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Daniels v. Dowling

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

January 8, 2018

JANET DOWLING, Warden, Respondent.



         Petitioner, a state prisoner appearing pro se, [1] filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2241 petition for writ of habeas corpus (Doc. 1) on April 3, 2017, and filed an amended petition on April 21, 2017 (Doc. 5).[2]Before the Court is Respondent's motion to dismiss the amended petition (Doc. 8). For the reasons discussed below, the amended petition for writ of habeas corpus shall be denied, and Respondent's motion to dismiss shall be declared moot.


         Petitioner is currently serving a life sentence entered in Oklahoma County District Court, No. CF-1988-3965 following his conviction of first degree murder.[3] Doc 5 at 1-2, 10. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence in a decision filed on June 1, 1994. Id. at 2, 10-14. On June 16, 2016, Petitioner filed a third application for state post-conviction relief, asking the state district court to “‘correct[] the judgment and sentencing order to specify that the number of years for the life sentence in his case is between 18 and 45 years or modify the sentence to time served.'” Id. at 10-11. The state district court denied relief on December 2, 2016, Petitioner filed a post-conviction appeal, and the OCCA affirmed the denial of relief on March 23, 2017.[4] Id. at 2-3, 10-14. In denying relief, the OCCA noted Petitioner's “multiple references to parole eligibility laws” and reasoned that Petitioner failed to “demonstrate[] how laws or regulations assigning a term of years to a life sentence for purposes of calculating parole eligibility have somehow caused his particular life sentence to become illegitimate or a violation of due process.” Id. at 12. The OCCA further stated that “[a]bsent a prisoner receiving a commutation, a life sentence simply cannot be discharged during a prisoner's lifetime.” Id.

         In his amended petition, Petitioner alleges that his custody is unlawful on two grounds and he provides the following supporting facts:

Ground One: Petitioner's sentence in CRF-88-3965 exceeds the maximum sentence authorized and has been discharged. Petitioner's sentence was defined by the state legislature in 1997 as between 18 and 60 years. Petitioner has served over 60 calendar years with his earned credits deducted. Therefore, the state's refusal to comply with this, voids sentence. In Oklahoma, all life sentences were 45 years, and could be discharged in twenty-two and one-half years before 1997, whereas after 1997 its [sic] discharged in 38 years, minus credits. Since 1997 all Oklahoma courts have set 38 years as 85% of a life sentence for parole purposes, thereby setting 45 years as life to discharge them. Definitions cannot be repealed, and in the 1997 truth in sentencing matrix, 57 O.S. § 332.7(A), it specifically states that the definition of life, is not part of the truth in sentencing act, but is used in the classification, and scheduling of crimes under the act. Under the sentencing scheme Petitioner was sentenced under gave him a right to have his credits deducted from his life sentence, when a court or legislature defined life as a number of years. In 1997 the legislature did define 18 to 60 years as life. It's a non-discretionary legislative mandate, and the state trial court's non-discretionary duty was to specify the number of years for this cases's life sentence, based on the facts and circumstance of this case. With credit deductions, Petitioner has discharged his sentence. On May 27, 1994, Oklahoma Governor Walters signed House Bill 1249, into law, creating a non-discretionary duty upon all state courts to retroactively place all prisoners sentenced before 1997, under the 1997 truth in sentencing matrix, and it took immediate emergency effect upon the Governors 1997 signature. The repeal of a statute shall not revive a statute previously repealed, and accrued, vested rights can in no way be denied after a statute is repealed. Pre-1997 parts of a sentence, even if repealed, must still be applied when it benefits a prisoner. Thus, the state court decision was contrary to clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court, because it decided Petitioner's case differently than [the Supreme Court] has done on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. The state court decision was not supported by the record.
Ground Two: The State's denial of post-conviction relief violated Petitioner's rights under the equal protection clause.
Similarly situated inmates have been intentionally treated differently by the State, and there is no rational relation between the dissimilar treatment and any legitimate penal interest. The State granted post-conviction relief to a white prisoner on April 14, 2016, but Petitioner who is black, was denied relief on December 2, 2016. Like the white prisoner, Petitioner's post-conviction relief application alleged the identical claims, i.e., that Petitioner's sentence exceeds the maximum sentence authorized by law and has been discharged. (See Ground One above). In fact, Petitioner simply took the white prisoner's post-conviction relief application and removed his name from it and copied the text word-for-word and sent it to the court with Petitioner's name on it. There was no legitimate penal interest for denying Petitioner post-conviction relief. Although the white prisoner was convicted in 1972 while Petitioner was convicted in 1990, the claim for relief in both cases involved pre-1997 life sentences. Loyd Kennedy, a white prisoner, was granted post-conviction relief on this claim on April 14, 2016, in Sequoyah County No. CRF-72-187, while Petitioner, who is black, was denied post-conviction relief on the identical claim on December 2, 2016. The constitution prohibits the State from discrimination on the basis of a person's race.

Id. at 3-5 (footnote omitted). In response to the amended petition, Respondent filed a motion dismiss (Doc. 8). Petitioner filed a response to the motion to dismiss (Doc. 10).


         Respondent moves to dismiss the amended petition for three reasons: (1) Petitioner failed to exhaust administrative remedies as to his claim that he has discharged his sentence, (2) the petition is time barred as to that claim because Petitioner relies on 1997 state legislation to support that claim, and (3) Petitioner has not completed his life sentence. Doc. 8 at 3-7.[5] As to Petitioner's equal protection claim, Respondent contends that Petitioner misreads the order issued by the Sequoyah County District Court and argues that the order does not support Petitioner's claim. Id. at 7-8.

         A. Sentencing claim (Ground One).

         In Ground One of his amended petition, Petitioner claims that his “sentence in CRF-88-3965 exceeds the maximum sentence authorized and has been discharged.” Doc. 5 at 3. Respondent first argues that Petitioner failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to this claim. Doc. 8 at 3-4. In response, Petitioner asserts that he was not required to exhaust administrative remedies because his petition “does not contain any allegations challenging the manner in which petitioner's sentence is being administered by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.” Doc. 10 at 4. Rather, according to Petitioner, his petition “merely raises issues regarding interpretation and application of state law.” Id.

         Petitioner brings this action under § 2241 which, under Tenth Circuit precedent, is the appropriate procedural vehicle to “attack[] the execution of a sentence rather than its validity.” Leatherwood v. Allbaugh, 861 F.3d 1034, 1041 (10th Cir. 2017); see also McIntosh v. U.S. Parole Comm'n, 115 F.3d 809, 811 (10th Cir. 1997) (explaining that “[p]etitions under § 2241 are used to attack the execution of a sentence” whereas petitions under § 2254 “are used to collaterally attack the validity of a conviction and sentence”). As Respondent argues, “[a] habeas petitioner is ‘generally required to exhaust state remedies whether his action is brought under § 2241 or § 2254.'” Hamm v. Saffle, 300 F.3d 1213, 1216 (10th Cir. 2001) (quoting Montez v. McKinna, 208 F.3d 862, 866 (10th Cir. 2000)); see also 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254(b)(1)(A) ...

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