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United States v. Williams

August 06, 2002

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
COREY A. WILLIAMS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 00-CR-40065--J. Phil Gilbert, Judge.

Before Easterbrook, Manion, and Kanne, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kanne, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED JUNE 6, 2002

A jury found defendant Corey Williams guilty of several counts of distribution and possession with the intent to distribute cocaine base ("crack") and of one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute more than fifty grams of crack. Williams appeals, contending that (1) there was insufficient evidence to support the conspiracy conviction; (2) the district court committed reversible error by failing to comply with 21 U.S.C. § 851(b); and (3) the district court erred in admitting statements from his proffer agreement. We affirm.

I. History

Williams began selling crack in Mt. Vernon, Illinois sometime in 1995 and developed a business relationship with Monte Lesure. At trial, Lesure explained that for several months, he and Williams sold crack out of their cars, pooled their money to purchase crack, and traveled together to purchase additional crack when necessary. Lesure testified that during their business relationship, they sold between 500 and 1,000 grams of crack and netted approximately $36,000 in profits. At trial, the government also produced evidence of several controlled drug purchases involving Williams, which were recorded via an audio/ video recorder. Additionally, several government witnesses testified about crack purchases that they made from Williams over the years.

During Williams' case-in-chief, he offered a stipulation designed to show that he was in prison and not selling drugs during various periods beginning in 1995. Williams' stated purpose in offering the stipulation was to discredit the testimony of several government witnesses who had testified that they had purchased crack from Williams or sold crack with Williams. In rebuttal, the government offered portions of Williams' proffer agreement--that is the statements Williams made during his unsuccessful plea negotiations--and the testimony of Agent Randall Nadolski, who was present during those negotiations. *fn1 For example, Williams admitted that beginning in 1989, he purchased crack from several sources, including several government witnesses.

The jury then convicted Williams of four counts of distribution and possession with intent to distribute less than five grams of crack in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and of one count of conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute more than fifty grams of crack in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846.

Prior to trial, the government had timely filed an information pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851(a), declaring that based upon Williams' two prior felony drug convictions, the government would seek to enhance his sentence if he was convicted because Williams was a repeat offender. See U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A). After the jury convicted Williams, a Presentence Investigation Report ("PSR") was prepared and outlined Williams' two prior felony drug convictions and the life sentence required by § 841(b)(1)(A). Williams responded to the PSR by stating that he

[W]as not informed of the possibilities of the filing of an information pursuant to 21 U.S.C. Section 851 to establish prior convictions or the possibilit[y] that he could face life in prison while represented by [his former counsel]. In fact, again, based upon the representations of the Defendant, COREY A. WILLIAMS to [his present attorney], he was informed by [his former counsel] that he faced 120 to 150 months in prison as a level 27, Category VI, for a 500 to 1500 gram range of crack cocaine, and was NEVER told by [his former counsel] that he could face more time than that.

In other words, Williams complained that his previous counsel--who withdrew before trial--had never told him that he faced the possibility of a life sentence. At sentencing, in support of his objection, Williams' then-present counsel stated that the objection spoke for itself and added that if Williams knew he was going to face a life sentence, he would have pled guilty instead of going to trial. The district court overruled Williams' objection, noting that Williams was advised at arraignment of the possibility of a life sentence. *fn2 The district court then adopted the PSR and its findings and imposed a life sentence on the conspiracy count and 360 months of imprisonment on four distribution counts. *fn3

II. Analysis

A. Sufficiency of Evidence

Williams first contends that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that he conspired to distribute more than fifty grams of crack. Normally, we review whether a jury verdict has evidentiary support in a criminal case by asking if there was sufficient evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the government, to allow a rational trier of fact to find all of the essential elements of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt. See United States v. Carlino, 143 F.3d 340, 343 (7th Cir. 1998). However, Williams did not preserve normal review of the issue because, although he moved for a judgment of acquittal at the close of the government's case, he failed to renew his motion at the close of all of the evidence. Therefore, we review Williams' claim only for plain error, which in this context is present only if his conviction amounted to a manifest miscarriage of justice. See id. "Manifest miscarriage of justice is perhaps the most demanding standard of appellate ...


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