Taylor v. United States of America (INMATE 3)
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION. Signed by Judge L Scott Coogler on 8/2/2022. (MEB2)
2022 Aug-02 AM 09:36
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
TRACEY DION TAYLOR,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, Tracey Dion Taylor (“Taylor” or
“Petitioner”), has filed with the Clerk of this Court, a motion to vacate, set aside, or
correct his sentence of 30 months. 1 (Doc. 1.) For the reasons set forth below,
Taylor’s motion should be denied, and this action dismissed without an evidentiary
Taylor originally filed his motion with the Middle District of Alabama as a petition for a writ of
habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. The substance of his claim, however, attacks the validity
of his conviction and sentence, and the Middle District, pursuant to the authority of United States
v. Jordan, 915 F.2d 622, 624-25, (11th Cir. 1990), converted the claim to a motion to vacate, set
aside, or correct sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 and transferred the case to the Northern District
of Alabama, where he entered a plea of guilty and was sentenced.
A. Trial and Sentencing
Petitioner, Tracey Dion Taylor, was charged as the only defendant in a one
count indictment filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District
of Alabama on September 27, 2017. (Cr. Doc. 1-1.) 2 Taylor was charged with one
count: possession of unregistered firearms – namely, a silencer and a machine gun –
in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d). Taylor entered a guilty plea on October 31, 2018.
(Cr. Doc 21.)
On March 1, 2019, this Court entered judgment and sentenced Taylor to a
total term of 30 months in prison. (Cr. Doc. 25.) He did not appeal.
B. Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus
On July 10, 2019, while incarcerated at Maxwell Federal Prison Camp in
Montgomery, Taylor filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2241(a) in the United States District Court for the Middle District of
Alabama. (Doc. 1; Doc. 2.) In his petition, Taylor challenged the legality of his
conviction and sentence, and made three overarching claims: (1) the United States
District Court for the Northern District of Alabama lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate
“Cr. Doc.” refers to an entry on the docket sheet in the underlying criminal case, No. 6:17-cr00433-LSC-JHE-1.
his charge of possessing an unregistered firearm; (2) his indictment was void because
it was presented to a grand jury without a formal complaint; and (3) the Government
failed to allege or prove any injury in fact to the United States government by way of
federally prohibited conduct. (Doc. 1)
C. 28 U.S.C. § 2255 Proceedings
The Middle District of Alabama responded to Taylor’s petition by issuing two
Orders in July 2019. Between the two Orders, the Middle District, pursuant to the
authority of United States v. Jordan, 915 F.2d 622, 624-25, (11th Cir. 1990),
recharacterized Taylor’s habeas corpus petition as a request to vacate, set aside, or
correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (Doc. 2; Doc. 4.) The Supreme Court
has held that a district court may recharacterize a pro se litigant’s motion as a first §
2255 motion if it (1) informs the litigant of its intent to do so; (2) warns the litigant
that this recharacterization means that any subsequent § 2255 motion will be subject
to the restrictions on second or successive motions; and (3) provides the litigant the
opportunity to withdraw the motion or to amend it so that it contains all the § 2255
claims he believes he has. Castro v. United States, 540 U.S. 375, 376 (2003). The
Middle District of Alabama complied with all of these requirements in its Orders
issued on July 18, 2019, and July 31, 2019, and directed Taylor to advise the court of
whether he intended to proceed with his stated claims under § 2255, amend the
claims, or withdraw them by August 9, 2019. (Doc. 2; Doc. 4.) Taylor did not comply
with this directive and instead filed an objection to the recharacterization and a
motion for declaratory judgment (Doc. 3; Doc. 6), both of which the Middle District
of Alabama rejected (Doc. 7; Doc. 10). The Middle District transferred the case to
the Northern District of Alabama on September 20, 2019. (Doc 10.)
Timeliness and Non-Successiveness of the § 2255 Motion
A petitioner challenging their sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is subject to a
“1-year period of limitation” which “shall run from the latest of” four possible
starting points. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f). Three of these options are plainly inapplicable
in this case: there was no government action preventing Taylor’s motion, Id. at §
2255(f)(2), the Supreme Court is not involved, Id. at § 2255(f)(3), and Taylor knew
and affirmed the facts of the case before his sentencing, Id. at § 2255(f)(4). The only
remaining option is the most likely to have prevented Taylor’s petition, but it is also
inapplicable because he did indeed file his petition within a year of “the date on
which the judgment of conviction [became] final.” Id. at § 2255(f)(1). The Northern
District of Alabama entered judgment against Taylor on March 1, 2019. (Cr. Doc.
