United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division
Michael F. Urbanski United States District Judge.
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.
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?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, sir.
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. § 851
Notice, ECF No. 96, at 1.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 ...