion timely under equitable tolling and that Jackson had pursued his rights diligently.
The government argued that this 2255 should either be dismissed or stayed, indicating that the motion was untimely and that because of the pending appeal that the district court could not equitably toll the motion.
The District court dismissed the 2255 motion indicating that equitable tolling was not warranted here and that the motion was untimely. The court also stated that even if the motion was timely the claims fell on the merits. A panel of the 8th Circuit also denied COA that case. Jackson appealed the order denying the motion for extension of time to file the motion and stated that there was still a live controversy that and that the court could still grant relief.
Holding: There was no active controversy in this case
Reasoning: The district court denied Jackson's motion for extension by indicating that Jackson's 2255 motion was untimely and that equitable tolling was inapplicable. Then, in the alternative, the court stated that even if the motion was timely it could be denied on the merits. Then the Eighth circuit denied the COA.
The district court's denial of the 2255 on the merits defeated any relief that the appellate court could give here: "If we ordered the district court to deem Jackson's § 2255 motion timely, we would remand, but that would not affect the district court's subsequent order dismissing the § 2255 motion on the merits...The district court could not then revisit that subsequent order because it has now been made final by the administrative panel's denial of a COA..."
As a result of this the 8th circuit indicated that the case was moot at this point:
"We have further explained that “[a] case is moot if there is no reasonable expectation that the alleged wrong will recur and interim relief or events have completely eradicated the effects of the alleged wrong."
Although the questions at issue here were interesting to consider, I shared this with you as a cautionary tale. The deadlines with regard to 2255 motions are hard and fast and cannot be adjusted by the courts regardless of things like lockdowns, transfers, or the unavailability of an inmate to access their legal paperwork. Using a loved one as a "power of attorney" or relying on the equitable tolling doctrine in the context of out of time 2255 motions are dodgy as well.
Lastly on this issue I would like to give a caution about "writing a letter to the Judge." We hear from incarcerated persons who have "written a letter to the judge" to bring up issues that they didn't feel were properly heard: they didn't catch me with anything, all those people are lying, my police officer got fired on some unrelated matter, etc. In the Jackson case, the the court declined to construe his motion for extension as a 2255 “because Jackson's request for an extension did not set forth any potential arguments in support of a future § 2255 [m]otion.” So again, what you write the judge might or might not be construed as a 2255. I actually think that it's almost worse if it does get construed as a 2255 motion because if it does not have everything legally required to grant relief then it can get denied and there is only one chance to file a 2255 motion. The legal and procedural minefield for 2255 motions is indeed tricky. The best way to go forward with a 2255 motion is to reach out to the law office of Jeremy Gordon. You can reach out to us at [email protected] if you believe that you have a claim.