25.) He did not appeal, and his conviction therefore became final at “the conclusion
of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review.” Kaufman v.
United States, 282 F.3d 1336, 1339 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting Baskin v. United States,
998 F. Supp. 188, 189 (D. Conn. 1998)). Taylor filed his petition for a writ of habeas
corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2242 in the Middle District of Alabama on July 10, 2019.
(Doc. 1.) In its Order of July 31, 2019, the Middle District ordered Taylor to alert the
court of his desire to (1) proceed under § 2255, (2) amend the claim, or (3) withdraw
the claim. (Doc. 4.) In this Order, the Court cautioned Taylor that if he did not file
such a response before August 9, 2019, the “cause shall proceed as an action under
28 U.S.C. § 2255.” (Doc. 4.) Taylor did not comply with this Order, and the
conversion to a § 2255 claim therefore became effective on the expiration of the
allotted time. The Middle District of Alabama adopted this course of action on
September 20, 2019, in the same order in which it transferred the case to the
Northern District of Alabama. (Doc. 10.) Because September 20, 2019, is within a
year of when his conviction became final on March 1, 2019, the 28 U.S.C § 2255
petition is properly filed in a timely manner and not subject to the one-year bar. 28
U.S.C § 2255(f)(1).
Furthermore, this is Taylor’s first 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion, so it is not
“second or successive” within the meaning of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective
Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). See id. at §§ 2255(h), 2244(b)(3)(A).
Standard of Review
The Supreme Court has “used the term ‘collateral’ to describe proceedings
under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.” Wall v. Kholi, 562 U.S. 545, 552 (2011). Collateral review
“means a form of review that is not part of the direct appeal process.” Id. (emphasis
added) A direct appeal is “a proceeding undertaken to have a decision reconsidered
by a higher authority,” Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2011) (emphasis added), and
this court is not a higher authority than the Middle District of Alabama. 28 U.S.C. §
81. Because “collateral review is not a substitute for direct appeal,” Lynn v. United
States, 365 F.3d 1225, 1232 (11th Cir. 2004), the grounds for collateral attack on a
final judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 are limited: a petitioner is entitled to
relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 if the court imposed a sentence that (1) violated the
Constitution or laws of the United States, (2) exceeded its jurisdiction, (3) exceeded
the maximum authorized by law, or (4) is otherwise subject to collateral attack. See
28 U.S.C. § 2255; United States v. Phillips, 225 F.3d 1198, 1199 (11th Cir. 2000);
United States v. Walker, 198 F.3d 811, 813 n.5 (11th Cir. 1999). “Relief under 28
U.S.C. § 2255 ‘is reserved for transgressions of constitutional rights and for that
narrow compass of other injury that could not have been raised in direct appeal and
would, if condoned, result in a complete miscarriage of justice.’” Lynn, 365 F.3d at
1232 (quoting Richards v. United States, 837 F.2d 965, 966 (11th Cir. 1988)).
In litigation stemming from a § 2255 motion, “[a] hearing is not required on
patently frivolous claims or those which are based upon unsupported
generalizations. Nor is a hearing required where the [movant’s] allegations are
affirmatively contradicted by the record.” Holmes v. United States, 876 F.2d 1545,
1553 (11th Cir. 1989) (quoting Guerra v. United States, 588 F.2d 519, 520-21 (5th Cir.
1979)). However, a court may appropriately conduct an evidentiary hearing if,
“accept[ing] all of the [movant’s] alleged facts as true,” the movant has “allege[d]
facts which, if proven, would entitle him to relief.” Diaz v. United States, 930 F.2d
832, 834 (11th Cir. 1991) (quoting Agan v. Dugger, 835 F.2d 1337, 1338 (11th Cir.
1987) and Futch v. Dugger, 874 F.2d 1483, 1485 (11th Cir. 1989)).
Taylor asserts three grounds for relief under 28 U.S.C § 2255: (1) his
indictment was void because it was presented to a grand jury without a formal
complaint; (2) the Government failed to allege or prove any injury in fact to the
United States government by way of federally prohibited conduct; and (3) the United
States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama lacked authority to
adjudicate his charge of possessing an unregistered firearm. These three claims are
without merit and are therefore due to be dismissed without an evidentiary hearing.
