Williams v. United States

Decision Date28 July 2011
Docket Number09 Civ. 2179 (NRB),09 Civ. 3493 (NRB),00 Cr. 1008 (NRB),09 Civ. 2535 (NRB)
PartiesXAVIER WILLIAMS, MICHAEL WILLIAMS, ELIJAH BOBBY WILLIAMS Petitioners, v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of New York
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

(Xavier Williams)

(Michael Williams)

(Elijah Bobby Williams)

NAOMI REICE BUCHWALD

UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Xavier Williams ("Xavier"), Elijah Bobby Williams ("Bobby"), and Michael Williams ("Michael") (collectively "petitioners") all move to vacate, set aside, or correct their respective sentences pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Each of the petitioners sets forth numerous claims of ineffective assistance by his respective counsel at trial and at sentencing. For the reasons that follow, all three petitions are denied.

BACKGROUND1

All three petitioners were charged with operating a violent criminal organization that enriched its members by trafficking in cocaine and cocaine base in New York and Pennsylvania. Initially, and indeed until shortly before the trial of Bobby and Michael, the government sought the death penalty against all three defendants for their roles in a February 1996 triple homicide in Pennsylvania. After Xavier's counsel persuaded the government not to seek the death penalty against him, the cases were severed. Bobby and Michael were thus tried separately from Xavier on a superseding indictment that charged fifteen counts: racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c) (Count One); racketeering conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d) (Count Two); conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(5) (Counts Three and Four)2 ; murder in aid of racketeering activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2, 1959(a)(1) (Counts Five through Seven); conspiracy to distribute narcotics, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 (Count Eight); murder while engaged in a narcotics conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2 and 21 U.S.C. § 848(e)(1)(A) (Counts Nine through Eleven); use of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime or crime of violence (specifically, murder), in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2,924(j) (Counts Twelve through Fourteen); and conspiracy to launder money derived from narcotics trafficking, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h) (Count Fifteen).

Because all three petitioners were initially indicted for death-eligible offenses, each was appointed two counsel, including one "learned in the law of capital cases." 18 U.S.C. § 3005.

On May 6, 2005, after a six-week trial, a jury returned separate verdicts for Bobby and Michael, finding Bobby guilty on all counts except Counts Three and Four, and Michael guilty on all counts except Count Four. The jury determined that neither Bobby nor Michael should receive the death penalty, and each was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment on August 17, 2005.

After the conclusion of Bobby and Michael's trial, Xavier was tried separately on a superseding indictment charging fourteen counts that mirrored Bobby's and Michael's indictment through Count Thirteen, omitted one of the firearm counts, and charged the money laundering count as Count Fourteen instead of Count Fifteen. On July 6, 2005, after the close of the government's case at trial, this Court dismissed Counts Five, Six, Seven, Nine, Ten, Eleven, and Twelve upon the government's motion. As a result, Xavier ultimately faced seven counts in aredacted Superseding Indictment, which charged: racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c) (Count One); racketeering conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d) (Count Two); conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(5) (Counts Three and Four); conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute narcotics, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 (Count Five); use of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c) and 2 (Count Six); and conspiracy to launder money derived from narcotics trafficking, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h) (Count Seven). On July 8, 2005, after a three-week trial, the jury found Xavier guilty on all remaining counts except Count Four. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on October 11, 2005.

On October 23, 2007 the Second Circuit affirmed Xavier's, Michael's and Bobby's convictions and sentences. United States v. Williams, No. 05-6036-cr, 2007 WL 3105760 (2d Cir. Oct. 23, 2 0 07)(summary order); United States v. Williams, 506 F.3d 151 (2d Cir. 2007). Xavier and Bobby filed petitions for a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court in January 2008. Both petitions were denied on February 19, 2008. Williams v. United States, 552 U.S. 1223 (2008)(Xavier); Williams v. United States, 552 U.S. 1224 (2008)(Bobby). Michael filed a petitionfor writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court in February 2008. His petition was denied on March 24, 2008. Williams v. United States, 552 U.S. 1290 (2008).

