Williams v. United States

Citation568 F.Supp.3d 1115
Decision Date25 October 2021
Docket NumberCase No. C20-994RSL
Parties Steven Maurice WILLIAMS, Defendant-Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Washington

568 F.Supp.3d 1115

Steven Maurice WILLIAMS, Defendant-Petitioner,
UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Respondent.

Case No. C20-994RSL

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, at Seattle.

Signed October 25, 2021
Order Denying Reconsideration Jan. 21, 2022.

568 F.Supp.3d 1117

Roscoe Jones, US Attorney's Office, Seattle, WA, for Plaintiff-Respondent.

Ifeoma Monu, Paula Semmes Deutsch, Public Defenders, Federal Public Defender's Office, Seattle, WA, for Defendant-Petitioner.


Robert S. Lasnik, United States District Judge

In this motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, petitioner Steven Maurice Williams moves to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). Case No. CV20-994RSL Dkt. # 1. The Court has considered the parties’ memoranda, the exhibits, and the remainder of the record. For the following reasons, the petition is GRANTED.


In September 2013, a federal indictment charged Williams with Possession of Child Pornography (Count 1), Production of Child Pornography/Sexual Exploitation of Children (Count 2), and Felon in Possession of a Firearm (Count 3). Case No. CR13-287RSL, Dkt. # 10 at 1–3.1 In February 2014, Williams accepted a plea agreement to Count 2, Production of Child Pornography/Sexual Exploitation of Children in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a) and (e), and Count 3, Felon in Possession of a Firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C § 922(g)(1), and). CR Dkt. # 26 at 1–2. As predicate convictions for Williams’ felon-in-possession charge, the indictment and plea agreement list a 1994 conviction for Residential Burglary and a 1997 conviction for Possessing Stolen Property in the Second Degree for which the statutory maximum terms of incarceration under Washington state law exceeded one year. CR Dkt. # 10 at 2; CR Dkt. # 26 at 8; CV Dkt. # 1-3 at 12; CV Dkt. # 1-4 at 12. Williams was subject to Washington state mandatory guidelines ranges of three to nine months for Residential Burglary, CV Dkt. # 1-4 at 12, and zero to ninety days for Possessing Stolen Property. CV Dkt. # 1-3 at 12. Williams did not file a direct appeal of his conviction or sentence. See generally CR Dkt.

Williams’ plea agreement required Williams to plead guilty to three state counts of Rape of a Child in the First Degree. CR Dkt. # 26 at 6–7; CV Dkt. # 1-1 at 2. The Government recommended the state and federal sentences be served concurrently. CR Dkt. # 26 at 7. Additionally, Williams agreed to waive any right to bring a collateral attack against the conviction and sentence except as related to the effectiveness of legal representation. Id. at 10–11. On May 16, 2014, the Court imposed a 240-month prison sentence followed by fifteen years of supervised release. CR Dkt. # 40 at 2–3. In September 2014, the state court sentenced Williams to an indeterminate sentence of 318 months to life and ordered the sentence to run concurrently with the federal sentence. CV Dkt. # 1-1 at 6; CV Dkt. # 1-2 at 2.

In June 2020, Williams filed this 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion to vacate his conviction for Felon in Possession of a Firearm under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) alleging he is actually innocent of the offense. CV Dkt. # 1 at 1.


A. Timeliness

The government addresses the timeliness of Williams’ actual innocence claim on

568 F.Supp.3d 1119

two bases: (1) to the extent that Williams has a Rehaif-based claim (that Williams did not have knowledge of his prohibited status); and (2) to the extent that Williams has a Valencia-Mendoza-based claim (that Williams was not subject to a maximum term of imprisonment of more than one year for his underlying offenses.) See Rehaif v. United States, ––– U.S. ––––, 139 S. Ct. 2191, 204 L.Ed.2d 594 (2019) ; United States v. Valencia-Mendoza, 912 F.3d 1215 (9th Cir. 2019) ; United States v. McAdory, 935 F.3d 838 (9th Cir. 2019) ; CV Dkt. # 4 at 4.

The government concedes that Williams’ Rehaif-based claim is timely. CV Dkt. # 4 at 4. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a claim is timely if it is brought within one year of the date on which the right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if that right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(3). On June 21, 2019, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Rehaif, holding that a felon-in-possession conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) requires proof the defendant knew of his prohibited status. 139 S. Ct. at 2194. The government agrees that Rehaif applies retroactively to cases on collateral review. CV Dkt. # 4 at 5 (citing Welch v. United States, 578 U.S. 120, 136 S. Ct. 1257, 1264–66, 194 L.Ed.2d 387 (2016) ). Because Williams’ § 2255 motion was filed within one year of the Rehaif decision, Williams’ Rehaif-based claim is timely. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(3).

