Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gilbert: Career Offender Status Can be a Non-existent offense

In Gilbert v. U.S., No. 09-12513 (June 21, 2010), the Court held that even though a defendant had filed a prior § 2255 challenge to career offender sentencing status, he was entitled to habeas relief based on his claim that his prior conviction for carrying a concealed weapon was no longer an offense that would qualify as a crime of violence, and that he therefore was wrongfully sentenced as a career offender.

At his original sentencing, Gilbert was categorized as a career offender, based in part on a prior conviction for carrying a concealed weapon. At the time, carrying a concealed weapon was a qualifying offense for career offender status. Years later, Begay was decided, and this offense no longer so qualified. However, in the interim, Gilbert had brought an (unsuccessful) § 2255 challenge to his sentence. Consequently, his second habeas challenge could succeed only if (1) his claim was based on a retroactively applicable Supreme Court decision, (2) circuit law squarely foreclosed Gilbert’s claim at the time he first brought it, and (3) Gilbert was convicted for a nonexistent offense. The government conceded the first two points.

The Court concluded that Gilbert was was in effect convicted for a nonexistent offense when he was sentenced as a career offender. The Court stated that Gilbert was in jail today because he was found guilty of the “‘offense’ of being a career offender.” Drawing a parallel to death sentencing cases, the Court found that Gilbert was “actually innocent” of the aggravating factor – violent prior felonies – that were the basis for his career offender sentence. The Court noted: “The animating principle underlying the writ of habeas corpus is fundamental fairness.”