United States v. Easley, Criminal Action No. 1:15-00243-KD-B

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Southern District of Alabama
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 1:20-00043-KD,Criminal Action No. 1:15-00243-KD-B
Decision Date28 June 2021


Criminal Action No. 1:15-00243-KD-B
Civil Action No. 1:20-00043-KD


June 28, 2021


This matter is before the Court on Defendant Cory Ellis Easley's pro se1 Motion to Vacate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 and memorandum in support of same (Docs. 53, 53-1); the United States' Response (Doc. 57); and Defendant's Reply (Docs. 72, 73).2

I. Background

On October 25, 2015, a federal grand jury charged Defendant Cory Ellis Easley (Easley) with violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) (Count One) in a single count indictment. (Doc. 1). The indictment read:

On or about September 7, 2015, in the Southern District of Alabama, Southern Division, CORY ELLIS EASLEY, having been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one (1) year, namely, possession of a controlled substance, on July 8, 2013, in the Circuit Court of Washington Country, Florida, case number 12000113CFMA, did knowingly possess, in and affecting commerce, a firearm, namely, a Glock 17 9mm semi-automatic pistol, serial number BVR621US. In violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 922(g)(1).

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(Doc. 1 at 1). Easley pled guilty January 19, 2016. (Doc. 29; Doc. 26 (plea agreement)). He was sentenced to 120 months as to Count One with credit for time served, three years of supervised release, and restitution in the amount of $8,501.88. (Doc. 48).

On January 21, 2020,3 Easley moved to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. (Docs. 53, 53-1). Therein, Easley states he "wishes to raise two claims and one question in his § 2255 motion in light of the United States Supreme Court recent holding in [Rehaif v. United States, 139 S.Ct. 2191 (2019)." (Doc. 53-1 at 5). Easley asserts that his conviction and sentence must be vacated in light of Rehaif because the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear his case, his plea was not knowing and voluntary, and because his indictment was defective/insufficient. See generally (Docs. 53, 53-1).

The United States responds that the Court should deny Easley's motion contending the district court had jurisdiction to hear Easley's case and asserting Easley's remaining claims are procedurally defaulted. (Doc. 57 at 7-8). Even still, per the United States, Easley's claims would still fail because Easley cannot show plain error. (Id. at 8).

II. Legal Standard

Pursuant to Title 28, United States Code, Section 2255, a person in federal custody may move to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. Section 2255 permits such collateral challenges in four circumstances: (1) the imposed sentence violated the Constitution or the laws of the United States; (2) the court exceeded its jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) the imposed sentence exceeded the maximum authorized by law; or (4) the imposed sentence is otherwise subject to

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collateral attack. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255. See also McKay v. United States, 657 F.3d 1190, 1194, n.8 (11th Cir. 2011). "Only jurisdictional claims, constitutional claims, and claims of error that are so fundamentally defective as to cause a complete miscarriage of justice will warrant relief through collateral attack." Eddie Lee Battles v. United States, 2020 WL 5407682, *3 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 9, 2020) (citing United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 184-86 (1979)). If a court determines it imposed a sentence in violation of Section 2255, it "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." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). The movant, not the government, bears the burden to establish that vacatur of the conviction or sentence is required. Beeman v. United States, 871 F.3d 1215, 1221-22 (11th Cir. 2017).

A motion under § 2255 is not a substitute for direct appeal, and issues which could have been raised on direct appeal are generally not actionable in a § 2255 motion and will be considered procedurally barred. Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 123 S.Ct. 1690, 155 L.Ed.2d 714 (2003). When a defendant has procedurally defaulted on his claim, he is barred from collaterally attacking his conviction in federal court unless he can demonstrate either "cause" and actual "prejudice," or that he is "actually innocent." Bousley, 523 U.S. at 622, 118 S.Ct. 1604.

Cause sufficient to excuse a procedural default "ordinarily requires a showing of some external impediment preventing counsel from constructing or raising the claim." Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 492, 106 S.Ct. 2639, 91 L.Ed.2d 397 (1986). Mere inadvertence or neglect does not constitute good cause. Cf. Prisco v. Frank, 929 F.2d 603, 604 (11th Cir. 1991). To show actual prejudice, the movant must demonstrate not "merely that the errors [before the trial court] created a possibility of prejudice, but that they worked to her actual and substantial disadvantage, infecting

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[the entire trial court proceeding] with error of constitutional dimensions." Frady, 456 U.S. at 170, 102 S.Ct. 1584.

