378 F.3d 294 (3rd Cir. 2004), 03-1835, United States v. Eakman

Docket Nº:03-1835.
Citation:378 F.3d 294
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Samuel L. EAKMAN, Jr., Appellant.
Case Date:July 12, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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378 F.3d 294 (3rd Cir. 2004)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,


Samuel L. EAKMAN, Jr., Appellant.

No. 03-1835.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

July 12, 2004

Argued March 11, 2004.

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Shelley Stark, Federal Public Defender, Lisa B. Freeland, (Argued), Assistant Federal Public Defender, Pittsburgh, for Appellant.

Mary Beth Buchanan, United States Attorney, Christine A. Sanner, (Argued), Bonnie R. Schlueter, Assistant United States Attorneys, Pittsburgh, for Appellee.

Before SLOVITER and NYGAARD, Circuit Judges, and SHADUR,1 District Judge.

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SHADUR, District Judge.

Federal prisoner Samuel L. Eakman ("Eakman") appeals from the district court's denial of his 28 U.S.C. § 22552 motion that seeks the vacation or amendment of his prison sentence. Eakman claims that his current sentence is constitutionally invalid because the district judge relied on a mistaken understanding of the law in believing that the Bureau of Prisons ("Bureau") had the discretion to place him in a community corrections center (also known as a "halfway-house"), when in fact the Bureau lacked such authority under the law.3 On the record before us it appears highly likely (at a minimum) that the district court would have imposed a different sentence had it not been for its contrary understanding.

We hold that under such circumstances the sentence imposed violated due process, so that a hearing on Eakman's Section 2255 motion should have been granted. We therefore remand for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.


Eakman pleaded guilty on October 30, 1998 to two counts of conspiracy, one pertaining to the possession of anabolic steroids and the other charging money laundering. On September 9, 1999 the court sentenced him to 18 months' imprisonment. For reasons not relevant to this appeal, on July 10, 2000 we issued a nonprecedential opinion (reported in table, 229 F.3d 1139 (3d Cir. 2000)) vacating Eakman's original sentence and remanding the case to the district court for resentencing. On October 20, 2000 the district court imposed a new imprisonment term of one year and a day, with this recommendation to the Bureau:


On November 7, 2002 (over two years after he was sentenced) Eakman began to serve his prison term at a community corrections center. But on December 13, 2002 the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel issued a memorandum concluding that the Bureau had no statutory authority to assign prisoners to community corrections centers for the imprisonment portion of the sentence. Accordingly the Bureau changed its prior practice and planned to transfer to other facilities all prisoners (including Eakman) who as of December 16, 2002 had more than 150 days remaining on their prison terms.

Eakman then moved the district court to vacate or amend his sentence under Sections 2241 and 2255 and asked for the appointment of counsel.4 On January 22, 2003 the district court appointed a Federal Public Defender to represent Eakman but denied his Section 2241 and 2255 motions. Eakman sought and obtained a certificate of appealability as to this claim:

Petitioner's sentence was imposed in violation of his federal constitutional right to due process where (1) this Court relied upon material misinformation when sentencing Petitioner, i.e., that the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") had the discretion,

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under 18 U.S.C. § 3621(b), to designate a community corrections center for service of that sentence, and (2) had it been known that the BOP would repudiate the discretion the parties and the Court believed it had, counsel for Petitioner could have advocated for (and the court could have granted) a downward departure that would have resulted in a sentence that [required] Petitioner to serve a year and a day in a community confinement center.

Eakman filed a timely notice of appeal, and the district court released Eakman on bond pending appeal.

Section 2255 or 2241?

Eakman originally invoked both Sections 2241 and 2255 in the court below, but he limits his challenge on appeal to Section 2255, conceding that the district court did not have jurisdiction under Section 2241 because he failed to serve (or name) his custodian. In response the government argues that only Section 2241 provides a potential source of relief because Eakman essentially contests the place of his imprisonment, not the validity of his sentence. And to be sure, Section 2255 "is expressly limited to challenges to the validity of the petitioner's sentence" and "Section 2241 is the only statute that 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)).

But here Eakman does contest the validity of his sentence: He argues that the district court committed an error of law in assuming that the Bureau could lawfully place Eakman in a community corrections center, a mistake that he says fundamentally tainted the sentencing proceeding. Eakman seeks resentencing, not a determination that the Bureau's change in practice was unlawful or an order preventing his transfer from the community corrections center. Hence his claim is suitable for consideration under Section 2255. And because the district court denied Eakman's motion as a matter of law and without a hearing, we review its ruling de novo (United States v. Cleary, 46 F.3d 307, 309-10 (3d Cir. 1995)).

Section 2255 provides in pertinent part:

A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress claiming the right to be released upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack, may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.

Unless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief, the court shall cause notice thereof to be served upon the United States attorney, grant a prompt hearing thereon, determine the issues and make findings of fact and conclusions of law with respect thereto. If the court finds that the judgment was rendered without jurisdiction, or that the sentence imposed was not authorized by law or otherwise open to collateral attack, or that there has been such a denial or infringement of the constitutional rights of the prisoner as to render the judgment vulnerable to collateral attack, the court shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the prisoner or resentence him or grant a new trial or correct the sentence as may appear appropriate.

Because Eakman raises no issues as to the constitutionality or lawfulness of the sentence

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itself, and because nothing in the record suggests that the district court lacked jurisdiction to impose the sentence, we need decide only whether the record...

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