Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Bryant: Savings Clause allows post Begay challenge to sentence

In Bryant v. Warden, No. 12-11212 (Dec. 24, 2013) (2-1, Martin, J. partially dissenting), the Court held that a federal inmate serving a 235-month sentence for a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), and who had previously filed a § 2255 motion to vacate his sentence, was entitled to challenge his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, based on the “savings clause” of § 2255(e). The Court noted that Bryant had not defaulted his claim, even though he failed to raise it on direct appeal or in his § 2255 motion, because the government had waived the procedural default argument. In addition, the “savings clause” of § 2255(e) applies regardless of whether a federal prisoner has failed to apply for § 2255 relief. The Court cited dicta in its precedent where it recognized that a claim might qualify under the § 2255(e) “savings clause” if the error at issue resulted in a higher statutory maximum sentence. The Court emphasized that prior to Begay and its Eleventh Circuit progeny, Eleventh Circuit precedent foreclosed any potential claim that a prior concealed-firearm conviction under Fla. Stat. § 790.01 was a “violent felony” under § 924(e). Begay had a “Circuit-busting effect.” It meant that offenders in Bryant’s position could now successfully challenge reliance on prior § 790.01 convictions for sentence enhancement purposes under § 924(e). This result was unaffected by post-Begay Supreme Court caselaw (Sykes), because the concealed-firearm offense was a strict liability offense. Begay applies retroactively, because it affects the maximum punishment that the law can impose. The Court held that a claim that a sentence exceeds the statutory maximum may be brought, in these circumstances, under the “savings clause.” Savings clause claims are not limited to “actual innocence” claims. The Court rejected the government’s argument that even if Bryant’s prior concealed firearm conviction did not qualify as a prior conviction under § 924(e), the government could obtain the same sentence at resentencing by relying on a prior burglary conviction upon which it had not relied at the original sentencing. The Court therefore instructed the district court to grant Bryant a sentence reduction from 235-months to 120-months. [Partially dissenting, Judge Martin read the savings clause more broadly].