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Robert R. Curtis v. United States of America

November 2, 2011

ROBERT R. CURTIS, PETITIONER,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, RESPONDENT.



OPINION AND ORDER

This matter comes before the Court on Petitioner's Motion Under 28 U.S.C. Section 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a person in Federal Custody (Cv. Doc. #1)*fn1 and supporting Memorandum (Cv. Doc. #2). The Government filed a Response in Opposition to Petitioner's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence, Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 2255 (Cv. Doc. #8) seeking to dismiss the § 2255 motion as untimely. Petitioner filed a Traverse of Petitioner (Cv. Doc. #9). For the reasons set forth below, Petitioner's motion pursuant to Section 2255 is untimely and accordingly will be dismissed. Further, even if Petitioner had timely filed his motion, his arguments do not merit the relief sought.

I.

On January 21, 2004, a grand jury sitting in the Middle District of Florida returned a one-count indictment charging Robert R. Curtis (Petitioner or Curtis) with possession with intent to distribute five (5) grams or more of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. Section 841(a)(1) and Section 841(b)(1)(B)(iii). (Cr. Doc. #1.) Petitioner thereafter waived indictment and consented to the filing of a one-count Superseding Information charging distribution of an unspecified quantity of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. Section 841(a)(1) and Section 841(b)(1)(c). (Cr. Docs. #17, 23, 24.) Petitioner then pled guilty to the Superseding Information without a plea agreement. (Cr. Docs. #24-26.)

At sentencing, Petitioner was determined to be a career offender based upon three prior State of Florida convictions for sale of cocaine. Petitioner did not dispute the fact of the convictions, but argued that for various legal reasons he could not be sentenced as a career offender. The district court rejected these arguments, and sentenced Petitioner to 169 months imprisonment, which was in the middle of the resulting Sentencing Guidelines range. (Cr. Doc. #33.)

On direct appeal Petitioner challenged the lawfulness of his sentence as a career offender. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction and sentence. United States v. Curtis, 135 F. App'x 232 (11th Cir. 2005). On October 11, 2005, the Supreme Court denied certiorari review. Curtis v. United States, 126 S. Ct. 461 (2005).

On April 1, 2010, Petitioner filed his § 2255 motion (Cv. Doc. #1; Cr. Doc. #60) raising two issues: (1) the district court lacked jurisdiction to sentence him as a career offender because he did not have the sufficient number of qualifying prior convictions (Civ. Doc. #2, p. 4); and (2) he is actually innocent of being a career offender based on the Supreme Court's ruling in Johnson v. United States, 130 S. Ct. 1265 (2010). Giving Petitioner the benefit of the "mailbox rule," Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266 (1988), Washington v. United States, 243 F.3d 1299, 1301 (11th Cir. 2001), the Court will deem the § 2255 motion to have been filed on March 30, 2010, the date Petitioner signed the motion while incarcerated.

II.

A § 2255 motion is ordinarily subject to the one year limitations period in 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f). Long v. United States, 626 F.3d 1167, 1169 (11th Cir. 2010). A petitioner has one year from the latest of any of four events to file a § 2255 motion: (1) the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final; (2) the date on which the impediment to making a motion created by governmental action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the movant was prevented from making a motion by such governmental action; (3) the date on which the right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if that right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review; or (4) the date on which the facts supporting the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.

28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(1)-(4); see also Pruitt v. United States, 274 F.3d 1315, 1317 (11th Cir. 2001).

The statute of limitations for Petitioner began to run when his conviction became final. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(1). If a petition for certiorari is filed with the United States Supreme Court, a conviction becomes final when the Supreme Court denies certiorari or rules on the merits. Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U.S. 314, 321, n.6 (1987). Petitioner's conviction became final on October 11, 2005, the day the Supreme Court denied certiorari. Therefore, Petitioner had until October 11, 2006, to file a motion under § 2255. Petitioner did not file his § 2255 motion until March 30, 2010, approximately three and one half years after the expiration of the statute of limitations.

Because Petitioner is proceeding pro se, the Court reads his pleadings liberally. Tannenbaum v. United States, 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir. 1998). Petitioner presents two arguments related to both the timeliness of the §2255 motion and its merits. Petitioner argues that the lack of a sufficient number of qualifying prior convictions divested the district court of "jurisdiction" to sentence him as a career offender, and jurisdiction can never be waived. Additionaly, Petitioner argues that the Supreme Court recognized a new right on March 2, 2010, when it decided Johnson, which makes him actually innocent of being a career offender, which makes his § 2255 motion timely or excuses the timeliness default. (Cv. Doc. #1, p. 4.) For the reasons discussed below, neither argument is meritorious.

A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Petitioner argues that the three prior Florida convictions which formed the predicate for his career offender status are not qualifying felony convictions under the career offender provisions. Therefore, Petitioner argues, the district court lacked jurisdiction to sentence him with the career offender enhancement, and jurisdiction cannot be waived or defaulted. Because Petitioner is incorrect in asserting that his prior convictions were not qualifying predicate offenses, his jurisdiction*fn2 argument fails.

While Petitioner emphasizes 28 U.S.C. § 994(h), that provision simply directed the Sentencing Commission to assure that the Sentencing Guidelines specify a sentence at or near the maximum term for defendants who are eighteen years old, are convicted of a felony crime of violence or certain federal drug offenses, and have previously been convicted of two or more felonies which are a crime of violence or an offense described in certain federal drug statutes. Pursuant to this Congressional directive, the Sentencing Commission enacted § 4B1.1 of the Sentencing Guidelines. United States v. LaBonte, 520 U.S. 751, 753 (1997). At the time of Petitioner's sentencing this provision provided that a defendant was a "career offender" if (1) he was "at least eighteen years old at the time [he] committed the instant offense of conviction," (2) "the instant offense of conviction is a felony that is either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense," and (3) "the defendant has at least two prior felony convictions of either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense." U.S. Sentencing Guideline Manual (U.S.S.G.) § 4B1.1(a) (2003). A "controlled substance offense" was "an offense under federal or state law, punishable by imprisonment for a term ...


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