Lester v. Flournoy, No. 13-6956 (4th Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
In 2004, after pleading guilty to selling crack cocaine to a government informant, Lester was sentenced to almost 22 years in prison because he was designated a career offender under the then-mandatory Sentencing Guidelines. This enhancement depended on a past conviction for a “crime of violence,” Lester’s 1990 Georgia conviction for walkaway escape. In 2005, the Supreme Court stripped the Sentencing Guidelines of legal force and made them purely advisory; in 2009, the Court ruled that the generic crime of failing to report to a prison was not a crime of violence. Lester’s sentence should have been up to 11 years shorter. Lester sought habeas corpus relief. The district court denied his petition. The Fourth Circuit vacated, noting that its 2018 decision in United States v. Wheeler permits Lester’s challenge although Lester had already filed a petition under 28 U.S.C. 2255. In limited circumstances, courts, including the Fourth Circuit, allow a prisoner otherwise unable to file a second or successive section 2255 petition to seek relief under 28 U.S.C. 2241. A sentencing error “need not result in a sentence that exceeds statutory limits in order to be a fundamental defect.” Lester’s case must be considered on the merits.