United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Danville Division
SAMUEL G. WILSON, District Judge.
Petitioner Chadriquez Williams, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, filed this 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion challenging his jury conviction and sentence of 360 months for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking offense. Williams asserts seven grounds for relief, including five different ineffective assistance of counsel claims, four due process claims, a Sixth Amendment fair trial claim, and a claim under Alleyne v. United States , 133 S.Ct. 2151 (2013). This matter is before the court on the Government's motion to dismiss. The court finds that two of Williams' ineffective assistance of counsel claims cannot be decided without first conducting a hearing to resolve certain conflicts of fact. Williams' remaining claims, however, fail either procedurally or on the merits and are therefore dismissed. Accordingly, the Government's motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.
On November 12, 2009, a grand jury indicted Williams on three counts, one count of distributing marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (Count One) and two counts of possessing a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking offense, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (Counts Two and Three). The court appointed counsel to represent Williams. Williams discussed the charges with his attorney and eventually decided that he should proceed to trial. According to the Government's evidence at trial, Omar Turner went to Williams' residence to purchase marijuana. The transaction went awry when Turner grabbed the marijuana and ran out of the residence. Williams pursued Turner and fired a handgun at Turner as he fled. Turner escaped and returned to his apartment complex where he met with his friend Michael Hudson. A short time later, Turner and Hudson were walking outside the apartment complex when Williams and his associate Joseph Hairston arrived in a car. According to the Government's evidence, Williams jumped out and began firing a high powered rifle at Turner. Turner escaped unharmed but Hudson was struck multiple times and seriously injured. Williams and Hairston fled the scene. Williams testified in his defense and admitted to the drug transaction but denied ever shooting at Turner, much less being at the scene of the second shooting. Although, in the light most favorable to the Government, the evidence showed that Williams fired the shots that wounded Hudson, alternatively, the jury could have concluded that Hairston fired the shots that struck Hudson and that Williams was aiding and abetting that conduct. Accordingly, the court instructed the jury on aiding and abetting. After a three-day trial, a jury found Williams guilty of all three counts.
The court then imposed a 438-month sentence (18 months for Count One, and mandatory consecutive terms of 120 months for Count Two and 300 months for Count Three), and Williams appealed. Prior to the resolution of Williams' appeal, however, the United States successfully moved to remand the case so it could dismiss Count Three pursuant to a Department of Justice Policy against prosecuting successive § 924(c) violations relating to the same drug trafficking offense. A new presentence report was prepared, showing a guideline sentencing range of 360 months to life with a ten year mandatory minimum under Count Two for discharging a firearm in furtherance of Count One. The presentence report calculated the guideline range in accordance with U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(c)(3) because the defendant was determined to be a career offender and was also convicted of a § 924(c) violation. The court adopted the presentence report without modification and imposed a 360-month sentence (18 months for Count One and 342 months for Count Two). Williams again appealed and argued that the district court committed reversible error when it: (1) classified him as a career offender; (2) instructed the jury on an aiding and abetting theory of guilt; and (3) increased the sentence attributable to his first § 924(c) conviction from 120 months to 342 months. Williams was thus resentenced, de novo, on October 17, 2011 on only counts one and two. The Fourth Circuit found no error and affirmed. Williams did not pursue a writ of certiorari from the Supreme Court of the United States.
Williams now asserts that: (1) his counsel failed to properly advise him of the risks of going to trial, and had counsel done so, he would have pled guilty; (2) his counsel failed to call to the court's attention that he was improperly observed by three jurors in prison garb as he passed through a hallway during the jury voir dire, which also allegedly impaired his right to a fair trial; (3) his counsel failed to impeach government witnesses with prior inconsistent statements; (4) the court improperly gave an aiding and abetting instruction, and his counsel did not advise him he could be convicted as an aider and abettor; (5) the guideline calculations were erroneous, and his counsel failed to object thereto; (6) the court imposed a vindictive sentence; and (7) the court violated the rule in Alleyne v. United States , 133 S.Ct. 2151 (2013) by imposing a mandatory minimum based on the court's finding that Williams discharged the firearm.
Williams asserts five different ineffective assistance of counsel claims, which are also intertwined with three due process claims and a Sixth Amendment fair trial claim. The court concludes that two ineffective assistance of counsel claims merit an evidentiary hearing but rejects the others on the merits.
To establish a claim of ineffective assistance, a petitioner must show both deficient performance and prejudice. Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. 668, 669 (1984). A court's evaluation of deficient performance is "highly deferential." Strickland , 466 U.S. at 689. And courts apply a strong presumption that counsel's performance was within the "wide range" of reasonable professional assistance. Id .; see also Fields v. Att'y Gen. of Md. , 956 F.2d 1290, 1297-99 (4th Cir. 1992); Hutchins v. Garrison , 724 F.2d 1425, 1430-31 (4th Cir. 1983); Marzullo v. Maryland , 561 F.2d 540 (4th Cir. 1977). To overcome this presumption, a petitioner must show that "counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment." Strickland , 466 U.S. at 687. That is, the representation must fall below an objective standard of reasonableness, amounting to "incompetence under prevailing professional norms.'" Premo v. Moore , 131 S.Ct. 733, 740 (2011) (quoting Strickland , 466 U.S. at 690). With respect to prejudice, a petitioner must show "a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different, ' i.e., that he would have been found not guilty." Burr v. Lassiter, 513 Fed.Appx. 327, 340 (4th Cir. 2013) (citing Strickland , 466 U.S. at 694). The likelihood of a different outcome must be "substantial, " not merely "conceivable." Harrington v. Richter , 131 S.Ct. 770, 787 (2011).
Williams claims that his counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to show him a copy of a plea offer and instead advising him to go to trial because he would receive the same sentence in any event. The court will have to hold an evidentiary hearing because it is disputed whether the Government actually offered Williams a favorable plea agreement. The court will therefore deny the Government's motion with respect to this claim, pending the results of that hearing.
Williams claims that his counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to apprise the court that he inadvertently appeared in prison garb and shackles before three jurors in a hallway before trial. Finding that Williams cannot demonstrate that the ...