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Williams v. United States

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois

October 5, 2016



          James E. Shadid Chief United States District Judge.

         This matter is now before the Court on Petitioner Williams' § 2255 [1, 3, 4] Motions to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence. For the reasons set forth below, Williams' Motions [1, 3, 4] are Denied.


         On August 22, 2012, a grand jury returned an indictment charging Petitioner Williams with Conspiracy to Distribute more than 280 Grams of Cocaine Base in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846, 841(a)(1) and 841 (b)(1)(A). Williams fled the state and was not arrested until January 16, 2014. Attorney Spencer Daniels was appointed to represent Williams on July 24, 2014. On September 5, 2014, Williams entered a plea of guilty pursuant to a written plea agreement. Under the agreement, Williams agreed to plea to the lesser offense under § 841(b)(1)(B). Williams conceded that he had at least one prior felony drug conviction, waived his right to require the Government to file an information under 21 U.S.C. § 851, and waived his right to appeal. The plea agreement also contained a waiver of the right to collaterally attack the conviction or sentence under § 2255 unless the claims related directly to the negotiation of the waiver. United States v. Williams, No. 12-10102, ECF Doc. 20 (C.D. Ill. 2015). The agreement stated that “for statutory mandatory minimum and maximum purposes, the amount of cocaine base attributable to the defendant through his own conduct and the conduct of his co-conspirators that was reasonably foreseeable to him is more than 28 grams, but less than 280 grams, ” but “for relevant conduct purposes under USSG § 2D1.1(a) the amount is at least 280 grams, but less than 840 grams, of cocaine base.”

The Court adopted the Presentence Report, which found that Williams had two prior felony drug convictions, and at the sentencing hearing on May 29, 2015, the Court imposed the statutory minimum sentence of 120 months' imprisonment. The judgment was entered on June 1, 2015, and amended to correct a clerical error on June 19, 2015. Williams did not appeal.

         Legal Standard

         A petitioner may avail himself of § 2255 relief only if he can show that there are “flaws in the conviction or sentence which are jurisdictional in nature, constitutional in magnitude or result in a complete miscarriage of justice.” Boyer v. United States, 55 F.2d 296, 298 (7th Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 116 S.Ct. 268 (1995). Section 2255 is limited to correcting errors that “vitiate the sentencing court's jurisdiction or are otherwise of constitutional magnitude.” Guinan v. United States, 6 F.3d 468, 470 (7th Cir. 1993), citing Scott v. United States, 997 F.2d 340 (7th Cir. 1993). Because a § 2255 motion is not a substitute for direct appeal, Doe v. United States, 51 F.3d 693, 698 (7th Cir. 1995), a petitioner bringing a § 2255 motion is barred from raising: (1) issues raised on direct appeal, absent some showing of new evidence or changed circumstances; (2) nonconstitutional issues that could have been but were not raised on direct appeal; or (3) constitutional issues that were not raised on direct appeal, absent a showing of cause for the default and actual prejudice from the failure to appeal. See Belford v. United States, 975 F.2d 310, 313 (7th Cir. 1992), overruled on other grounds by Castellanos v. United States, 26 F.3d 717, 710-20 (7th Cir. 1994).

         Plea agreements that contain appeal and collateral attack waivers are generally enforceable. United States v. Chapa, 602 F.3d 865, 868 (7th Cir. 2010). However, plea waivers are not enforceable if: (1) they are involuntary, (2) the sentence exceeds the statutory maximum, (3) the court relied on a constitutionally impermissible factor, or (4) counsel was ineffective in negotiating the plea agreement. Keller v. United States, 657 F.3d 675, 681 (7th Cir. 2011). In order to show that counsel provided ineffective assistance in negotiating a plea agreement, a petitioner must establish that his attorney's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and that he suffered prejudice as a result of counsel's deficient performance. Wyatt v. United States, 574 F.3d 455, 457-58 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-88 (1984)). A petitioner must satisfy both requirements in order to succeed on a claim of ineffective assistance. See Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697. In order to show prejudice, a petitioner must show a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Id. at 694.


         Petitioner Williams' motion raises two arguments. First, he claims that his counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the Department of Justice policy (“DOJ policy”) on mandatory minimums and recidivist enhancements in drug cases during the plea negotiations. Second, Williams claims that counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the § 851 enhancement at sentencing. The Government's response argues that Williams' second claim is untimely, the collateral attack and § 851 notice waivers are valid, the DOJ policy did not create any enforceable right and is not cognizable on collateral review, and Williams cannot show cause or prejudice.

         1. Williams' Petition is Timely

         A one year period of limitation applies to motions under § 2255, and runs from the latest of four triggering events. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f). Here, the relevant limitations period begins to run on “the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final.” Id. Williams' judgment of conviction was entered on June 1, 2015, amended on June 19, 2015, and became final 14 days later, on July 3, 2015, when the time for filing an appeal expired. Williams' original § 2255 motion was received on May 12, 2016, well within the one year limitations period. See ECF Doc. 1. Thereafter, the Court entered a text order directing Williams to resubmit his motion using the Section 2255 form. Williams completed the form, included another copy of his first motion, and signed a declaration indicating he placed the documents in the prison legal mail system on June 7, 2016. The envelope containing the motion is marked received by FCI Pekin mail room on June 9, 2016, and was filed with the Court on June 13, 2016. Williams' § 2255 motion, filed less than one year after his judgment became final on July 3, 2015, is timely.

         While Williams' motion is clearly within the limitations period of § 2255(f), the Government's argument to the contrary is fundamentally incorrect and invites discussion. First, the Government erroneously contends that Williams added a new claim when he resubmitted his motion with the completed form. However, Williams' first and second motions were exact copies of each other, and the completed § 2255 form merely restated the two claims in his first motion. Compare ECF Doc. 1, at 5, with ECF Doc. 4, at 5. Second, even if Williams' later filing added a new claim, it was still timely under § 2255(f). This is because the Government uses the date of the sentencing hearing, May 29, 2015, as the starting date, but the limitations period does not begin to run until “the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f). Here, the amended judgment was entered on June 19, 2015, and became final 14 days later on July 3, 2015. Third, even if Williams' motion was due on June 12, 2016, as the Government incorrectly argues, the motion was still timely under the mailbox rule because it was received in the FCI Pekin mail room on June 9, 2015. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255 Rule 3(d); Hurlow v. United States, 726 F.3d 958 (7th Cir. 2013).

         2. Williams' First Claim is not Cognizable on ...

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