2241 Appeal Granted in Holland by the Third Circuit

The Third Circuit granted a 2241 appeal in Holland based on the trade of a gun for drugs, sending the motion back to district court.

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In Holland, the Third Circuit granted a 2241 appeal, reversing a ruling back down to the District Court for further review.  

Holland’s Crime and Charges:

Holland was charged with a 924(c) and several other crimes.  This case was in 1999.  To prove the 924(c) case, the government brought forth Stewart, who indicated that she traded a gun to Holland for cash and drugs. 

Holland met Stewart, who had the gun. Holland test-fired the gun and gave Stewart 3.5 grams of crack-cocaine and $80.  The most crack Stewart bought from Holland was an eighth of an ounce, or 3.5 grams. 

The jury found Holland guilty of the 924(c) in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. He was also sentenced to numerous other crimes, including two life terms plus the five years consecutively. 

Holland’s Post-Trial Motions

2255 

Holland filed a 2255 which was denied.  Later, in Watson vs. United States, the Supreme Court indicated that a person does not “use” a gun under 924(c) when they trade away drugs and get a gun in return. 

2241

Holland filed three 2241 motions.  The first one was denied because the district court determined that he should have filed a 2255 motion.  The other two were denied because they were identical to his earlier motion and were, as such, successive.   

Holland then filed this motion.  The District Court found that this 2241 appeal motion was properly filed.  A 2255 would be inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of Holland’s detention. 

But then the district court stated that Holland did not use the gun but that Stewart used the gun. By trading the gun to Holland for drugs and Holland aided and abetted Stewart. 

Savings Clause Analysis

Under normal circumstances, a person can only file a 2241 when a 2255 would be inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.  “If a prisoner has already filed a § 2255 motion, he is barred from filing another one unless his petition relies on newly discovered evidence or a new rule of constitutional law. § 2255(h).

So if an intervening statutory decision holds that his conduct was not a crime, he cannot use another § 2255 motion to claim actual innocence. In that case, our circuit holds, § 2255 is inadequate, so § 2241 is the appropriate remedy.”

Here, Holland’s 2241 fell in the savings clause because United States vs. Watson required courts to read 924(c), a statute, more narrowly.  “Under Watson, Holland did not ‘use’ a gun when he got it in exchange for drugs. Yet he [could not] challenge his conviction under § 2255, because he has already filed one such motion and Watson is a statutory decision.”  This meant that Holland’s case met the savings clause. 

Successive 2241 Petitions Not Barred

The court also held that successive 2241 petitions were not barred.  The court indicated that rules were not jurisdictional unless congress said so “clearly” and that congress failed to do so in this case. The text of 2244(a) indicated that “if a federal court has already decided on the legality of a prisoner’s detention on a prior habeas petition, no judge ‘shall be required to entertain’ a successive application.” 

The court noted this applied to 2241 motions. There was nothing that eliminated the court’s jurisdiction over successive 2241 motions the same way the savings clause limited second or successive 2255 motions.   This meant that any limits on 2241 motions were discretionary and equitable and not mandatory and jurisdictional.  This meant the court could hear the case. 

Merits of Holland’s 2241 Appeal Motion

The court noted in order for Holland to make his claim of actual innocence, the court must show that “it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted him.” 

Stewart’s Handgun and 924(c) Connection Inconclusive

The court noted that Stewart traded her gun to Holland. As such, the district court determined that Holland could have been guilty of aiding and abetting.  But the Third Circuit noted that in order to be a “during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime” the drug trafficking must be a federal felony and Stewart had to be prosecuted in federal Court. 

The court noted that Stewart did not testify she was in Holland’s operations and she was buying drugs for herself.  She received 3.5 grams of crack. 

The court noted that whether this was a drug-trafficking felony depended on whether she had any other convictions for possessing crack. If the answer was yes then this could be a felony but if not then this would have been a misdemeanor.  There was not enough information in this record to determine whether she was engaged in a felony or not, so it was unclear of whether she violated 924(c) by using the gun to get drugs. 

Holland May Not Have Violated 924(c)

At trial the court explained that the “using” charge was because Stewart indicated that she traded the gun to Holland.  “Neither the indictment nor the jury instructions mentioned any other use of the gun, like the test-firing. So the jury convicted Holland because of his trade with Stewart.”  This means the district court must review Watson and apply Watson as the instant case.  Further, the conviction cannot be upheld based on Holland possessing the gun. 

“Holland was charged with using the gun that Stewart traded to him, not possessing it. The jury was instructed to focus on his use and convicted him of that. And, as the Government conceded at oral argument, no one testified that he possessed that gun in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime. So, it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted him of possessing a gun in violation of § 924(c).” 

The Third Circuit indicated that the case should go back down to the district court for reconsideration for the district court to consider Stewart’s conduct.  “If it finds that [Stewart] did not violate the statute, then it must grant Holland’s § 2241 petition and vacate his conviction on Count Three.”

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