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Yetter Coleman Wins Sixth Circuit Appeal In Case of First Impression

Yetter Coleman achieved a significant victory in the Sixth Circuit as court-appointed counsel for federal prisoner Allen Mark Ajan in Ajan v. United States. The unanimous published opinion addressed a complex issue of first impression in that circuit: whether a certificate of appealability is required to appeal the relief granted after a successful federal habeas motion.

Mr. Ajan had earlier succeeded in gaining a dismissal of the most serious offense in his multi-count conviction. Following that dismissal, the district court decided not to modify Mr. Ajan’s sentence on the remaining lesser counts. Mr. Ajan’s appeal from that decision raised issues about the scope of review on appeal. If Ajan was appealing “the final order” in a federal habeas proceeding, then he needed a certificate of appealability and could raise only constitutional issues. By contrast, if the sentence that he challenged was a new judgment in his criminal case, then he had a right to a direct appeal and could raise statutory as well as constitutional issues.

The court unanimously ruled that Mr. Ajan had a right to a direct appeal on all grounds. Proceeding to conduct that full review, the court vacated Ajan’s sentence and remanded the case to the district court, because it was not clear whether the district court had recognized its authority under the sentencing statute to change the original terms of imprisonment. The court of appeals further held that, on remand, the district court could reduce the sentence below the Sentencing Guidelines range.

April Farris represented Ajan in the Sixth Circuit and argued the case in late July. Cam Barker advised on the case.