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ACCA-enhanced Sentence – Saving-Clause

7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Case Name: Dean Guenther v. Matthew Marske, Warden,

Case No.: 17-3409

Officials: SYKES, Chief Judge, and WOOD and BRENNAN, Circuit Judges.

Focus: ACCA-enhanced Sentence – Saving-Clause

In 2005 Dean Guenther was convicted of a federal firearms crime in Minnesota and was sentenced as an armed career criminal based in part on his prior Minnesota burglary convictions. His direct appeal failed in the Eighth Circuit, as did his petition for collateral review under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. He is currently serving his lengthy sentence in a federal prison in Wisconsin. In 2017 Guenther sought habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 in the Western District of Wisconsin. Relying on Mathis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2243 (2016), and United States v. McArthur, 850 F.3d 925 (8th Cir. 2017), he argued that his sentence is unlawful because his Minnesota burglary convictions are not “violent felonies” under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). The district judge denied the petition.

We reverse. A § 2255 motion in the sentencing court is normally the exclusive method to collaterally attack a federal sentence, but the “saving clause” in § 2255(e) provides a limited exception. The clause permits a prisoner to seek § 2241 habeas relief in the district where he is confined if “the remedy by motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.” § 2255(e). We have construed the saving clause to preserve a path for § 2241 relief in a narrow set of circumstances—namely, when the prisoner relies on an intervening statutory decision announcing a new, retroactive rule that could not have been invoked in his first § 2255 motion and the error is serious enough to amount to a miscarriage of justice. See Chazen v. Marske, 938 F.3d 851, 856 (7th Cir. 2019) (synthesizing the doctrine).

In Chazen we held the government to the position it took in the district court and applied the law of this circuit. Id. at 860–63. We follow the same approach here. Under Van Cannon, Guenther’s Minnesota burglary convictions are not ACCA predicates. We remand with instructions to grant the habeas petition.

Reversed and remanded

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Derek A Hawkins is Associate Corporate Counsel, IP at Amazon.

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