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Williams v. True

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 7, 2019

DARRELL E. WILLIAMS, #02825-025, Petitioner,
B. TRUE, Respondent.



         Petitioner Darrell E. Williams, an inmate in the Bureau of Prisons, filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 on June 21, 2017. (Doc. 1). In 1993, Williams was convicted on one Count of conspiracy to distribute more than fifty (50) grams of cocaine base (“crack cocaine”) following a jury trial in this District. United States v. Williams, No. 93-cr-40033-JPG, Doc. 32 (S.D. Ill. July 29, 1993). He was sentenced to life imprisonment based on the United States Sentencing Guidelines' (the “Guidelines”) drug offender and criminal history provisions, which established Williams' total offense level of 43 with a criminal history category of VI. Id. at Doc. 52; (Doc. 10, pp. 6-7, 14-15). Williams was also determined to be a career offender under § 4B1.1 of the Guidelines, which would have placed his offense level and criminal history category at 37 and VI, respectively. Ultimately, this had no bearing on his imposed sentence because both his offense level and criminal history category were independently equal to or higher than those established by his career offender status. (Doc. 10, pp. 6-7. 14-15).

         In 2010, Williams successfully petitioned to retroactively apply amended sentencing guidelines to reduce his sentence, resulting in him being resentenced to a term of 360 months imprisonment; within the amended Guidelines' advisory range of 360 months to life imprisonment. United States v. Williams, No. 93-cr-40033-JPG, Doc. 79 (S.D. Ill. Sept. 2, 2010). Williams has since unsuccessfully petitioned for a further reduction to his sentence under more recent Guidelines amendments which were made retroactive in 2011 and 2014. Id. at Docs. 80, 85, 88.

         Williams now invokes Mathis v. United States, __U.S.__, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016) to challenge his designation as a career offender during his original sentencing and to argue that he is entitled to be resentenced. Specifically, Williams argues that two prior convictions - a 1986 Texas robbery conviction and a 1989 Texas delivery of a controlled substance conviction - were improperly used to determine that he was a career offender because the Texas statutes criminalized behavior so broadly that they could not fit within the Guidelines' definitions of a “crime of violence” and a “controlled substance offense.” (Doc. 1, pp. 3, 6-13).

         Respondent opposes issuance of the Writ primarily on two grounds. First, Respondent argues that Williams cannot satisfy the requirements of § 2255(e)'s savings clause because his argument was not foreclosed by binding precedent before Mathis was decided. (Doc. 12, pp. 7- 9). Respondent also argues that Williams' alleged harm cannot be deemed a miscarriage of justice because his career offender designation had no actual effect on his sentence which would have been the same regardless of his career offender determination, even when considering amendments to the Guidelines since Williams' conviction. (Doc. 12, pp. 10-11). Williams replied to Respondent's response. (Doc. 14).

         This matter is now ripe for resolution. For the reasons discussed below, Williams' § 2241 Petition will be DENIED.

         Procedural History and Relevant Facts

         On July 29, 1993, Williams was found guilty of one Count of Conspiracy to Distribute Cocaine pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 21 U.S.C. § 846. United States v. Darrell Williams, No. 93-cr-40033-JPG, Doc. 32 (July 29, 1993). The Presentence Report (“PSR”) placed Williams' Base Offense Level at 38 based on at least 1.5 kilograms of cocaine base involved in Williams' offense of conviction, and added 6 more offense levels due to Williams' possession of a firearm during the commission of the offense, Williams' role as a supervisor of the criminal activity of distribution, and Williams' obstruction of justice by threatening and intimidating witnesses. Id. at Doc. 54, p. 6. This resulted in a Total Offense Level of 43.[1] Id. The PSR also calculated a criminal history score of 16, based solely on Williams' multiple prior adult convictions per U.S.S.G. § 4A1.1, which placed Williams in criminal history category VI. Id. at pp. 9-11.

         The PSR also noted that Williams was properly considered a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1 by virtue of his prior convictions for robbery, burglary, and delivery of a controlled substance, all pursuant to Texas state law. Id. at pp. 9-12. This designation would independently result in an offense level of 37 and a criminal history category of VI-however, the PSR noted that because Williams' calculated offense level before considering the career offender enhancement was greater than 37, the greater, non-career offender level applied. Id. at p. 7; see also U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(b) (stating that the career offender designation's offense level applies only if it is greater than the normally-calculated offense level). Further, the PSR noted that, while Williams' career offender designation automatically placed his criminal history category at VI, Williams' criminal history category was already at VI due to his 16 criminal history points, regardless of the career offender designation. Id. at pp. 11-12. The PSR calculated Williams' statutory sentencing range at a mandatory minimum of 20 years, with a maximum of life. Id. at Doc. 54, pp. 14-15; see 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A); § 851. Williams was sentenced to life imprisonment on February 2, 1994. Id. at Doc. 52.

         Williams' direct appeal unsuccessfully challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction but raised no issue regarding his sentence. United States v. Williams, 61 F.3d 534, 535 (7th Cir. 1995). He eventually filed a Petition for Habeas Corpus under § 2255 based on arguments unrelated to his current Petition. It was denied in 2001. Williams v. United States, No. 01-cv-4016-JPG, Doc. 3 (S.D. Ill. May 10, 2001).

         Williams successfully petitioned to have his sentence reduced in 2010, arguing that applying the 2008 amendments to the Guidelines to his offense level would permit a Guidelines sentencing range of 360 months to life imprisonment instead of the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment in effect at the time of his original sentencing. United States v. Williams, No. 93-cr-40033, Doc. 78 (S.D. Ill. Aug. 27, 2010). The Court granted Williams' Petition and resentenced him to 360 months imprisonment on September 2, 2010. Id. at Doc. 80.

         Williams again petitioned this Court for a sentence reduction, arguing the 2011 and 2014 amendments to the Guidelines lowered his base offense level, which necessitated another resentencing using a lower Guidelines range. However, Williams' total offense level was 38 even after the Guidelines amendments were applied.[2] That level carried a range of 360 months to life imprisonment given his criminal history category of VI. Thus, the Court denied the Petition in 2016, concluding, “[a]s the defendant's current sentence is 360 months, he cannot receive any benefit from the 2011 and/or the 2014 amendments.” No. 93-cr-40033-JPG, Doc. 88, p. 2. Williams has since filed a motion for resentencing pursuant to the First Step Act of 2018[3] which remains pending before this Court. United States v. Williams, No. 93-cr-40033-JPG, Doc. 89 (S.D. Ill. Jan. 25, 2019).

         Applicable Legal Standards

         Generally, petitions for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 may not be used to raise claims of legal error in conviction or sentencing, but are instead limited to challenges regarding the execution of a sentence. See Valona v. United States, 138 F.3d 693, 694 (7th Cir. 1998). Aside from the direct appeal process, a § 2255 motion is ordinarily the “exclusive means for a federal prisoner to attack his conviction.” Kramer v. Olson, 347 F.3d 214, 217 (7th Cir. 2003). A prisoner is generally limited to one challenge of his conviction and sentence under § 2255. A prisoner may not file a “second or successive” § 2255 motion unless a panel of the appropriate court of appeals certifies that such motion either 1) contains newly discovered evidence “sufficient to establish by clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable factfinder would have ...

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