Finally, a 2241 Remedy:  Eleventh Circuit decides Bryant v. Warden

Christmas came a day early for anyone whose enhancement would not have been legal under Begay.

On December 24, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit decided Bryant v. Warden, FCC Coleman. Mr. Bryant had challenged his enhanced sentence on the basis that his state-court coviction for illegally carrying a concealed firearm was not a violent felony for the purposes of 18 U.S.C. S 924(e). Until the Supreme Court decided Begay v. United States1 in 2008, the Eleventh Circuit’s controlling precedent foreclosed Mr. Bryant’s claim. At that point, due to the age of his federal conviction, and the fact that he had already filed a postconviction motion, Mr. Bryant could not proceed under 28 U.S.C. S 2255. He therefore invoked 28 U.S.C. 2241, arguing that Section 2255 was not adequate to test his continued detention. Reversing the district court, the Eleventh Circuit held that Mr. Bryant’s claims could proceed, and granted relief.

Although its holding is limited to sentences over the statutory maximum and does not extend to Guidelines error, the Eleventh Circuit’s decision is important because the circuits have split on whether Section 2241 is available to challenge a sentence, or is limited to convictions for acts that are no longer criminal. However, because Section 2241 convictions are filed in the district of incarceration (rather than the district of conviction), Bryant’s availability depends on whether the defendant is incarcerated in Florida, Georgia, or Alabama.

Bottom line:  if you're in the Eleventh Circuit, and an enhancement would not be legal under Begay but controlling circuit precedent before Begay established that the enhancement applied, you need to file a 2241.

UPDATE:  My article on this topic from the BNA/Bloomberg Criminal Law Reporter is available here.

© Gray Proctor 2016