In the context of overcoming a procedural default, "actual innocence" means factual innocence, and "[t]o establish actual innocence, the petitioner must demonstrate that, 'in light of all the evidence,' 'it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror [would have] convicted him.'" Bousley, 523 U.S. at 623, 118 S.Ct. 1604 (quoting Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 327-28, 115 S.Ct. 851, 130 L.Ed.2d 808 (1995)).

And, a defendant is procedurally barred from raising arguments in a motion to vacate which he has already raised and that have been rejected on direct appeal. Stoufflet v. U.S., 757 F.3d 1236, 1239 (11th Cir. 2014). And see Felix v. United States, 2020 WL 773476, at *1 (11th Cir. 2020) (citing same). "[A] claim that was rejected on appeal does not merit rehearing on a §2255 motion when based on a different, but previously available, legal theory." Posa v. United States, 2017 WL 8800980, at *2 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing United States v. Nyhuis, 211 F.3d 1340, 1343 (11th Cir. 2000)). But, a defendant can overcome this procedural bar to relitigation if his new claim is based on an intervening change in substantive law. Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333, 342 (1974) ("[E]ven though the legal issue raised in a § 2255 motion was determined against the applicant on the merits on [direct appeal], the applicant may nevertheless be entitled to [collateral review on the legal issue] upon showing an intervening change in the law." (emphasis added) (alteration and quotation marks omitted)).

III. Discussion

A. Rehaif v. United States, 139 S.Ct. 2191 (2019)

Easley's claims stem from the recent United States Supreme Court decision in Rehaif v. United States, 139 S.Ct. 2191 (2019). The Court in Rehaif "held that to secure a felon-in-

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possession conviction under 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g) and 924(a)(2), the government must prove not only that the defendant knew he possessed a firearm or ammunition, but also that he knew 'of his status as a person barred from possessing a firearm' or ammunition." United States v. Morales, 987 F.3d 966, 978 (11th Cir. 2021) (citing Rehaif, 139 S.Ct. at 2195)). Rehaif did not announce a new rule of constitutional law, rather, it clarified the statutory elements for prosecution pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). See In re Palacios, 931 F.3d 1314, 1315 (11th Cir. 2019); see also In re Price, 964 F.3d 1045, 1049 (11th Cir. 2020) ("Rehaif did not announce a new rule of constitutional law"); In re Wright, 942 F.3d 1063, 1065 (11th Cir. 2019) (same).

Easley was indicted in 2015 and plead guilty in 2016, prior to Rehaif. See generally (Docs. 1, 29). Easley's indictment did not allege that he knew of his status as a member of a class of persons prohibited from possessing firearms and ammunition (namely that he knew he had been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term greater than one year). See generally (Doc. 1).

B. Jurisdictional defect

As a threshold matter, Easley asserts that in light of Rehaif, "his indictment was defective in failing to allege explicitly that he knew he was a prohibited persons allowed to possess a firearm, and that this purported defect deprived the district court of jurisdiction and requires dismissal of the indictment." (Doc. 53-1 at 6). So, per Easley, because his indictment lacked the mens rea element announced in Rehaif, the indictment failed to allege a federal offense. (Id. at 5). Thus, Easley contends the district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to hear his case. (Id.). Easley also asserts that "Rehaif clarified that there is no prosecutable, stand-alone violation of § 922(g)(1). Rather, a valid 'prosecution' under United States law must be brought under [both] 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2)." (Doc. 53-1 at 14) (citing Rehaif, 139 S.Ct. at 2200). Easley

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continues that Section 924(g) "is not self-executing; it does not itself penalize felons for unlawful firearm possession." (Id.). So, according to Easley, Section 924(a)(2) sets forth an "offense against the laws of the United States" over which the district court would have jurisdiction; but, Section 922(g) alone does not. (Id.). According to the United States, even where the indictment fails to allege the mens rea element, the district court has jurisdiction to hear the case so long as the indictment charges a federal statute. (Doc. 57 at 9).

"Subject-matter jurisdiction defines the court's authority to hear a given type of case," and that "Congress bestows that authority on lower courts by statute." Alikhani v. United States, 200 F.3d 732, 734 (11th Cir. 2000). "For federal crimes, Congress did so in 18 U.S.C. § 3231, providing district courts with 'original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the States, of all offenses against the laws of the United States.'" U.S. v. Brown, 752 F.3d 1344, 1348 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing 18...

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