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Media Alerts - United States of America v. Edward Ross - Third Circuit
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September 23, 2015
  United States of America v. Edward Ross - Third Circuit
Headline: Monetary Special Assessments at Sentencing Do Not Constitute "Custody" for Purposes of Habeas Corpus Statutes

Area of Law: Criminal Law, Habeas Corpus

Issue Presented: Can a special assessment constitute "custody" as required by habeas corpus statutes?

Brief Summary: On collateral attack, Ross argued that his trial and appellate counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to challenge a deficient jury instruction and the sufficiency of the evidence on one of his convictions. However, the relief Ross sought was not cognizable under section 2255 because he was not claiming to be released from "custody." The $100 special assessment imposed upon him at sentencing did not constitute "custody."

Extended Summary: This case concerns the threshold requirement of 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct a criminal sentence for ineffective assistance of counsel where a petitioner's trial and appellate counsel failed to challenge a deficient jury instruction and the sufficiency of the evidence on one count of conviction. Ross was convicted of several criminal charges, including possession of a machine gun in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(o), and sentenced to eight years' supervised release, a fine of $3,000, and eight $100 special assessments for each count of conviction. On collateral attack, Ross argued that his trial and appellate counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to challenge a deficient jury instruction and the sufficiency of the evidence on his conviction under section 922(o).

Section 2255 provides a remedy for prisoners in custody to claim the right to be released upon certain grounds, such as where the sentence imposed violated the Constitution or laws of the United States. After noting that the Court was bound by the text of section 2255 on collateral attack, the Court held that the relief Ross sought was not cognizable under section 2255 because he was not claiming to be released from "custody."

The Court rejected Ross's argument that the $100 special assessment imposed upon him at sentencing constituted "custody." In federal habeas statutes, the term "custody" was meant to reserve the writ of habeas corpus as a remedy for severe restraints on individual liberty. In order for a petitioner to be in "custody," the restraints on him or her must be (1) severe, (2) immediate, and (3) not shared by the public generally. Ross failed to meet the severity requirement because a $100 special assessment involved no physical restraint. Monetary penalties, without more, were not significant restraints on liberty as contemplated by the "custody" requirement in habeas corpus statutes. Here, even when a special assessment was imposed in conjunction with a wrongful conviction, Ross failed to meet the "custody" requirement of section 2255.
To read the full opinion, please visit http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/134447p.pdf

Panel (if known): Fisher, Jordan, and Shwartz, Circuit Judges.

Date of Argument: June 3, 2015

Date of Issued Opinion: September 15, 2015

Docket Number: No. 13-4447

Decided: District Court's order denying relief vacated, and District Court directed to dismiss Ross's section 2255 motion.

Case Alert Author: Sarah Adams

Counsel: Will W. Sachse, Esq., Katherine U. Davis, Esq., Ellen L. Mossman, Esq., John McClam (Law Student), counsel for Appellant; Emily McKillip, Esq., Floyd J. Miller, Esq., Robert A. Zauzmer, Esq., counsel for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Judge Jordan

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Mary E. Levy

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 09/23/2015 03:01 PM     3rd Circuit  

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