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Littlejohn v. United States

April 20, 2000


Before Reid and Glickman, Associate Judges, and Belson, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia

(Hon. Ellen Segal Huvelle, Motions Judge)

Argued March 20, 2000

In this case, appellant Billy D. Littlejohn asserts that the trial court imposed an illegal sentence on him in 1986, because of its failure to make a "no benefit" determination under the Federal Youth Corrections Act ("the FYCA" or "the Youth Act"), 18 U.S.C. § 5010 (d) *fn1 prior to sentencing. We affirm the conviction.


In 1985, Littlejohn, then twenty years of age, entered a plea of guilty to one count of carnal knowledge, in violation of D.C. Code § 22-2801 (1973), and one count of taking indecent liberties with a minor, in violation of § 22-3501 (a). Prior to his sentencing, the Honorable H. Carl Moultrie I, now deceased, ordered a study under the FYCA, 18 U.S.C. § 5010 (e) *fn2 to determine whether Littlejohn would benefit from treatment and supervision as a youth. In July 1986, however, after Chief Judge Moultrie's death, another judge sentenced Littlejohn as an adult to two terms of incarceration, but the sentences were suspended and he was placed on probation. *fn3

Subsequent to the revocation of his probation in 1988, Littlejohn filed seven pro se post-conviction relief motions in the trial court between the years 1989 and 1997. *fn4 For example, on July 10, 1996, he sent a "Motion to vacate illegal sentence" to the trial court. In that motion he argued that when he was placed on five years probation in 1985, he was sentenced under the Youth Act and was illegally re-sentenced as an adult in 1988 after his probation was revoked. He asserted that "Judge Scot[t] did not follow the Youth Act guidelines for Youth Act violators." The motions judge, the Honorable Ellen Segal Huvelle, denied Littlejohn's motion. After referencing his revocation of probation, Judge Huvelle stated:

Judge Scott imposed the original sentences of 5-15 years and 3-9 years to run consecutively.

In short, the sentences imposed were exactly the same as the original suspended sentences and defendant was not sentenced pursuant to the Youth Act, so there was no need for Judge Scott to apply Youth Act guidelines to the revocation of probation. There is thus no basis for any challenge to the legality of defendant's sentence.

Littlejohn's most recent collateral attack on his sentence occurred on August 12, 1997, when he filed a petition which the motions judge, again Judge Huvelle, construed as a "pro se habeas corpus petition pursuant to D.C. Code [] § 23-110 (1996)." Littlejohn stated, inter alia, that Judge Moultrie had sentenced him in 1985 to five years probation under the FYCA, and that his probation was revoked after "a technical violation." He complained that he was sentenced as an adult, rather than as a youth offender. As relief, he sought treatment as a youth offender under 18 U.S.C. § 5010 (b) or (c). *fn5 In essence, he argued that the trial court failed to make a "no benefit" determination. The government maintained that Littlejohn's "petition should be denied as a successive petition."

On April 8, 1998, Judge Huvelle denied Littlejohn's petition. She recognized that: "The [FYCA] requires that a sentencing court make a finding that a young defendant will not benefit from Youth Act treatment before sentencing him as an adult." However, she denied Littlejohn's petition on the grounds that it was "a successive claim for collateral relief" under § 23-110 (e), and constituted "an abuse of the writ because [Littlejohn] ha[d] already filed several prior § 23-110 motions without raising the 'no benefit' argument." Judge Huvelle also noted that Littlejohn had not been sentenced by Judge Moultrie in 1985, but that his sentencing had been continued several times until he was finally sentenced as an adult on July 22, 1986, by Judge Scott. Furthermore, Judge Huvelle stated in a footnote that:

Judge Scott's alleged failure to make a "no benefit" finding arguably goes to the manner in which the sentence was imposed, rather than to the legality of the sentence. Although it is contended that Judge Scott erred procedurally in failing to make a "no benefit" finding prior to sentencing defendant as an adult, it is not alleged that Judge Scott lacked jurisdiction to impose the sentence or that the sentence was in excess of the statutory maximum prescribed by the statute.

Judge Huvelle decided to address what appeared to be "[Littlejohn's] real challenge . . . [- -] Judge Scott's alleged failure to make a 'no benefit' finding at the time of sentencing (as opposed to at the probation revocation hearing) . . . ." In considering Littlejohn's challenge, Judge Huvelle cited Matos v. United States, 631 A.2d 28 (D.C. 1983) and concluded that he had not shown the required "cause for his failure to [raise the "no benefit" argument in prior collateral attacks on his sentence] and prejudice as a result of his failure." 631 A.2d at 30 (quoting Head v. United States, 489 A.2d 450, 451 (D.C. 1985) (citation omitted)). Therefore, she ...

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