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Crafton v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

October 31, 2019




         On September 6, 2019, the Petitioner, Joel Dennis Crafton, filed a pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence (the “Petition”), pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (Docket Entry (“D.E.”) 1.)[1] The Petition is before the Court for preliminary review.[2] For the following reasons, it is DISMISSED as untimely.

         In most cases, a federal criminal defendant is limited to a collateral attack filed within one year of the date his conviction became final. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(1). Generally, “a conviction becomes final for purposes of collateral attack at the conclusion of direct review.” United States v. Cottage, 307 F.3d 494, 498 (6th Cir. 2002). When a defendant does not take a direct appeal, his conviction becomes final when the time for filing an appeal expires. Sanchez-Castellano v. United States, 358 F.3d 424, 427 (6th Cir. 2004). The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure provide, in pertinent part, that “a [criminal] defendant's notice of appeal must be filed in the district court within 14 days after . . . the entry of . . . the judgment or the order being appealed . . . .” Fed. R. App. P. 4(b)(1)(A)(i).

         The one-year statute of limitations is not a jurisdictional bar and is subject to equitable tolling. Jones v. United States, 689 F.3d 621, 626-27 (6th Cir. 2012); Pough v. United States, 442 F.3d 959, 965 (6th Cir. 2006). Equitable tolling requires a petitioner to show that (1) “he has been pursuing his rights diligently” and (2) “some extraordinary circumstance stood in his way and prevented timely filing.” Jones, 689 F.3d at 627.

         Crafton pleaded guilty on December 19, 2014, in the Western District of Tennessee to being a felon in possession of ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). (United States v. Crafton, No. 1:14-cr-10081-JDB-1 (“No. 14-cr-10081”), D.E. 29, 38.) On May 18, 2015, he was sentenced to seventy months' incarceration and two years of supervised release. (Id., D.E. 36.) The judgment of conviction was entered the same day. (Id. D.E. 38.) Because no direct appeal was taken, the judgment became final fourteen days later on Monday, June 1, 2015. One year from that date was Wednesday June 1, 2016. Consequently, the Petition, which was filed at the time the inmate signed and placed it into the prison mailing system on September 1, 2019 (see D.E. 1 at PageID 13), is untimely by more than three years.

         The inmate acknowledges that he filed the Petition after the limitations period expired but insists that he is entitled to equitable tolling. Specifically, he alleges as follows:

The defendant is currently housed at the United States Penitentiary McCreary; P.O. Box 3000 Pine Knot, KY, 42635[.] Upon being house[d] at this prison it has been on lockdown and failed to provide defendant with access to the law library in which caused part of the delay of filing this motion before the Court[.] The defendant has had medical issues all through his state [and] federal incarceration and has been housed at the medical facility in Lexington, Kentucky as well. The medical issues consist of head trauma, such as swelling on the brain, loss of eyesight in his left eye, hearing loss, surgery to right elbow, etc. The medical issues ha[ve] caused the defendant to be transferred back and forth between these institutions and the defendant has also been taken to outside hospitals due to his medical issues. Because of these issues set forth, the defendant pray[s] the Court to accept his motion before the Court.

(Id. at PageID 12 (altered to eliminate irregular capitalization).)

         Court records belie Crafton's allegations, however. First, any lockdown that may have occurred at United States Penitentiary (“USP”) McCreary could not have stood as an obstacle to the filing of the Petition prior to the expiration of the limitations period on June 1, 2016. On September 26, 2016, the Court received a letter from Crafton in his criminal case dated September 20, 2016, in which he stated, “I'm writing to inform the Court of my change of address. I would have sent it sooner, however I've been in transit for the past few weeks.” (No. 14-cr-10081, D.E. 40 at PageID 87.) The letter listed the “New Address” as USP McCreary. (Id.) Accordingly, it appears that Crafton was not transferred to USP McCreary until a few months after the limitations period expired.

         Secondly, even if the Court were to assume that, prior to and after June 1, 2016, Petitioner experienced limited access to the prison library and multiple medical issues, those circumstances did not prevent him from submitting documents to the Court. On May 27, 2015, a mere nine days after entry of judgment in his criminal case, the inmate filed a civil complaint in the Western District of Tennessee, charging the Benton County, Tennessee, Sheriff's Department and medical personnel at the county jail with failing to adequately address his medical needs during his detention in that facility in August 2014. (Crafton v. Benton Cty, No. 1:15-cv-01131-JDT-cgc (W.D. Tenn.), D.E. 1.) Petitioner thereafter actively litigated that case pro se until January 11, 2018, when a stipulation of dismissal was entered. (Id., D.E. 63.) His filings included a motion dated December 22, 2016, “[r]equesting [an] extension of time to complete discovery request” (id., D.E. 41), a six-page legal argument filed May 4, 2017, objecting to the defendants' motion to compel discovery (id., D.E. 47), and a document filed September 13, 2017, entitled “Plaintiff's Consolidated Motions for an Enlargement of Time to Respond to Defendant's Motion Under Seal and Motion to Unseal the Dispositive Motion and Be Provided with Such Motion and Records” (id., D.E. 58). In his criminal case, Crafton not only submitted the notification of change of address in September 2016, he also filed letters in September and November of 2018. (No. 14-cr-10081, D.E. 43-44.)

         The records also evidence Crafton's lack of diligence in filing his Petition. Despite his ability to prepare and file numerous legal documents with the Court over the last several years, Petitioner did not ask the Clerk for copies of his plea agreement and other documents in preparation of the Petition until August 2019, when he filed a letter in his criminal case. (Id., D.E. 45.)

         Because the records wholly undermine any notion that Petitioner was prevented from timely filing his Petition or that he diligently pursued his § 2255 rights, he is not entitled to equitable tolling. The Petition is therefore DISMISSED.


         A § 2255 petitioner may not proceed on appeal unless a district or circuit judge issues a certificate of appealability (“COA”). 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(1); Fed. R. App. P. 22(b)(1). A COA may issue only if the petitioner has made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right. 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2)-(3). A substantial showing is made when the petitioner demonstrates that “reasonable jurists could debate whether (or, for that matter, agree that) the petition should have been resolved in a different manner or that the issues presented were ‘adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further.'” Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 336 (2003) (quoting Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000)). “If the petition was denied on procedural grounds, the petitioner must show, ‘at least, that jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the petition states a valid claim of the denial of a ...

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