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7th Circuit affirms man not entitled to habeas relief

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Although a federal judge erroneously held that a savings clause did not apply to a habeas petition filed by an inmate in Terre Haute, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal based on the merits of the petition.  

Augustus Light, who was convicted in Minnesota of one count of firearm possession by a felon in 2003, challenged his sentence enhancement based on the Armed Career Criminal Act. His presentence report outlined several convictions that qualified under the Act to justify enhancing his sentence from a range of 120 to 150 months to 235 to 293 months. When he was sentenced to 235 months, the judge did not specify which three convictions supported finding Light was an armed career criminal.

He filed a direct appeal and challenged the enhancement in a Section 2255 petition in Minnesota. His appeals failed in that state, so he filed a pro se habeas petition under Section 2241 in federal court in Indiana, where he is incarcerated. He relied on the “savings clause” of Section 2255(e) and argued that in light of Begay v. United States, 553 U.S. 137, 139, 143 (2008), he was entitled to a sentence reduction because one of his predicate ACCA convictions did not qualify as a “violent felony.”

Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson dismissed the petition on the grounds that relief under Section 2255 had been available to Light and had not been “inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention,” so he did not qualify for the savings clause.

The 7th Circuit, using a test outlined in In Re Davenport, 147 F.3d 605, 609 (7th Circ. 1998), found that Light did in fact qualify for the savings clause. That case allows for a Section 2241 challenge based on a new statutory interpretation by the U.S. Supreme Court as long as three conditions are satisfied.

The District Court never adjudicated Light’s Section 2241 claim on the merits, but the panel’s consideration of the merits in Augustus Light v. John F. Caraway, Warden, 13-1554, led it to conclude that Light is not eligible for relief.

“Through intervening changes in the law, one of his prior predicate offenses for the ACCA enhancement no longer qualifies,” Judge John Tinder wrote, referring to the conviction of vehicular operation. “… but one that was not previously a qualifying predicate offense has become eligible. The net change is zero. Light is still eligible for the ACCA enhancement.”

Light was convicted of felony fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle, which under Sykes v. United States, 131 S. Ct. 2267, 2270 (2011), is now considered a violent felony as the term is used by the ACCA.
 

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