Contact Us

Sixth Circuit rules that Motion was properly filed as a Rule 60(b) motion:  in re West

The Sixth Circuit held that West's motion was properly filed as a rule 60(b) motion in the West case.

West:  Wrongfully Sentenced to Life in Prison

West was indicted for use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire. The district court sentenced West under the portion of the statute that imposes a sentence of life imprisonment in cases where “death results.”  However the indictment “’did not include any allegation that personal injury or death actually resulted from the conspiracy’ and ‘did not charge West with any substantive count requiring the jury to decide if murder occurred.’”  The jury was not asked to determine that death was an element of the offense and no special finding was returned by the jury. Based on all of this, “[s]entencing West to life imprisonment under these circumstances—when the conviction the jury actually returned ‘carried a statutory maximum penalty of ten years’—violated West’s ‘constitutional rights..’.”

West has filed multiple things to fix this. He filed a 2255, a compassionate release and all of those were denied. The court knew of the error. He then filed a Rule 60b motion. The government opposed his motion and argued that it was a second or successive 2255 and it should be transferred to the sixth circuit for consideration under that standard (this would sink the motion). The district court agreed and sent it to the Sixth Circuit.

Rule 60(b):  A Very Limited Tool for Relief

The court noted that a Rule 60(b) allows a party to seek relief from a final judgment. Rule 60(b)(6) allows for relief in extraordinary circumstances. The court noted that a wide range of factors can be considered including the risk of injustice to the parties and the risk of undermining the public’s confidence in the judicial process. The court indicated that the rule creates an equitable remedy that can be decided on a case-by-case basis.  However, a Rule 60(b) motion can’t be used to circumvent the requirements for post-conviction relief.

The court noted that West’s motion was not being used to circumvent the requirements for post-conviction relief:

"West’s Rule 60(b) motion in this case is trained on the “injustice” to himself and the risk to public “confidence in the judicial process” that could accrue were his unconstitutional life sentence permitted to stand.  West essentially contends that, separate and apart from any claim of constitutionally deficient counsel, a sentencing judge’s acknowledgement in non-habeas post-conviction proceedings that a prisoner is serving an unconstitutionally imposed life sentence is both so unique and so extraordinary—with such grave consequences for the prisoner himself and the judicial system more broadly—that it supplies a freestanding basis for relief under Rule 60(b)(6). He also argues that the Government’s conduct in this case raises the specter of fraud on the court, an allegation capable of supplying a separate and independent basis for Rule 60(b)(6) relief…Whatever the district court, exercising its ‘wide discretion,’ concludes as to the merits of these claims, they are bona fide Rule 60(b) arguments, not habeas claims in disguise, and should be considered as such.”

As such, the Sixth Circuit Sent the case back down to the district court for review on the merits of the 60b motion. in re West, No. 23-1792

If anything here applies to you, contact us today.

At The Law Office of Jeremy Gordon, we fight aggressively for our clients. We are experienced, and know what it takes to present a successful defense in a federal criminal case. For prompt, courteous and skilled representation as your federal criminal defense attorney, contact us today to schedule a free phone consultation.
Contact Us