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Hood v. Washburn

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Winchester

May 2, 2019

JONATHON C. HOOD, Petitioner,
RUSSELL WASHBURN, Warden TTCC, and ROBERT BAGGETT, Franklin County Circuit Court Clerk, Respondents.


          Leon Jordan United States District Judge.

         Jonathon C. Hood (“Petitioner”), a state prisoner, filed this pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee [Doc. 1]. After Petitioner paid the $5.00 habeas filing fee [Doc. 6], the Middle District transferred his petition to this Court as the more appropriate venue to adjudicate a challenge to a Franklin County, Tennessee judgment [Doc. 9]. For the reasons below, the Court finds that it lacks jurisdiction over the case and will DISMISS the petition.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 26, 2007, pursuant to his guilty pleas, Petitioner was convicted in the Franklin County Circuit Court in No. 17294 of driving while intoxicated, 5th offense, was sentenced to 2 years and 6 months' incarceration, and was assessed a $3, 000.00 fine [Doc. 1 at 1].[1] Petitioner was set to serve one year in prison on the effective 5-year sentence imposed in both cases, with the remainder of the sentence on probation. Hood v. State, No. M2013-01655-CCA-R3-HC, 2014 WL 1831034, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. May 6, 2014), perm. app. den. (Tenn. 2014). Petitioner began to serve his sentence in April of 2007. Id. Petitioner did not pursue a direct appeal.

         On February 19, 2009, Petitioner filed in the trial court a motion to discharge the fine in No. 17295, on the basis that his sentence had expired. Hood v. State, No. M2009-00661-CCA-R3-PC, 2010 WL 3244877, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 18, 2010), perm. app. den. (Tenn. 2010). The trial court denied relief on March 5, 2009 [Doc. 1-15], and Petitioner appealed. Hood, 2010 WL 3244877, at *1. The appeal was dismissed because Petitioner had no appeal as of right from a denial of a motion to discharge fines and because the record was incomplete and could not support his assertion of error in the denial of his motion to discharge the fine. Id.

         In April or May of 2013, Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the state trial court in Nos. 17294 and 17295, in which he conceded that his prison sentence in No. 17294 was lawful but argued that his ongoing fines were illegal given the expired judgments and the concomitant lack of trial court jurisdiction [Doc. 1 at 5 and 21]. The petition was summarily dismissed and Petitioner appealed [Doc. 1 at 5]. Hood, 2014 WL 1831034, at *1.

         In his appeal, Petitioner maintained “that when his sentences expired, his judgments became void and, thus, that his having to continue to pay fines is an impermissible restraint on his liberty.” Id., 2014 WL 1831034, at *1. The state appellate court declined to grant relief, reasoning that Petitioner was not imprisoned on the cases underlying his petition and that “habeas corpus relief is not available when a petitioner has been assessed a fine but is not incarcerated” because “[t]he assessment of a fine upon a defendant does not constitute imprisonment or restraint within the meaning of [the state habeas corpus statute].” Id., 2014 WL 1831034, at *1 (internal citations omitted). The state supreme court denied Petitioner's application for permission to appeal [Doc. 1 at 9]. Id., 2014 WL 1831034, at *1.

         Petitioner returned to the state trial court on January 1, 2018, to file a second petition for a writ of habeas corpus, in which he offered the same claims regarding his fines that he raised in his first state habeas corpus petition [Doc. 1 at 5]. Without holding an evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied his petition on the ground of res judicata, and the appellate court affirmed the trial court's ruling. Hood v. Baggett, No. M201800336CCAR3HC, 2018 WL 3752126, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 7, 2018). Petitioner did not file an application for permission to appeal to the state supreme court [Doc. 1 at 6].

         According to Attachment 1-13, Petitioner filed a third motion for a sentence reduction on February 7, 2019, again seeking to set aside the fines assessed in April of 2007 in Nos. 17294 and 17295 [Doc. 1-13 at 2]. On March 5, 2019, the trial court entered an order denying Petitioner's motion, acknowledging that a sentence reduction was available under a state procedural rule if a motion for such is filed within 120 days of the judgment but explaining that the judgment in Petitioner's cases were entered in 2007 [Doc. 1-15]. On April 9, 2019, Petitioner filed this instant § 2254 petition [Doc. 1].


         A. “In custody” Requirement

         Federal courts are authorized to “entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). The Sixth Circuit has instructed that “federal courts have a duty to consider their subject matter jurisdiction in regard to every case and may raise the issue sua sponte.” Answers in Genesis of Kentucky, Inc. v. Creation Ministries Int'l, Ltd., 556 F.3d 459, 465 (6th Cir. 2009). The Court does so here.

         The “in custody” term in § 2254(a) has been interpreted as a requirement that the habeas petitioner be ‘“in custody' under the conviction or sentence under attack at the time his petition is filed.” Maleng v. Cook, 490 U.S. 488, 490-91 (1989) (per curiam). Thus, where a conviction has been fully served, a habeas petitioner is no longer “in custody” under that conviction, and a federal court lacks jurisdiction to set aside the conviction on the ground that the conviction was obtained in violation of the United States Constitution. Maleng, 490 U.S. at 492. After a conviction has completely expired, the collateral consequences of such a conviction are not enough to render the petitioner “in custody” under § 2254(a). Id.

         Tellingly, Petitioner does not challenge his conviction for DUI, 5th offense; instead, he challenges, as a “Sentencing Defect, ” the fine levied in the judgment of conviction-a fine that he claims is “being actively proscecuted [sic] for collection” [Doc. 1 at 14]. In effect, Petitioner is arguing that, when his sentences expired, the fines assessed as part of those sentences also expired [Id. at 7 (alleging that “[h]is term of imprisonment is satisfied and his sentence/punishment/fine is supposed to be expired too”)]. Petitioner is further arguing, as the Court interprets it, that because those fines were part of his punishment ...

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