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Williams v. Kallis

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

June 24, 2019

STEVE KALLIS, Respondent.


          Michael M. Mihm, United States District Judge

         Presently before the Court is Lorenzo Williams' Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 (ECF No. 1), and the Government's Motion for Leave to Bifurcate Response and Partial Response (ECF No. 5). For the reasons stated herein, the Government's Motion for Leave to Bifurcate is GRANTED, Williams' Petition is DENIED, and his claim for sentencing relief is DISMISSED. The Clerk of Court is directed to close this case.


         On September 28, 2000, Williams was indicted in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa on one charge of Interference with Commerce by Violence, a violation of the Hobbs Act under 18 U.S.C. § 1951, for robbing a taxicab driver at knifepoint two weeks prior. The Hobbs Act, which amended the Federal Anti-Racketeering Act of 1934, was intended to remove artificial restraints on the free flow of goods. United States v. Staszcuk, 517 F.2d 53, 56-58 (7th Cir. 1975). The Act provides that “whoever in any way or degree obstructs, delays, or affects commerce . . . by robbery or extortion or attempts or conspires to do so . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.” 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a) (1994). Williams' modus operandi was to rob cab drivers at knifepoint and, upon exit, rip the radio from the cab's console, eliminating the ability of the driver (pre-cell phone era) to call for help.

         At trial, the cab driver was the only corroborating witness to testify to the events of the robbery. Williams' attorney attempted to impeach the driver's credibility by suggesting the events between he and Williams were a drug deal gone bad. In response, the government introduced evidence of Williams' five prior convictions for cab robberies spanning more than two decades. To support its theory that Williams' crime affected interstate commerce, the government introduced evidence that most of the cab fare revenue was used to buy gasoline (which moved through interstate commerce), the driver frequently transported FedEx employees, railroad crew members, and packages (which were moving through interstate commerce), and the cab was inoperable during the time of the robbery (when lucrative trips to the Eastern Iowa Airport were likely to occur).

         After three days of testimony, a jury returned a guilty verdict against Williams for Interference with Commerce by Robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951.[2] Because he had at least two prior convictions for robbing cab drivers at knifepoint, Williams was subject to a sentence enhancement under the federal Three Strikes Law, 18 U.S.C. § 3559(c)(1)(A)(i) (1998). The Three Strikes Law mandates life sentences for persons convicted of two or more serious violent crimes.

         Immediately after sentencing, Williams appealed his conviction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, [3] arguing (i) the district court erred by admitting prior bad acts evidence and instructing the jury on the interstate commerce element of the offense; (ii) there was insufficient evidence to prove the interstate commerce element; and (iii) the sentencing court violated Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), in its application of the three-strikes enhancement under 18 U.S.C. § 3559(c). United States v. Williams, 308 F.3d 833, 835 (8th Cir. 2002). Despite his appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirmed Williams' conviction and sentence, ruling that while “[t]he district court erred in giving a jury instruction that did not require the jury to find an ‘actual effect' on commerce[, ]” the error was harmless, and the district court did not err on the other issues Williams raised. Id. at 840. To date, Williams has filed several appeals and at least five motions for postconviction relief in an attempt to truncate his mandatory life sentence under the Three Strikes Law.


         On January 5, 2004, Williams filed his first motion to vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, [4] and, with the assistance of counsel, ultimately streamlined his motion to encompass two main arguments: (i) trial counsel was ineffective in failing to move for mistrial based on prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments; and (ii) appellate counsel ineffectively briefed and argued his direct appeal.[5] On November 20, 2006, the district court denied Williams' motion, holding that none of his grounds for relief had merit.[6] Williams attempted to appeal the district court's denial of his motion, but the court declined to issue a certificate of appealability.[7] The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a certificate of appealability a few months later.[8]

         On April 2, 2007, Williams attempted to file a successive § 2255 motion, [9] under Rule 60(b)(4) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides various grounds for relief from a Judgment or Order. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 60. In his motion, Williams argued the judgment against him was void because Congress never voted on the Hobbs Act. The district court denied Williams' motion, and he appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in May 2007.[10] A few months later, construing his appeal under 60(b)(4) as a request for authorization to file a successive habeas petition, the Eighth Circuit denied authorization and dismissed Williams' appeal.[11]

         On July 23, 2009, Williams filed a motion to reduce sentence[12] arguing that under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) and Amendment 709 to the Sentencing Guidelines, he was entitled to a resentencing hearing, as his “prior sentences were for offenses that were not separated by an intervening arrest, [therefore][, ] the convictions [were] to be considered as a single conviction.” The district court denied the motion, [13] and Williams again appealed the decision.[14] In December 2009, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of his motion.[15]

