from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 2:17-cv-14087-Victoria
A. Roberts, District Judge.
Dennis, Milan, Michigan, pro se. Shane Cralle, UNITED STATES
ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee.
Before: ROGERS, SUTTON, and READLER, Circuit Judges.
Sutton, Circuit Judge.
President has the "Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons
for Offences against the United States." U.S. Const.
art. II, § 2, cl. 1. But does the President's
exercise of that authority invariably create a new executive
judgment that fully replaces the judicial judgment?
Dennis committed a string of drug offenses, leading to a
mandatory life sentence in 1997. In 2017, President Obama
commuted his sentence to 30 years. Dennis filed this §
2241 habeas petition, arguing that he should have faced only
a 20-year mandatory sentence. The district court held that it
had no authority to question the commuted sentence and
dismissed the petition as moot. Because the commutation did
not alter the reality that Dennis continues to serve a
judicial sentence and because he could obtain a sentence of
fewer than 30 years if he obtained the requested relief, the
petition is not moot. Even so, the petition lacks merit, and
accordingly we deny it.
1997, a jury convicted Dennis of three federal drug crimes:
attempting to distribute cocaine base, possessing cocaine
base with intent to distribute it, and possessing cocaine
with intent to distribute it. Before trial, the government
alerted Dennis that it might seek a sentencing enhancement.
21 U.S.C. § 851. That put Dennis on notice that, if
convicted, he faced a mandatory life sentence based on two
prior Ohio drug convictions.
what happened. After the jury found Dennis guilty, the
district court sentenced him to life in prison on the cocaine
base convictions and a concurrent 30-year term on the cocaine
sought collateral relief from the courts on several fronts.
Each failed. Then Dennis received a different form of relief.
President Obama conditionally commuted Dennis's sentence
to a term of 30 years. To receive this benefit, Dennis had to
enroll in a residential drug abuse program and return a
signed acceptance of the commutation. Dennis honored his end
of the bargain.
that a lingering error marred his original sentence, Dennis
filed a § 2241 habeas petition in December 2017. One of
his Ohio convictions, he maintains, does not count as a
felony under the recidivism enhancement. If true, he points
out, he would have received a 20-year mandatory minimum
sentence, not a mandatory life sentence. The district court
dismissed Dennis's petition as moot on two grounds: that
it had no authority to alter the commuted sentence and that
Dennis now serves a commuted executive sentence, not the
original judicial sentence.
issue is the interaction of an executive branch power (to
pardon individuals convicted of crimes) with a limitation on
a judicial branch power (to resolve only live cases or
with the Article II pardon power. The Constitution says that
the President "shall have Power to grant Reprieves and
Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in
Cases of Impeachment." U.S. Const. art. II, § 2,
cl. 1. The Framers modeled this provision on the pardon power
of the English Crown. Schick v. Reed, 419 U.S. 256,
260-64 (1974). That English practice thus illuminates
"the operation and effect of a pardon," making the
one a helpful lantern in seeing the other. United States
v. Wilson, 32 U.S. (7 Pet.) 150, 160 (1833) (Marshall,
C.J.). As an act of executive mercy, id.;
see 4 William Blackstone, Commentaries
*389-90, the pardon power includes the authority to commute
sentences in whole or in part, Schick, 419 U.S. at
260. The President may place conditions on a pardon or
commutation. Ex parte Wells, 59 U.S. (18 How.) 307,
314-15 (1855). The only potential limits on the
President's pardon power are constitutional in nature,
and even those are little defined. Schick, 419 U.S.
at 267; see Ohio Adult Parole Auth. v. Woodard, 523
U.S. 272, 279-85 (1998) (opinion of Rehnquist, C.J.).
Article III, which empowers and constrains the judicial
branch. It vests "[t]he judicial Power of the United
States" in the Supreme Court and any inferior federal
courts that Congress creates. U.S. Const. art. III, § 1.
One such power is to try crimes and sentence defendants.
See Ex parte Milligan, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 2, 121
(1866). What the Constitution gives, however, it sometimes
takes away. Courts may resolve only "Cases" or
"Controversies." U.S. Const. art. III, § 2,
cl. 1. That means we need a live cause-a conflict in which we
are able to give a remedy to the winner-in order to ...