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Williams v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

March 9, 2017



          Michael F. Urbanski United States District Judge.

         Antonio Demetrius Williams, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, has filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. He has raised two ineffective assistance claims: (1) counsel failed to advise him that he faced a mandatory life sentence if a jury found him guilty at trial; and (2) counsel failed to object to the government's filing of a notice under 21 U.S.C. § 851, which necessitated a life sentence if he were found guilty. In a memorandum opinion entered on November 15, 2016, the court set an evidentiary hearing to develop the record with regard to Williams' first claim. The court found Williams' second claim unavailing but allowed the parties to file supplemental briefing, in the event that there were additional issues to address. No additional briefing was filed. An evidentiary hearing was conducted on February 15, 2017. After hearing the evidence and reviewing the entire record, the court concludes that Williams has not stated any meritorious claim for relief under § 2255 and that the government's motion to dismiss must be granted.


         On April 19, 2012, a federal grand jury charged Williams and other codefendants in a 29-count indictment with narcotics trafficking crimes, including conspiracy to distribute and manufacture 280 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A). The court appointed counsel ("first counsel") for Williams on April 25, 2012, and an initial appearance and arraignment were conducted the next day. At that time, the government had not yet filed a § 851 notice regarding Williams' prior drug convictions, but orally announced at the arraignment that it "will be filing notice of an 851 enhancement in this case as well. So in that case the minimum is life, the maximum is life." Initial Appearance/Arraignment Tr., ECF No. 643, at 9. The court advised Williams as follows:

THE COURT: Mr. Williams, if you are convicted of participating in the criminal conspiracy alleged in Count One against you, the government has indicated today that it intends before that trial to file what's called an 851 notice. They are saying that you have two or more felony - prior felony drug offenses. If you are convicted of participating in this conspiracy, you must be sentenced to life imprisonment in this case. Any you will also be subject to a fine in the amount of $10 million? Do you understand?

Id. at 9-10. On May 23, 2012, the government filed an information notice, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851, seeking an enhanced sentence for Williams based on his two prior Florida felony drug convictions.[1] § 851 Notice, ECF No. 96, at 1.

         At some point thereafter, the government tendered to Williams' first counsel a draft plea agreement providing that Williams would agree to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and manufacture 280 grams or more of cocaine base and one count of distributing cocaine base. Plea Agree., ECF No. 628-2, at 1-2. In exchange, the government would dismiss the remaining counts, and, importantly, would drop its § 851 enhancement notice as to one of Williams' two prior Florida felony drug offense convictions, reducing his mandatory minimum sentence from life to twenty years' incarceration. Id. at 3-4.

         In August 2012, Williams moved for new counsel, claiming that he was experiencing irreconcilable differences with his first counsel. Motion to Appoint New Counsel, ECF No. 155. After a hearing on August 9, 2012, the court appointed another lawyer ("trial counsel") for Williams. Criminal Minutes, ECF No. 162. A few days after his appointment, trial counsel met with Williams and discussed the government's proposed plea agreement. Williams rejected the government's proposed plea agreement, indicating that he wanted to proceed to trial. While counsel was preparing for trial, the government offered the plea deal to Williams a second time. Williams countered with a plea agreement capped at ten years, which the government declined.

         Williams' case was tried in October, 2012, and a verdict of guilt was rendered on November 1, 2012. A jury found Williams guilty of conspiracy to distribute and manufacture 280 grams or more of cocaine base, and six counts of distribution of cocaine base. Jury Verdict, ECF No. 329. As required by law, the court sentenced Williams to a mandatory life sentence. Judgment, ECF No. 432, at 3. Williams appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed his conviction and sentence. United States v. Williams, 554 F.App'x 128, 133 (4th Cir. Feb. 4, 2014). He also filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States, which was denied. Williams v. United States. 134 S.Ct. 2715 (June 2, 2014).

         Williams timely filed his § 2255 motion in this court. On February 15, 2017, the court held an evidentiary hearing regarding Williams' claim that trial counsel failed to advise him that he faced a mandatory life sentence if convicted. At the hearing, Williams testified that he received a copy of the indictment against him and the draft plea agreement from first counsel, but did not receive any correspondence from trial counsel. He stated that he met with trial counsel three or four times. Williams acknowledged that trial counsel advised him that he was facing a sentence with a maximum term of life imprisonment, but disagreed that trial counsel told him that a life sentence was mandatory. Williams further testified that trial counsel did not explain to him the significance of the § 851 notice, and that he found out that the notice required a mandatory life sentence only after he got to prison.

         Trial counsel also testified. He stated that he first met with Williams on August 15, 2012, shortly after his appointment. Trial counsel stated that he treated that first meeting as if it were the beginning of the case, even though Williams previously had been represented. Trial counsel testified that he discussed various sentences that Williams could face. He explained that the proposed plea agreement would limit Williams' sentencing exposure to twenty years to life. Trial counsel explained that if Williams proceeded to trial and a jury found him guilty, he would receive a mandatory life sentence. Williams indicated that he was not interested in accepting the proposed plea agreement. Trial counsel testified that the next few meetings with Williams were spent preparing for trial. In October, the government contacted trial counsel and advised him that the proposed plea agreement was still available if Williams had any interest in it. Trial counsel met with Williams on October 8, 2012, and again discussed the proposed plea agreement. Trial counsel talked to Williams once more about possible sentences, including the twenty to life sentence that he could receive by signing the plea agreement as opposed to a mandatory life sentence if found guilty at trial. Williams indicated that he would not accept the plea agreement with a twenty-year mandatory minimum sentence, and asked trial counsel to counter with a plea agreement for a ten-year sentence. The government did not accept Williams' counteroffer.


         To state a viable claim for relief under § 2255, a petitioner must prove: (1) that his sentence was "imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States;" (2) that "the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence;" or (3) that "the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Williams bears the burden of proving grounds for a collateral ...

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