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Kelvin J. Sanders v. F.J. Caraway

May 10, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Beryl A. Howell United States District Judge


In this habeas corpus action brought pro se, the Petitioner seeks issuance of the writ under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 or § 2254 "to vacate the July 2, 2009, JUDGMENT of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in Sanders v. United States, No. 05-CO-1580 . . . ." Pet., ECF No. 1, at 1 (capitalization in original). Because this Court is not a reviewing court, it cannot grant such relief. Rather, as discussed below, this Court's habeas jurisdiction over convictions entered by the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and reviewable by the D.C. Court of Appeals is limited to certain claims analyzed under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The Respondent, through counsel, has filed an opposition to the instant habeas petition, and the Petitioner has filed a reply. Upon consideration of the parties' submissions, the Court finds no basis for issuing the writ and, therefore, will deny the petition and dismiss this case.


The Petitioner is currently confined at the Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland, serving a Superior Court sentence of 61 years to life imprisonment for his 1994 convictions "on nineteen counts stemming from the violent robbery of a jewelry store" following a jury trial. Saunders v. U.S., 975 A.2d 165, 166 (D.C. 2009).*fn1 As recounted by the D.C. Court of Appeals in the Petitioner's direct appeal:

The government presented evidence showing that on the evening of September 27, 1993, Messrs. Sanders, Brooks, Robinson, and Donald Fletcher robbed the KNT jewelry store, located at 7608 Georgia Avenue, in the Northwest quadrant of the District of Columbia, and its occupants. Mr. Robinson remained outside while the other men entered the store which was then occupied by the owner, Ms. Kim Thi Nguyen, her husband Mr. Chanh Ngo, and their daughter-in-law, Ms. Thuy Nguyen. One of the women opened the security door for the three men, believing they were customers. The events that subsequently took place were recorded by the store's video monitoring system.

Following the admission of the three men into the store, the men asked to see some of the jewelry, including wedding rings. As Ms. T. Nguyen revealed the price of a ring, Mr. Ngo entered the display area. Mr. Brooks pointed a gun at him and pushed him to the ground. He then knocked Mr. Ngo unconscious by striking him with the gun. Another man grabbed Ms. K. Nguyen and shoved her to Mr. Brooks, who struck her with the gun, also knocking her unconscious. Ms. T. Nguyen maneuvered to help her family, and Mr. Brooks kicked her.

Mr. Fletcher jumped behind the counter, broke the display cases and removed the jewelry. As the men attempted to leave, Mr. Fletcher noticed Mr. Ngo crawling forward. Mr. Brooks shot him three times, and then hit the glass door with gunfire, allowing the men to flee.

The following week, all four men were arrested based upon evidence derived from the investigation of the store robbery. The police discovered Messrs. Sanders' and Brooks' palm prints at the store. Mr. Ngo identified a watch found at Mr. Brooks' girlfriend's apartment as one stolen from the store. Several lay witnesses identified the appellants from the store's surveillance videotape. In addition, Ms. Judy Gross testified that she saw the appellants divide up the stolen jewelry in her apartment.

Sanders v. U.S., 809 A.2d 584, 588-89 (D.C. 2002) (footnotes omitted). The court affirmed the Petitioner's convictions but remanded the case to the trial court for "resentencing to correct certain sentence enhancements [for prior convictions] which had been improperly imposed under D.C Code § 23-111." Sanders, 975 A.2d at 166; see also Sanders, 809 A.2d at 600-02 (discussing "The § 23-111 Issue"). On remand, the enhancement issue was rendered moot by the government's decision not to seek enhancements, but the Petitioner had also filed a motion to reduce his sentence under Rule 35(b) of the Superior Court Criminal Rules, which was granted. Sanders, 975 A.2d at 166-67.

The Superior Court reduced the Petitioner's initial prison sentence of 117 years to life to 61 years to life, a decision the D.C. Court of Appeals affirmed. Id. at 167. In affirming the resentencing decision, the court reasoned that "[b]ecause appellant has not shown that his new sentence is based on materially false or misleading evidence, no due process concerns arise . . . ." Id. at 168. The appellate court issued its mandate on July 27, 2009, and the Petitioner moved to recall the mandate on November 24, 2009. Pet. at 4. The Petitioner's motion was denied on December 10, 2009, and he filed this habeas action on November 22, 2010.


Unlike prisoners convicted in state courts or those convicted in a United States district court, "a District of Columbia prisoner has no recourse to a federal judicial forum unless [he shows that] the local remedy is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention." Garris v. Lindsay, 794 F.2d 722, 726 (D.C. Cir.), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 993 (1986) (internal footnote and quotation marks omitted); see Byrd v. Henderson, 119 F.3d 34, 37 (D.C. Cir. 1997) ("In order to collaterally attack his sentence in an Article III court a District of Columbia prisoner faces a hurdle that a federal prisoner does not."). It is established that challenges to a Superior Court judgment of conviction must be pursued in that court under D.C. Code § 23-110. See Blair-Bey v. Quick, 151 F.3d 1036, 1042-43 (D.C. Cir. 1998).

Under § 23-110, a District of Columbia prisoner may move to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence on grounds, among others, that "(1) the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution . . . [and] (2) the court was without jurisdiction to impose the sentence[.]" D.C. Code § 23-110(a). The statute further provides that [an] application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a prisoner who is authorized to apply for relief by motion pursuant to this section shall not be entertained by . . . any Federal . . . court if it appears . . . that the Superior Court has denied him relief, unless it also appears that the remedy by motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.

D.C. Code § 23-110(g). "Section 23-110(g)'s plain language makes clear that it only divests federal courts of jurisdiction to hear habeas petitions by prisoners who could have raised viable claims pursuant to section 23-110(a)." Williams v. Martinez, 586 F.3d 995, 998 (D.C. Cir. 2009). Because ยง 23-110 does not provide a remedy for claims of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, this Court may review a "federal habeas petition asserting ineffective assistance of appellate counsel after [the petitioner has] moved to recall the mandate in the D.C. Court of Appeals." Id. at 999. Since the Petitioner moved to recall the mandate affirming the Superior Court's resentencing order, ...

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