DISCUSSION
I. Standard of Review

A claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is analyzed under the two-part standard set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Under Strickland, a "defendant claiming ineffective assistance must (1) demonstrate that his counsel's performance 'fell below an objective standard of reasonableness' in light of 'prevailing professional norms,' and (2) 'affirmatively prove prejudice' arising from counsel's allegedly deficient representation." United States v. Cohen, 427 F.3d 164, 167 (2d Cir. 2005) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688, 693). "[T]he burden rests on the accused to demonstrate a constitutional violation." United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648, 658 (1984).

To satisfy the "performance" prong, "the record must demonstrate that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the 'counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment." Wilson v. Mazzuca, 570 F.3d 490, 502 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687) (internal quotationmarks omitted). In carrying out this inquiry, "[j]udicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential" and the court should make every effort "to eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689. Indeed, the court should "indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance." Brown v. Greene, 577 F.3d 107, 110 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting Aparicio v. Artuz, 269 F.3d 78, 95 (2d Cir. 2001)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Counsel's omissions fall outside this range of reasonableness only if they "cannot be explained convincingly as resulting from a sound trial strategy, but instead arose from oversight, carelessness, ineptitude, or laziness." Eze v. Senkowski, 321 F.3d 110, 112 (2d Cir. 2003).

To establish prejudice, a petitioner must show that "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. "A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Id. ; see also Rosario v. Ercole, 601 F.3d 118, 123 (2d Cir. 2010); Mazzuca, 570 F.3d at 502; Lindstadt v. Keane, 239 F.3d 191, 204 (2d Cir. 2001).

In considering an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, the district court has discretion to determine whether an evidentiary hearing is required. 28 U.S.C. § 2255; Pham v. United States, 317 F.3d 178, 184 (2d Cir. 2003). The Second Circuit has stated that:

To warrant a hearing on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, the defendant need establish only that he has a "plausible" claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, not that "he will necessarily succeed on the claim." Armienti v. United States, 234 F.3d 820, 823 (2d Cir. 2000). (quoting United States v. Tarricone, 996 F.2d 1414, 1418 (2d Cir. 1993)). Rule 4(b) of the Rules Governing § 2255 Proceedings further provides that "[i]f it plainly appears from the motion, any attached exhibits, and the record of prior proceedings that the moving party is not entitled to relief, the judge must dismiss the motion." Rules Governing § 2255 Proceedings for the United States District Courts, Rule 4(b), 281 U.S.C. foll. § 2255.

Puglisi v. United States, 586 F.3d 209, 213 (2d Cir. 2009).

II. Analysis

Each petitioner raises more than ten ineffective assistance of counsel claims. Before discussing the individual claims of ineffective assistance, it is worth noting that it is hard to imagine a case where more effective assistance was provided at public expense. Each defendant was appointed two counsel, one each from the capital case panel who met the statutory requirement that they be "learned" in the law applicable todeath penalty cases. Over one and a half million dollars of public funds were expended in their defense, not only on counsel, but on jury consultants, psychiatrists, psychologists, investigators, experts and mitigation specialists. Finally, as this judge can attest, all counsel represented these defendants with vigor, intelligence and dedication. Quite simply, these defendants not only did not receive ineffective assistance, they received highly effective assistance in the finest traditions of the American justice system. Nonetheless, we consider each claim in turn.3

1. Plea Negotiations
a. Legal Standard

A petitioner's claim that defense counsel was ineffective in the context of plea negotiations is evaluated under the two-pronged Strickland test. See Pham, 317 F.3d at 182. "Defense counsel have a constitutional duty to give their clients professional advice on the crucial decision of whether to accept a plea offer from the government." Id. "Even if there might be circumstances where defense counsel need not render advice as to acceptance of a plea bargain, there can be no doubt that counsel must always communicate to the defendant the terms of any plea bargain offered by the...

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