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Edmund S. Sauer in Morales v. Bezy, Docket No. 06-1490

24 May 2007
Mayer Brown Article
On May 24, 2007, Edmund S. Sauer, an associate in Mayer Brown's Washington, D.C. office, argued in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on behalf of Angel L. Morales, a federal prisoner incarcerated in Indiana.

Morales pled guilty in 1997 to conspiring to commit money laundering and was sentenced to 151 months of imprisonment, which he began serving in February 1999. Three years later, the Seventh Circuit issued a decision in an unrelated case (United States v. Scialabba, 282 F.3d 467 (7th Cir. 2002)) that reinterpreted the federal statute used in the conviction of Morales and his two co-defendants. As a substantive interpretation of a federal criminal statute, this decision was necessarily retroactive and rendered Morales and his co-defendants innocent.

Morales' co-defendants had filed motions to vacate their sentences under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 within the applicable one-year limitations period. While their motions were pending in the district court, the Scialabba case-establishing their innocence under Seventh Circuit law-was decided. The district court allowed both to benefit from this decision and released them from prison.

Morales, however, was not so fortunate. He, too, attempted to seek relief under § 2255 by hiring an attorney to file a motion under § 2255 near the conclusion of his direct appeal. Despite repeated affirmative assurances to the contrary, however, Morales' attorney never filed the post-conviction motion. By the time Morales and his family learned of his attorney's deceit, AEDPA's one-year statute of limitations for § 2255 motions had expired.

As soon as Morales realized that no timely motion had been filed on his behalf, he filed a pro se motion from prison, explaining the circumstances of his late filing and requesting relief under § 2255 or, in the alternative, habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. The district court, without holding a hearing on Morales' motion, denied his request for relief under § 2255 and transferred the case to the jurisdiction of Morales' incarceration for consideration under § 2241. The transferee court also denied him relief, holding that Morales had not met the prerequisite of showing that § 2255 relief was "inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention."

Before Judges Posner, Rovner, and Kanne, Sauer argued that Morales was improperly denied a hearing on his request for relief under § 2255. He argued that federal courts of appeal have uniformly found attorney deceit sufficiently extraordinary to be grounds for equitable tolling and that the district court should have held a hearing to determine if tolling should apply in this case. Alternatively, Sauer argued that because Morales' attorney had deceived him into believing that a timely § 2255 motion had been filed, and because Morales was rendered innocent by a decision issued beyond the one-year limitations period applicable to § 2255 motions, Morales did not have a reasonable opportunity to bring a claim under § 2255 and should therefore be entitled to file a habeas petition under § 2241.

The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in the cases of Morales' co-defendants to consider the Seventh Circuit's interpretation of the underlying money laundering statute.

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