The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Wetzel-Sanders on Monday, November 16, 2015.
Laura Wetzel-Sanders pleaded guilty to bank robbery and was sentenced to 151 months’ imprisonment because she was deemed a career offender based on two prior convictions. She did not file a direct appeal but filed two motions for relief under § 2255. The first motion claimed a deteriorating mental condition and was dismissed as untimely and outside the scope of the court’s jurisdiction. She then filed a second § 2255 motion based on claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court deemed the motion successive and filed without authorization, and dismissed it for lack of jurisdiction. Wetzel-Sanders then petitioned the Tenth Circuit to file a second or successive § 2255 motion, which the circuit denied. She filed another petition to the Tenth Circuit, which was also denied.
She then filed the present petition, joined by the government, arguing that she was sentenced based on materially incorrect information, namely that one of her prior convictions should not count toward the career offender designation because her sentence was for less than a year. The parties based their argument on the Tenth Circuit decision in United States v. Brooks, 751 F.3d 1204 (10th Cir. 2014). The district court was not convinced that Brooks applied and denied the motion but granted a certificate of appealability.
The Tenth Circuit found it a stretch to say that the instant motion was not a second or successive motion, because the same relief was sought in Wetzel-Sanders’ previous § 2255 motions. Although in the joint motion the government “waived any procedural hurdles” to § 2255 relief, the Tenth Circuit found that jurisdiction is not waivable. In order to file a second or successive § 2255 motion, Wetzel-Sanders needed to show the existence of newly discovered evidence or a new rule of constitutional law, neither of which was present. The Tenth Circuit noted that the district court should have either dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction or transferred it to the Tenth Circuit, but should not have decided the motion. The Tenth Circuit therefore vacated the district court’s decision for lack of jurisdiction.
The Tenth Circuit dismissed the appeal and vacated the district court’s order.