Williams v. United States

Decision Date30 September 2020
Docket NumberNo. 4:13CR169-NBB-JMV,4:13CR169-NBB-JMV
CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Mississippi

This matter comes before the court on the motion of Michael Williams to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The government has responded to the motion; Mr. Williams has replied and submitted additional briefing. The matter is ripe for resolution. For the reasons set forth below, the instant motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence will be denied.

Habeas Corpus Relief Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255

The writ of habeas corpus, a challenge to the legal authority under which a person may be detained, is ancient. Duker, The English Origins of the Writ of Habeas Corpus: A Peculiar Path to Fame, 53 N.Y.U.L.Rev. 983 (1978); Glass, Historical Aspects of Habeas Corpus, 9 St. John's L.Rev. 55 (1934). It is "perhaps the most important writ known to the constitutional law of England," Secretary of State for Home Affairs v. O'Brien, A.C. 603, 609 (1923), and it is equally significant in the United States. Article I, § 9, of the Constitution ensures that the right of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, except when, in the case of rebellion or invasion, public safety may require it. Habeas Corpus, 20 Fed. Prac. & Proc. Deskbook § 56. Its use by the federal courts was authorized in Section14 of the Judiciary Act of 1789. Habeas corpus principles developed over time in both English and American common law have since been codified:

The statutory provisions on habeas corpus appear as sections 2241 to 2255 of the 1948 Judicial Code. The recodification of that year set out important procedural limitations and additional procedural changes were added in 1966. The scope of the writ, insofar as the statutory language is concerned, remained essentially the same, however, until 1996, when Congress enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, placing severe restrictions on the issuance of the writ for state prisoners and setting out special, new habeas corpus procedures for capital cases. The changes made by the 1996 legislation are the end product of decades of debate about habeas corpus.


Section 2255 Proceedings

Section 28 U.S.C. § 2255 permits an inmate serving a sentence after conviction of a federal crime "to move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). As with the writ of habeas corpus, see 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241, 2254, a § 2255 motion sets forth only four bases on which a motion may be made: (1) the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the court was without jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) the sentence exceeds the statutory maximum sentence; or (4) the sentence is "otherwise subject to collateral attack." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Thus, a prisoner must claim either a constitutional violation or want of subject matter jurisdiction to invoke 28 U.S.C. § 2255. In the absence of constitutional or jurisdictional defects, a federal prisoner may invoke § 2255 only if the error constitutes "a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice." United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979).

The district court must first conduct a preliminary review of a section 2255 motion, and "[i]f it plainly appears from the motion, any attached exhibits, and the record of the prior proceeding that the moving party is not entitled to relief, the judge must dismiss the motion." Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings, Rule 4(b). If the motion raises a non-frivolous claim to relief, the court must order the Government to file a response or to take other appropriate action. Id. The judge may then requirethe parties to expand the record as necessary and, if good cause is shown, authorize limited discovery. Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings, Rules 6-7.

After reviewing the government's answer, any transcripts and records of prior proceedings, and any supplementary materials submitted by the parties, the court must decide whether an evidentiary hearing is warranted. Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings, Rule 8. Under the statute, an evidentiary hearing must be held unless "the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). However, the court need not hold an evidentiary hearing if the prisoner fails to produce "independent indicia of the likely merit of [his] allegations." United States v. Edwards, 442 F.3d 258, 264 (5th Cir. 2006) (quoting United States v. Cervantes, 132 F.3d 1106, 1110 (5th Cir. 1998)).

Ultimately, the petitioner bears the burden of establishing his claims of error by a preponderance of the evidence. See Wright v. United States, 624 F.2d 557, 558 (5th Cir. 1980). For certain "structural" errors, relief follows automatically once the error is proved. See Burgess v. Dretke, 350 F.3d 461, 472 (5th Cir. 2003). For other errors at the trial court level, the court may grant relief only if the error "had substantial and injurious effect or influence" in determining the outcome of the case. Brecht v. Abrahmson, 507 U.S. 619, 637 (1993); see also United States v. Chavez, 193 F.3d 375, 379 (5th Cir. 1999) (applying Brecht's harmless error standard in a § 2255 proceeding). If the court finds that the prisoner is entitled to relief, it "shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the prisoner or resentence him or grant a new trial or correct the sentence as may appear appropriate." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b).