Additionally, Williams’ actual innocence is sufficient to overcome the untimeliness of his Valencia-Mendoza-based claim. See McQuiggin v. Perkins, 569 U.S. 383, 391–98, 133 S.Ct. 1924, 185 L.Ed.2d 1019 (2013) (holding that a plea of actual innocence can overcome Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act's (AEDPA) one-year statute of limitations for filing habeas petitions); Valencia-Mendoza, 912 F.3d 1215. The government concedes this timeliness issue as well. CV Dkt. # 4 at 4.

B. Procedural Default

A defendant who fails to raise a claim on direct appeal is generally barred from raising the claim on collateral review in federal habeas cases. Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon, 548 U.S. 331, 350–51, 126 S.Ct. 2669, 165 L.Ed.2d 557 (2006). A defendant can overcome procedural default and have the court consider the merits of his 28 U.S.C. § 2255 claim by demonstrating: (1) sufficient cause for the default and actual prejudice resulting from it; or (2) that he is actually innocent of the offense. Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 622, 118 S.Ct. 1604, 140 L.Ed.2d 828 (1998). Although Williams’ claim is procedurally defaulted because he did not appeal his convictions in Case No. CR13-0287RSL, the government concedes Williams’ actual innocence is sufficient to overcome the procedural default. CV Dkt. # 4 at 4; see Vosgien v. Persson, 742 F.3d 1131, 1134 (9th Cir. 2014) ; Nair v. United States, No. C19-1751JLR, 2020 WL 1515627, at *3 (W.D. Wash. Mar. 30, 2020).

C. Actual Innocence

The Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit have reserved expressly deciding whether an actual innocence claim is cognizable, Dist. Attorney's Off. for Third Jud. Dist. v. Osborne, 557 U.S. 52, 71, 129 S.Ct. 2308, 174 L.Ed.2d 38 (2009) ; Taylor v. Beard, 811 F.3d 326, 334 (9th Cir. 2016), but have each assumed that such a federal right exists. See Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390, 417, 113 S.Ct. 853, 122 L.Ed.2d 203 (1993) (acknowledging the possibility that a freestanding actual innocence claim would exist in the capital context); House v. Bell, 547 U.S. 518, 554–55, 126 S.Ct. 2064, 165 L.Ed.2d 1 (2006) (acknowledging

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that any freestanding actual innocence claim would need to meet the standard implied in Herrera ); see also United States v. Berry, 624 F.3d 1031, 1038 n.5 (9th Cir. 2010) (stating in dicta that "this circuit recognizes a claim of actual innocence that is cognizable under § 2255 [.]"). The Supreme Court has stated that the standard of proof required of a habeas petitioner to make a successful freestanding claim would be "extraordinarily high," and that the showing would have to be "truly persuasive." Herrera, 506 U.S. at 417, 113 S.Ct. 853 ; see also Carriger v. Stewart, 132 F.3d 463, 476 (9th Cir. 1997). In Carriger, the Ninth Circuit articulated a standard for an actual innocence claim, that a petitioner must go beyond demonstrating doubt about his guilt, and must affirmatively prove that he is probably innocent. 132 F.3d at 476 (citing Herrera, 506 U.S. at 442–44, 113 S.Ct. 853 (Blackmun, J., dissenting)).

Here, Williams’ felon-in-possession conviction was obtained in violation of the "laws of the United States" due to an intervening change in the law. Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333, 346, 94 S.Ct. 2298, 41 L.Ed.2d 109 (1974) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2255 ). Unlike insufficiency of evidence claims which do not meet the "extraordinarily high" standard required by Herrera, Williams has affirmatively proved that he is actually innocent as a matter of law and therefore his claim is cognizable. See 506 U.S. at 417, 113 S.Ct. 853 ; Carriger, 132 F.3d at 476 ; see also Pringle v. Runnels, No. 07-CV-1960-LAB POR, 2010 WL 5582945, at *10 (S.D. Cal. June 22, 2010), report and recommendation adopted as modified, No. 07-CV-1960-LAB POR, 2011 WL 129427 (S.D. Cal. Jan. 13, 2011) (holding that in both capital and non-capital cases, "a freestanding claim of actual innocence constitutes a cognizable constitutional claim, subject to federal habeas corpus review.").

In Valencia-Mendoza, the Ninth Circuit overruled prior circuit precedent and held that a Washington state conviction is a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year if the top-end of the defendant's...

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