Vol. LIV No. 1

Feeling Inadequate?: The Struggle to Define the Savings Clause in 28 U.S.C. § 2255

Abstract:  Federal prisoners who wish to mount a collateral challenge to their conviction or sentence are generally prohibited from making their claim via the writ of habeas corpus and are forced to proceed under a similar procedure set out in 28 U.S.C. § 2255. After the passage of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), which added significant restrictions to § 2255 review but not to habeas review, that prohibition can be the difference between freedom and incarceration for a federal prisoner serving a term of incarceration based on an illegal conviction or sentence. There is, however, a provision within § 2255, known as the savings clause, that contains an exception to the habeas bar where the remedy provided by § 2255 is “inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of the detention.” The courts of appeals have split on the proper test to govern the application of the savings clause. This Note examines each of the tests that has been adopted by the circuits and shows how each is problematic when analyzed in light of the text of § 2255, the legislative intent behind the passage of the AEDPA, and the constitutional considerations inherent in post-conviction review. This Note goes on to posit a new test for the application of the savings clause that more effectively navigates those competing interests.

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