A. Taylor’s claims that his indictment is invalid are procedurally
In his first two claims, Taylor asserts that the indictment against him was
insufficient because it was presented to a grand jury without a formal complaint
having been filed and because the Government failed to allege or prove an injury
against the United States. (Doc. 1.) For the reasons set forth below, these claims are
due to be denied.
Petitioners are required to raise certain objections to an indictment before trial:
“The following … objections … must be raised by pretrial motion if the basis for the
motion is then reasonably available and the motion can be determined without a trial
on the merits: … an error in the grand jury proceedings … [and/or] … failure to state
an offense.” FED. R. CRIM. P. 12(b)(3)(A)(v); (B)(v) (emphasis added). The default
position is that a “challenge to a conviction or sentence … not made on direct appeal
… will be procedurally barred in a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 challenge.” Black v. United
States, 373 F.3d 1140, 1142 (11th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). Such challenges are
“untimely … even when [they] are on constitutional grounds.” Davis v. United
States, 411 U.S. 233, 238 (1973).
This procedural rule automatically bars Taylor’s challenges to his indictment
because he did not raise them until July 10, 2019, four months after his sentencing
and more than eight months after entering his guilty plea. (See Doc. 1; Cr. Doc. 21;
Cr. Doc. 25.)
There are two avenues by which a petitioner may circumvent this procedural
bar. First, they may overcome the default by showing both “cause” for the default
and “actual prejudice” from the asserted error. Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S.
614, 622 (1998) (citations omitted). A petitioner may demonstrate cause by showing
that “some objective factor external to his defense” impeded his ability to raise the
claim when he was required to do so. Lynn v. United States, 365 F.3d 1225, 1235 n.20
(11th Cir. 2004). To demonstrate prejudice, the petitioner must show that “errors
at trial actually and substantially disadvantaged his defense so that he was denied
fundamental fairness.” Wright v. Hopper, 169 F.3d 695, 706 (11th Cir. 1999) (citation
omitted). Second, a petitioner may sidestep the procedural bar in 28 U.S.C § 2255
by demonstrating that he is “actually innocent.” Bousley, 523 U.S. at 622. In Bousley,
the Supreme Court held that actual innocence “means factual innocence, not mere
legal insufficiency.” Id. at 623. However, in a case in which the petitioner has pled
guilty, the plea is “valid … to the extent it is ‘voluntary’ and ‘intelligent.’” Id. at 618
(quoting Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 748 (1970)). A plea is intelligent if the
defendant “first receives ‘real notice of the true nature of the charge against him.’”
Id. (quoting Smith v. O’Grady, 312 U.S. 329, 334 (1941)).
Neither of these options is available for Taylor. In his petition, he does not
make any reference whatsoever to a cause for failing to raise these objections when
he was required to do so or a prejudicial effect from the omission. (See Doc. 1.)
Furthermore, for Taylor to claim actual innocence, he would have to claim that he
did not knowingly possess an unregistered firearm, but when he entered his valid
guilty plea on October 31, 2018, he admitted under oath to doing just that. (Cr. Doc.
21 at 2-3.) Taylor signed a plea agreement in which he admitted in writing that he
had indeed sold a machine gun and silencer, neither of which was registered to him.
(Id.) Taylor signed his name and initials immediately below the factual basis set forth
in the plea agreement, agreeing that “the facts stated above are substantially correct
and that the Court can use these facts in calculating the defendant’s sentence.” (Id.
at 3.) The plea agreement also contained an appeal waiver with limited exceptions,
none of which applies here. (Id. at 5-6.) Taylor admitted these facts to be true, and
he has offered no evidence to the contrary in his § 2255 motion. (Id. at 2-3; see also
Doc. 1.) Ultimately, Taylor may not rely on either of the exceptions to the procedural
bar to raising these challenges after his trial.
Even if Taylor’s issues with his indictment were not barred procedurally, they
are substantively flawed. Taylor relies on three civil cases to make his point: Spokeo,
Inc. v. Robins, 578 U.S. 330 (2016), Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555 (1992),
and Burke v. Barnes, 479 U.S. 361 (1987), none of which have any bearing on the
merits of the indictment in this criminal case.
