Section 2255 is intended to afford federal prisoners a remedy identical in scope to federal habeas corpus, which is codified at 28 U.S.C. §2254. In recommending to Congress what would eventually become §2255, the Judicial Conference Committee on Habeas Corpus Procedure said that “[ t]he motion remedy broadly covers all situations where the sentence is ‘open to collateral attack.’ As a remedy, it is intended to be as broad as habeas corpus.” United States v. Hayman, 342 U.S. 205, 217 (1952). See also Withrow v. Williams, 507 U.S. 680, 715 (1993)(Scalia, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part)(Habeas corpus jurisdiction is “sweeping in its breadth.”). This article discusses section 2255 cognizable claims; the four categories of 2255 motion grounds.
Section 2255 Cognizable Claims: Four Categories of 2255 Motion Grounds for Relief
Section 2255 provides that a federal prisoner may file a motion in the “court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.” The statute provides four grounds upon which such relief may be claimed: (1) “that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States;” (2) “that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence;” (3) “that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law;” and (4) that the sentence “is otherwise subject to collateral attack.” 28 U.S.C. §2255(a); Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 426-27 (1962).
Based on this statutory language, courts recognize four categories of cognizable §2255 claims: (1) that the court lacked either personal or subject matter jurisdiction to render judgment; that the conviction or sentence is unconstitutional; that the conviction or sentence violates other (nonconstitutional) federal law; and (4) that the conviction or sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack.
Section 2255 Cognizable Claims: What Constitutes Proper 2255 Motion Grounds for Relief
Jurisdictional and constitutional claims are cognizable in section 2255 proceedings on their face. The remaining two categories, however, require more than a claim of violation of federal law or a claim that the conviction is otherwise subject to collateral attack. In both cases, the error 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, 368 U.S. at 428.
Vast Scope of 2255 Motion Cognizable Claims
A federal court may entertain and rule upon a virtually unlimited variety of claims brought under section 2255. For ease of understanding and navigability, we have divided a broad cross section of claims into the four main categories of cognizable claims, with one extra category specifically devoted to ineffective assistance of counsel claims.
- Claims that the court lacked jurisdiction.
- Claims that the conviction or sentence is unconstitutional.
- Claims that conviction or sentence is unconstitutional due to the ineffective assistance of counsel.
- Claims that the conviction or sentence violates other federal law.
- Claims that the conviction or sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack.
Section 2255 Cognizable Claims | 2255 Motion Grounds FAQs
Q: What sorts of claims can I make in a section 2255 motion?
A: Section 2255(a) specifically contemplates four types of section 2255 cognizable claims: (1) “that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States”; (2) “that the court was without jurisdiction to impose [the] sentence”; (3) “that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law”; and (4) that the sentence “is otherwise subject to collateral attack.” Section 2255 is intended to allow a large swath of claims, and the statutory language is intentionally broad. As such, there are many possible 2255 motion grounds.
For ease of navigation, we have broken down the kinds of claims that can be pursued in a section 2255 motion into five categories: (1) the court lacked jurisdiction [L]; (2) the conviction or sentence is unconstitutional [L]; (3) the conviction or sentence is unconstitutional due to the ineffectiveness of counsel [L]; (4) the conviction or sentence violates other federal law [L]; and (5) the conviction or sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack.
Q: Should I hire an attorney to help me with my section 2255 motion?
A: Federal habeas corpus proceedings under section 2255 are extraordinarily complex. As with any other complicated area of the law, retaining competent counsel is often advisable. When your life and liberty are on the line, it makes even more sense to bring on an experienced attorney. At the Law Offices of Brandon Sample, we represent federal prisoners in section 2255 proceedings. Our experienced and professional attorneys may be able to help you. Contact us now for a consultation.