         On January 3, 2012, Williams attempted to file his second successive § 2255 motion[16]arguing, inter alia, the Court's jurisdiction over his criminal case was based on false testimony. The same day of his filing, the district court dismissed the action because Williams had not requested authorization from the Eighth Circuit to file a second § 2255 motion with the court.[17]Williams appealed the district court's decision.[18] The Eighth Circuit construed his appeal as an application for a certificate of appealability, denied his application, and dismissed the appeal.[19]

         On May 21, 2014, Williams attempted to file his third successive § 2255 motion[20] arguing (i) in light of Descamps v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2276 (2013), his convictions for second degree robbery did not constitute predicate offenses (using the modified categorical approach) under the Three Strikes Act; and (ii) his conviction must be overturned because the enhancement for which he was sentenced was not included in the indictment and “[t]he elements for the . . . enhancement [were not] found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Thirteen days later, the district court dismissed his motion, ruling Williams once again failed to obtain authorization from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to file a successive § 2255 motion.[21] Williams declined to appeal the dismissal of his motion.

         On May 25, 2016, Williams attempted to file his fourth successive § 2255 motion, [22] along with thirty-one other petitioners and the assistance of counsel, arguing (i) his sentence was unconstitutional under Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), and Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257 (2016), because the Supreme Court in Johnson held that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) defining “violent felony” was unconstitutionally vague. Almost a year later, the district court entered an order to show cause[23] ruling that none of the petitioners were sentenced under the ACCA, and each were found to be career offenders and sentenced under the career offender enhancement in United States Sentencing Guideline §4B1.1(a). In its order, the court also mandated that in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Beckles v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 886 (2017), which concluded that the United States Sentencing Guidelines were not subject to a void for vagueness challenge under the Fifth Amendment, each of the cases would be dismissed unless a petitioner in his respective case showed cause why dismissal should not occur.

         On April 20, 2017, Williams responded to the court's order by filing a supplemental petition in the Eighth Circuit.[24] In his petition, Williams argued (i) under Beckles v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 886 (2017), pre-Booker sentences imposed under the residual clause of the Career Offender Guidelines were subject to challenge as being void for vagueness; (ii) his claim did not rely on a second rule not recognized in Johnson, and was not barred by Donnell v. United States, 826 F.3d 104 (8th Cir. 2016); and (iii) he had made a prima facie case that his sentence relied on the unconstitutionally vague residual clauses of the Career Offender Guideline and 18 U.S.C. 3559(c)(2)(F). About a month later, the Government responded, arguing Williams (i) had not made a prima facie showing that a new rule of constitutional law supported authorization of a successive § 2255 motion on his 18 U.S.C. § 3559(c) claim; (ii) failed to make a prima facie showing that a new rule of constitutional law supported authorization of a successive § 2255 motion on his Career Offender claim; and (iii) procedurally defaulted by not raising his claims on direct appeal.[25] On January 30, 2019, the Eighth Circuit denied Williams' petition for authorization to file a successive habeas application in district court.[26]

         On March 11, 2019, Williams filed the § 2241 Petition at hand, [27] arguing that pursuant to Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016), and other Supreme Court caselaw, second degree robbery (as defined by the Iowa Criminal Code) no longer qualifies as a predicate “serious violent felony” for the purpose of a sentencing enhancement under the Three Strikes Law, 18 U.S.C. § 3559(c). (ECF No. 1 at 12.) On May 16, 2019, the Government filed its Response (ECF No. 5), [28] and on June 3, 2019, Williams filed his Traverse (ECF No. 8). As part of its Response, the Government also included a Motion for Leave to Bifurcate, requesting that the Court first address its procedural argument and then allow it to present “other substantive and procedural defenses . . . . if the Court finds that Petitioner can . . . challenge his career offender designation in a § 2241 proceeding[.]” (ECF No. 5 at 5.) This Order follows.


         “Congress has granted federal district courts, ‘within their respective jurisdictions,' the authority to hear applications for habeas corpus by any person who claims to be held ‘in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.'” Rasul v. Bush, 542 U.S. 466, 473 (2004) (quoting 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241(a), (c)(3)). “The statute traces its ancestry to the first grant of federal-court jurisdiction: Section 14 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 authorized federal courts to issue the writ of habeas corpus to prisoners who are ‘in custody, under or by colour of the authority of the United States, or are committed for trial before some court of the same.'” Id. (internal citation omitted). “In 1867, Congress extended the protections of the writ to ‘all cases where any person may be restrained of his or her liberty in violation of the constitution, or of any treaty or law of the United States.'” Id. (citing Felker v. Turpin, 518 U.S. 651, 659-60, (1996)).

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 [were] the end product of decades of debate about habeas corpus.

Norman v. United States, No. 08CR86, 2019 WL 1386399, at *1 (N.D. Miss. Mar. 26, 2019) (quoting 20 Charles Alan Wright & Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice and ...

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