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Media Alerts - United States v. Jones -- Fourth Circuit
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October 29, 2015
  United States v. Jones -- Fourth Circuit
Headline: Fourth Time's the Charm - The Fourth Circuit's Repeated Reminder to Consider 28 U.S.C. § 2255 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) Motions Separately

Areas of Law: Civil Procedure, Criminal Procedure

Issue Presented: Whether a post-judgment motion should be classified as a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion, a true Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) motion, or a hybrid of both.

Brief Summary: Dominique Alexander Jones filed a request for post-conviction relief in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. The district court dismissed Jones' 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion as successive but unauthorized, and dismissed Jones' separately filed Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) motion on the same basis. The Fourth Circuit briefly reviewed the filing process for each motion. The Fourth Circuit then dismissed in part and affirmed in part, finding the district court correctly classified Jones' claim as a § 2255 motion.

Extended Summary: A 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion is a pleading filed by a federal prisoner seeking to be released upon the ground that his or her sentence was either imposed in violation of the Constitution or some other law, that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law or is otherwise subject to collateral attack. Once an initial § 2255 motion has been filed, the law requires a federal prisoner to seek preauthorization from a federal circuit court before filing additional collateral attacks on his conviction or sentence. In order to be granted such authorization, a movant must prove either: (1) newly discovered evidence that would prevent a reasonable fact finder from concluding the movant is guilty, or (2) a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) establishes another form of post-judgment relief. Rule 60(b) motions afford a movant relief from a final judgment for six specific reasons: (1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; (2) newly discovered evidence that could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial; (3) fraud, misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party; (4) a void judgment; (5) a satisfied, released, discharged, reversed, or vacated judgment or a no-longer-equitable judgment; or (6) any other reason that justifies relief. A Rule 60(b) motion does not require preauthorization prior to filing.

When a movant presents a motion that has not been preauthorized, and that includes claims subject to both the requirements of a § 2255 successive habeas petition and a Rule 60(b) motion, it is considered a "mixed motion." Consistent with Fourth Circuit precedent, when a movant files a mixed motion, the district court must allow the movant the opportunity to elect between deleting the improper claims or having the entire motion treated as a successive application. In a series of cases, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found the lower court had not allowed for such an election by the federal inmate, and consequently remanded the cases for such action to be permitted. See, e.g., U.S. v. Ethridge, _Fed.Appx._, 2015 WL 4910487 (4th Cir. August 18, 2015); U.S. v. Coleman, 2015 WL 5472569 (4th Cir. September 18, 2015); U.S. v. Adionser, 2015 WL 5947659 (4th Cir. October 14, 2015).

The Fourth Circuit will not issue a certificate of appealability without a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right. In the instant case, the Fourth Circuit explained that when a district court denies relief on procedural grounds, the federal prisoner must demonstrate that: (1) the dispositive procedural ruling is debatable and, (2) the motion states a debatable claim of the denial of a constitutional right. The Fourth Circuit denied Jones' certificate of appealability because Jones did not demonstrate that the procedural ruling in his case was debatable and therefore dismissed this portion of Jones' appeal.

However, the Fourth Circuit did note that it was in a position to decide whether Jones' post-judgment motion was a § 2255 motion, a Rule 60(b) motion, or a hybrid of the two. A district court must treat a Rule 60(b) motion as a successive collateral review application when failing to do so would create an excess or evasion of re-litigation. The Fourth Circuit distinguishes between a proper motion for reconsideration and a successive application by explaining " a motion directly attacking the prisoner's conviction or sentence will usually amount to a successive application, while a motion seeking a remedy for some defect in the collateral review process will generally be deemed a proper motion to reconsider." United States v. Winestock, 340 F.3d 200, 207 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Calderon v. Thompson, 523 U.S. 538 (1998)). Unlike the above-mentioned prior cases, the Fourth Circuit in Jones' case determined that the district court was correct in deciding Jones' motion as a proper and successive § 2255 motion because Jones attacked his conviction without attempting to remedy some defect in the collateral review process.

To read the full text of this opinion, please click here.

To read the full text of the cited opinions, please click Ethridge; Coleman; and Dixon.

Panel: Judges Neimeyer, King, and Gregory

Argument Date: 09/10/2015

Date of Issued Opinion: 09/23/2015

Docket Number: No. 15-6478

Decided: Dismissed in part; affirmed in part by unpublished Opinion.

Case Alert Author: Chaitra Gowda, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law

Counsel: Dominique Alexander Jones, Appellant Pro Se. Jennifer P. May-Parker, Assistant United States Attorney, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Per Curiam

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

Edited: 10/29/2015 at 01:48 PM by Renee Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 10/29/2015 01:33 PM     4th Circuit  

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