Taylor cites Spokeo for its reaffirmation of the basic legal principle that
“[i]njury in fact is a constitutional requirement,” Spokeo, 578 U.S. at 339, and a
“plaintiff must show that he or she suffered ‘an invasion of a legally protected
interest.’” Id. (quoting Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560). Taylor claims that “the prosecution
failed to allege (or prove) any evidence of ‘injury in fact’ to the United States, by way
of federally prohibited conduct(s).” (Doc. 1 at 3-4.) Taylor cites Lujan v. Defenders
of Wildlife for the proposition that the injured party “had to submit affidavits or other
evidence showing, through specific facts” in support of his or her claim. Lujan, 504
U.S. at 563. Finally, Taylor turns to Burke v. Barnes for its reminder that “the
Constitution requires that there be a live case or controversy at the time that a federal
court decides the case.” Burke, 479 U.S. at 363. His argument flows through these
civil cases thus: the United States did not allege that it had suffered any injury, it
produced zero evidence to even attempt to do so, and there was therefore no case or
controversy, meaning the court had no authority to adjudicate this non-issue. (See
Taylor has a basic misunderstanding of “the major difference” in civil and
criminal suits. Hutcheson v. United States, 369 U.S. 599, 634 (1962) (Warren, C.J.,
dissenting). He has accurately described the standing doctrine present in a civil suit,
but a criminal indictment is different. In the Eleventh Circuit, “an indictment is
sufficient if it tracks the language of the statute and provides a statement of facts that
gives notice of the offense to the accused.” United States v. McNair, 605 F.3d 1152,
1186 (11th Cir. 2010). Taylor’s indictment easily clears this bar: it charged him with
“knowingly possess[ing] a ‘firearm’ … that was not registered to him in the National
Firearms Registration and Transfer Record, in violation of Title 26, United States
Code, Section 5861(d).” (Doc. 1-1). As required, the indictment tracked the
language of 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d), which prohibits a person from “receiv[ing] or
possess[ing] a firearm which is not registered to him in the National Firearms
Registration and Transfer Record.” 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d). The indictment was
therefore valid and sufficient. The prosecution met its burden of securing a valid
indictment against Taylor, and his arguments to the contrary are due to be dismissed.
B. Taylor’s claim that the United States District Court for the
Northern District of Alabama lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate his
Taylor also claims that the “federal judicial powers [of the United States
District Court for the Northern District of Alabama] under Article III are NOT
AVAILABLE” (Doc. 1), i.e., that this Court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate this
case. Taylor reasons that since – as previously discussed – he believes the United
States failed to allege an injury, it lacked standing, and therefore this Court lacked
jurisdiction over his case. (See Doc. 1.) If the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction,
any judgment or sentence issuing therefrom is automatically void, but for the reasons
set forth below, Taylor’s claim fails.
“Subject-matter jurisdiction defines [a] court’s authority to hear a given type
of case.” United States v. Morton, 467 U.S. 822, 828 (1984). Fundamentally,
“[u]nder 18 U.S.C. § 3231, district courts have original jurisdiction over all offenses
against the laws of the United States.” United States v. Claudio, 499 F.App’x 865,
867 (11th Cir. 2012). As long as the indictment “charges the defendant with violating
a valid federal statute as enacted in the United States Code, it alleges an ‘offense
against the laws of the United States’ and, thereby invokes the district court’s
subject-matter jurisdiction.” United States v. Brown, 752 F.3d 1344, 1354 (11th Cir.
2014). Taylor’s indictment specifically charged him with violating 26 U.S.C. §
5861(d), a valid federal statute enacted in the United States Code. (Cr. Doc. 1.) Such
an indictment therefore satisfied the test established in Brown, and this Court
properly exercised jurisdiction in the case. Accordingly, Taylor’s claim is due to be
For the foregoing reasons, Taylor’s § 2255 motion to vacate, set aside, or
correct a sentence is due to be denied and this case dismissed with prejudice.
Rule 11 of the Rules governing § 2255 Proceedings requires the Court to issue
or deny a certificate of appealability when it enters a final order adverse to the
applicant. See Rule 11, Rules Governing § 2255 Proceedings. This Court may issue a
certificate of appealability “only if the applicant has made a substantial showing of
the denial of a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C. §2253(c)(2). To make such a
showing, a “petitioner must demonstrate that a reasonable jurist would find the
district court’s assessment of the constitutional debatable and wrong.” Slack v.
McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000), or that “the issues presented were adequate to
deserve to proceed further.” Miller-EL v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 336 (2003) (internal
quotations omitted). This Court finds that Davis’ claims do not satisfy either standard.
A separate order consistent with this opinion will be entered.
DONE and ORDERED on August 2, 2022.
L. Scott Coogler
United States District Judge
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