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Helbig v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Tallahassee Division

August 7, 2019

SUSANNE D. HELBIG, Petitioner,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Respondents.



         This case is before the Court on Petitioner Susanne D. Helbig's petition for writ of habeas corpus, filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 (ECF Docs. 1, 2), Respondent United States of America's response (ECF Doc. 17) and Helbig's reply (ECF Doc. 21). The case is referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 636 and N.D. Fla. Loc. R. 72.2(B). After reviewing the parties' submissions, the undersigned recommends Helbig's petition be denied.

         I. Background

         In 2014, Helbig, a German national, pleaded guilty to mortgage fraud conspiracy and making a false statement on a tax return in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. ECF Doc. 17-1 at 1. She was sentenced to 96 months in prison. Id. at 2. Helbig is currently a Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) inmate confined at the Federal Correctional Institution in Aliceville, Alabama. ECF Docs. 19, 22. At the time she initiated this case, she was confined at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee, Florida. ECF Doc. 1.

         In May 2017, Helbig began requesting an immigration hearing to clarify whether she would be deported at the end of her prison sentence. ECF Doc. 2 at 1-2. Because Helbig is not an American citizen, she is “assessed a Public Safety Factor, which deprives [her] from realizing a lower, more appropriate custody level, imposing a much harsher punishment and exposing [her] to more severe conditions at a higher security level; it refuses [her] any eligibility to time credits due to program participation, and home detention custody release.” Id. at 1-2. If a hearing was held and an immigration judge determined Helbig would not be deported upon her release, the Public Safety Factor would be removed and Helbig could participate in rehabilitative programs and receive a lower security classification. Id.

         Helbig had an immigration interview in March 2018 and was told she “would receive the final paperwork within 6 weeks at the most.” Id. at 1. After Helbig received no further information, she unsuccessfully filed administrative grievances requesting an immigration hearing. ECF Doc. 1 at 8-13. Helbig then filed her § 2241 petition. ECF Docs. 1, 2. She was subsequently transferred to FCI Aliceville, one the BOP's Institution Hearing Program[1] (“IHP”) sites. ECF Docs. 19, 22; ECF Doc. 17-4 at 1.

         Helbig alleges the Government's failure to hold an immigration hearing violates her due process rights, federal statutes and BOP Program Statements. ECF Doc. 1 at 3. As relief, Helbig asks the Court to order the Government to provide her with “an immigration hearing in compliance with federal law and DOJ/FBOP policy and directives.” Id. at 6.

         II. Discussion[2]

         “A necessary predicate for the granting of federal habeas relief . . . is a determination by the federal court that [a prisoner's] custody violates the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” Rose v. Hodges, 423 U.S. 19, 21 (1975) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2241).

         Here, Helbig alleges her due process rights have been violated because the Government's failure to schedule an immigration hearing has subjected her to harsher conditions of confinement and prevented her from realizing the full benefits of the BOP's rehabilitative programs. Helbig's allegations, however, do not present a viable due process claim because she does not have a liberty interest in either her custodial classification or rehabilitative programs. See Moody v. Daggett, 429 U.S. 78, 88 n.9 (1976) (noting no due process protections are required for “prisoner classification and eligibility for rehabilitative programs in the federal system”; “Congress has given federal prison officials full discretion to control these conditions of confinement . . . and petitioner has no legitimate statutory or constitutional entitlement sufficient to invoke due process.”); Jennings v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 344 Fed.Appx. 954, 955 (5th Cir. 2009) (“An inmate lacks any constitutional interest in custodial classification, and his disagreement with his classification is insufficient to state a constitutional violation.”) (citation omitted); Baranwal, 2015 WL 171410 at *3 (“[B]ecause federal prisoners do not possess a liberty interest in their security classification, a claim that the [Public Safety Factor] deprives Petitioner of liberty without due process in violation of the Fifth Amendment must fail. . . . Nor do they possess a liberty interest in rehabilitative programs, such as home confinement.”) (citations omitted).

         Helbig also argues the Government must provide her with an immigration hearing pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1228(a)(3)(A).[3] ECF Doc. 1 at 3; ECF Doc. 2 at 5. That statute states:

(3) Expedited Proceedings
(A) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Attorney General shall provide for the initiation and, to the extent possible, the completion of removal proceedings, and any administrative appeals thereof, in the case of any alien convicted of an aggravated felony before the alien's release from incarceration for the underlying aggravated felony.
(B) Nothing in this section shall be construed as requiring the Attorney General to effect the removal of any alien sentenced to actual incarceration, before release from the penitentiary or correctional ...

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