Bell v. USA
Opinion and Order: This Section 2255 action is DISMISSED without prejudice. (Ordered by Judge Reed C. O'Connor on 9/12/2017) (skg)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
FORT WORTH DIVISION
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Civil No. 4:16-CV-1056-O
OPINION AND ORDER
Rodney Bell (“Movant”), a federal prisoner, filed a motion to vacate, set aside,
or correct his federal sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. He challenges his 2014
drug-trafficking conviction and 180-month prison sentence with a four-year term of
supervised release. The Court was recently notified that Movant has escaped from
federal prison and has accordingly been placed on escape status. The Court, therefore,
concludes that his § 2255 motion should be dismissed without prejudice.
Movant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute a controlled
substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. The Court sentenced to him to 180 months in prison to
be followed by four years of supervised release. After his direct appeal was dismissed as frivolous,
see United States v. Bell, 624 F. App’x 281, 282 (5th Cir. 2015), he filed this § 2255 motion. See
4:16-cv-1056-O, ECF No. 1.
On August 18, 2017, the Court ordered the government to respond to Movant’s § 2255
motion. See 4:16-cv-1056-O, ECF No. 35. However, on September 9, 2017, the Acting Warden of
the federal prison where Movant was an inmate notified the Court that Movant “had been placed on
escape status.” A review of the publicly available Inmate Locator Service likewise shows that
Movant escaped from federal prison on September 9, 2017.
Fugitive Disentitlement Doctrine
“The fugitive disentitlement doctrine limits a criminal defendant’s access to the judicial
system whose authority he evades.” Bagwell v. Dretke, 376 F.3d 408, 410 (5th Cir. 2004). The
doctrine derives from a court’s “inherent authority ‘to protect [its] proceedings and judgments in the
course of discharging [its] traditional responsibilities.’” Id. (quoting Degen v. United States, 517
U.S. 820, 823 (1996)). It is used by both district and appellate courts to enter judgment against a
fugitive defendant. Bagwell, 376 F.3d at 410. And it may be applied in federal habeas corpus cases
like this one. Id. at 412.
In considering whether to dismiss a fugitive defendant’s habeas motion, the Court must
consider whether the justifications underlying the fugitive disentitlement doctrine support dismissal.
Id. at 413. Specifically, the Court should consider: “1) the risk of delay or frustration in determining
the merits of the claim; 2) the unenforceability of the judgment; 3) the compromising of a criminal
case by the use of civil discovery mechanisms; 4) the indignity visited on the court; and 5)
As a threshold matter, there is a clear nexus between Movant escaping from federal prison
and this § 2255 motion, which challenges his federal criminal conviction and sentence. See Bagwell,
376 F.3d at 413 (noting that “there must be some nexus between the prisoner’s fugitive status and
the appeal before the distentitlement doctrine may properly be invoked.”). Moreover, each of the
relevant factors weigh heavily in favor of dismissal.1 First, because Movant escaped from federal
prison, he has risked delaying these habeas proceedings. It is unlikely that he could now comply
with Court-imposed deadlines or that he would appear for an evidentiary hearing, in the event that
one is warranted. E.g., Mathis v. Lane, No. 3:10-CV-663-J-12-JBT, 2010 WL 3834624, at * 2 n.3
(M.D. Fla. Sep. 29, 2010) (“The operation of the Petition most certainly would be delayed or
interrupted because the Petitioner is no longer in custody and he is frequently changing his
address.”). Second, and more fundamentally, Movant’s escape has rendered any habeas judgment
unenforceable. That is because Movant has already helped himself to the relief he seeks here. See
Taylor v. Egeler, 575 F.2d 773, 773 (6th Cir. 1978) (“The writ of habeas corpus requested by
appellant, and denied by the district court, would now serve no function beyond that achieved by
appellant without the assistance of the courts.”).
Third, Movant’s escape directly affronts the Court’s dignity and authority. The Court
sentenced Movant to federal prison for 180 months; less than 36 months later, he escaped. The final
factor–the deterrent effect of dismissing fugitives’ habeas motions–also weighs in favor of dismissal.
See, e.g., Taylor v. Holder, No. 0:12-986-JMC-PJG, 2013 WL 1315879, *2 (D.S.C. Mar. 8, 2013)
Taken together, the factors that underpin the rationale of the fugitive
disentitlement doctrine weigh in favor of dismissing Movant’s § 2255 motion.
This Section 2255 action is DISMISSED without prejudice.
The third factor–whether a criminal case would be compromised by the use of civil
discovery mechanisms–is inapplicable here. See Bagwell, 376 F.3d at 413 (“we recognize that
these traditional factors may apply differently in the habeas context.”).
SO ORDERED this 12th day of September, 2017.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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