When a federal prisoner’s conviction or sentence violates federal law, section 2255 relief may be available. There are a surprising number of ways in which a conviction or sentence may violate federal law, but federal prisoners must remember a requirement that the Supreme Court has placed on such claims: section 2255 relief is only available to remedy such claims when the violation of federal law was “a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice” or “an omission inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure.” Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428 (1962).
Below are several categories of claims that a conviction or sentence violates federal law which were found cognizable in section 2255 proceedings.
Conviction or Sentence Violates Federal Law Cases
Changes in the Substantive Criminal Law
- Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333 (1974). The section 2255 movant raised a cognizable claim when the law changed post-appeal and rendered his conduct no longer a violation of the criminal law.
- United States v. Johnson, 260 F.3d 919 (8th Cir. 2001). When Bailey v. United States, 516 U.S. 137 (1995), changed the 18 U.S.C. §924(c) understanding of “use” of a firearm, the defendant raised a cognizable claim that his guilty plea and conviction violated federal law. Note that section 2255 relief would also be available in this situation due to a jurisdictional defect — insufficient evidence to support a jurisdictional element of the offense.
Changes in the United States Sentencing Guidelines
- United States v. Marmolejos, 140 F.3d 488 (3d Cir. 1998). When an amendment to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines clarified the applicable guideline in a manner that benefited the defendant, section 2255 relief was proper. See also Isabel v. United States, 980 F.2d 60 (1st Cir. 1992)(same).
General Violations of Federal Law
- Peguero v. United States, 526 U.S. 23, 24 (1999). A district court’s failure to advise the defendant of his right to appeal, as required by Fed. R. Crim. P. 32(a)(2), can provide a basis for a section 2255 collateral attack — if the defendant suffered prejudice from the court’s omission.
- United States v. Barron, 172 F.3d 1153, 1158 (9th Cir. 1999)(en banc). A claim that the defendant’s conviction and sentence were obtained pursuant to an improper construction of federal law was cognizable in section 2255 proceedings.
- United States v. Ammar, 919 F 2d 13, 15-17 (3d Cir. 1990). A claim that the district court violated Fed. R. Crim. P. 43 by imposing a sentence on the defendant in his absence was cognizable in a section 2255 motion.
- Montgomery v. United States, 853 F.2d 83 (2d Cir. 1988). A claim that the district court violated Fed. R. Crim. 11(f) by accepting defendant’s guilty plea without adequate basis was cognizable in section 2255 proceedings.
- United States v. Mannino, 212 F.3d 835 (3d Cir. 2000). When the district court improperly calculated the defendant’s Guideline range by attributing all drugs in a conspiracy to each individual defendant, section 2255 relief was proper.
- United States v. Maybeck, 23 F.3d 888 (4th Cir. 1994). When the district court erroneously sentenced the defendant as a career offender based on a misclassified prior conviction, the defendant had a cognizable section 2255 claim.
Violations of Federal Law Commonplace
Violations of federal law happen on a regular basis in federal criminal courts. Many such violations provide the basis for a section 2255 claim. But these claims must also amount to a fundamental defect that results in a complete miscarriage of justice, and that is a very high bar. As such, it is crucial that a section 2255 movant who claims a violation of federal law plead the claim very carefully. Summary dismissal of such claims for failing to meet the requirements of Hill v. United States is a regular occurrence in federal court. That’s why anyone desiring to pursue collateral relief in this way should talk to an experienced attorney first.
Attorneys Experienced in Identifying if a Conviction or Sentence Violates Federal Law
At the Law Offices of Brandon Sample, we litigate section 2255 motions on behalf of clients from across the entire country. Our attorneys are knowledgeable and competent in all areas of habeas corpus practice. If you or a loved one want to file a section 2255 motion based on a conviction or sentence violating federal law, contact us today for a consultation. Our federal criminal defense attorneys stand ready to help.
Conviction or Sentence Violates Federal Law FAQs
Q: The law related to my crime has changed since I was convicted, and my conduct no longer amounts to a federal crime. Can I file a section 2255 motion?
A: When the law that a federal prisoner was convicted under changed after the direct appeal was concluded such that the prisoner’s conduct is no longer a violation of the criminal law, the conviction may be collaterally attacked in section 2255 proceedings. A good example of this situation can be found in United States v. Johnson, 260 F.3d 919 (8th Cir. 2001), where the court (and many others courts) concluded that a federal prisoner convicted of an 18 U.S.C. §924(c) offense raised a cognizable section 2255 claim after the Supreme Court changed the understanding of “use” of a firearm under §924(c). If you believe that the law has changed such that you are no longer guilty of your crime of conviction, contact us to discuss the matter. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Brandon Sample have experience litigating habeas corpus claims that a conviction or sentence violates federal law.
Q: The Sentencing Guidelines related to my case were amended after I was convicted. Can I seek relief under section 2255 if the amendment benefits me?
A: When a post-conviction amendment to the Sentencing Guidelines clarifies an applicable Guideline in a way that benefits the federal prisoner, a section 2255 claim that the sentence violates federal law arises.
Q: My conviction and sentence definitely violate federal law. Is that enough to allow a section 2255 attack?
A: No. In order for a claim that a conviction or sentence violates federal law to be cognizable in section 2255 proceedings, the violation must also amount to “a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice” or “an omission inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure.” Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428 (1962). A claim that the conviction or sentence violates federal law is not easy to make in section 2255 proceedings. If you or an imprisoned family member have such a claim, contact us now. Our professional habeas corpus litigators have substantial experience in pursuing claims that a conviction or sentence violates federal law.