Procedural Posture

On October 13, 2013, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Michael Williams with one count of conspiracy to commit arson of a building used in interstate commerce in violationof 18 U.S.C. §§ 371 and 844(i), and one count of arson of a building used in interstate commerce in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 844(i). (Doc. 4). Williams entered a guilty plea on November 3, 2014. (Doc. 56). At the sentencing hearing on March 9, 2015, the court rejected the sentence agreement and allowed Mr. Williams to withdraw his guilty plea. (Doc. 63). The order granting Williams' motion to withdraw the guilty plea was entered on March 13, 2015. (Doc. 61). The trial commenced on May 18, 2015. The jury found Williams guilty of both counts. (Doc. 72). On July 27, 2015, the court sentenced Mr. Williams to serve sixty months in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons on both Counts 1 and 2, to be served concurrently, and to pay restitution to Berkley Southeast Insurance and State Farm Insurance in the total amount of $368,632. (July 27, 2015 Sentencing Hearing Transcript at 6- 7). Mr. Williams appealed his conviction, and his conviction was affirmed. United States v. Williams, 667 Fed. App'x. 489 (5th Cir. 2016).

Mr. Williams then filed a motion to vacate sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, in which he presents the following claims for relief:

(1) The Government engaged in "judge shopping;"
(2) The trial court forced Mr. Williams to go to trial by rejecting the plea agreement reached between him and the government;
(3) The trial court failed to issue a jury instruction regarding Mr. Williams' right not to testify at trial;
(4) The government failed to produce Mr. Sian Green as a witness for trial, instead, "allow[ing] Mr. Green to abscond to Jamaica even though a subpoena was in place to have him appear at trial;"
(5) Mr. Williams was denied the right to confront Mr. Green as a witness against him, as Mr. Green's testimony was entered into evidence in the form of a deposition (including the video recording of the deposition);
(6) Denial of the right to a speedy trial under both the Speedy Trial Act and the United States Constitution;
(7) Counsel was ineffective in failing to file various motions:
a. Pretrial motion to dismiss indictment based upon Sian Green's confession to the arson and the failure to identify other conspirators;
b. Pretrial motion for Brady materials;
c. Counsel failed to file a pretrial motion to subpoena Sian Green as a witness for trial;
d. Counsel failed to file a pretrial motion to exclude the video deposition of Sian Green;
e. Counsel failed to file a motion objecting to the redactions in the video deposition offered into evidence at trial.
f. Counsel failed to file a motion for discovery from the government's warrant witness, Sian Green;
(8) The evidence introduced at trial was insufficient to support the jury's verdict of guilty on the charges of conspiracy to commit arson under 18 U.S.C. §§ 371 and 844(i) and aiding and abetting the commission of arson under 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 844(i);
(9) Counsel failed to challenge the amount of restitution;
(10) Counsel failed to object to the court's rejection of the plea agreement;
(11) Counsel failed to object to the court's provision of only 15 to 20 minutes for Mr. Williams to confer with counsel regarding whether to go move forward with the plea, knowing that the court might impose a more stringent sentence than that set forth in the plea agreement - or proceed to trial.
(12) Trial counsel failed to object to the court's decision not to seek a "negative inference" instruction regarding Mr. Williams' decision not to testify.
(13) Appellate counsel failed to sufficiently consult with Mr. Williams during the appeal process, limiting contact to a brief telephone call;
(14) Appellate counsel failed to challenge the amount of restitution;
(15) Appellate counsel failed to raise ineffective assistance of trial counsel as a ground for appeal;
(16) Appellate counsel failed to raise the absence of witness Sian Green as a ground for appeal;
(17) Appellate counsel failed to raise the court's rejection of the plea agreement as a ground for appeal;(18) Appellate counsel did not provide Mr. Williams with a copy of appellate documents, causing him to file a pro se brief (which the Fifth Circuit

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT