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Williams v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Newport News Division

August 15, 2019



          Raymond A. Jackson United States District Judge

         Before the Court is pro se litigant Meesha Williams's ("Petitioner") Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct a Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody pursuant to Title 28, United States Code, Section 2255 ("2255 Motion"). Having reviewed the motions and filings, the Court finds that a hearing is not necessary to address Petitioner's motion. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). For the reasons set forth below, Petitioner's 2255 Motion is GRANTED.


         On June 12, 2017, Petitioner was named in a three-count indictment in the Eastern District of Virginia. ECF No. 1. Petitioner was charged with one count of Conspiracy to Commit Interference with Commerce by Robbery in violation of the Hobbs Act as codified in 18 U.S.C. § 1951 (Count One); one count of Using and Carrying a Firearm During and in Relation to, and Possessing a Firearm in Furtherance of, a Crime of Violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A), (2) (Count Two); and one count of Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and Distribute More than 100 Grams of Heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(B), 846 (Count Three). On October 17, 2017, Petitioner pled guilty by plea agreement to Counts Two and Three before this Court. ECF No. 13. In the plea agreement, Petitioner waived her right to appeal. ECF No. 14 at 3-4. The indictment and her Statement of Facts indicate that the predicate offense for Count Two is the Hobbs Act robbery charge in Count One. ECF No. 1 at 3; ECF No. 15 at ¶ 4. On January 31, 2018, Petitioner was sentenced to sixty months imprisonment on Count Three and sixty months on Count Two, to be served consecutively, for a total of 120 months imprisonment. ECF No. 26.

         On September 18, 2018, Petitioner filed her 2255 Motion claiming that her conviction under Count Two should be vacated because the statute is unconstitutionally vague under Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S.Ct. 1204 (2018). ECF Nos. 30-31. On the same day, the Court ordered the Government to respond. ECF No. 32. On October 29, 2018, the Government filed its response in opposition. ECF No. 33. Petitioner replied on November 15, 2018, and the brief was filed on November 23, 2018. ECF No. 34. Subsequently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ("Fourth Circuit") decided United States v. Simms, 914 F.3d 229 (4th Cir. 2019), and the United States Supreme Court decided United States v. Davis, 139 S.Ct. 2319 (2019). The Court ordered supplemental briefing on these cases on June 24, 2019. ECF No. 38. Both parties have since filed their memoranda. ECF Nos. 42, 44.


         A. Section 2255

          Section 2255 allows a federal prisoner "claiming the right to be released upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States ... [to] move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence." 28 U.S.C. § 2255. In a § 2255 motion, the petitioner bears the burden of proving his or her claim by a preponderance of the evidence. See Miller v. United States, 261 F.2d 546, 547 (4th Cir. 1958). Additionally, pro se filers are entitled to more liberal construction of their pleadings. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

         When deciding a § 2255 motion, the Court must promptly grant a hearing "unless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). Motions under § 2255 generally "will not be allowed to do service for an appeal." Sunal v. Large, 332 U.S. 174, 178-79 (1947). For this reason, issues already fully litigated on direct appeal may not be raised again under the guise of a collateral attack. United States v. Dyess 730 F.3d 354, 360 (4th Cir. 2013).

         Issues that should have been raised on direct appeal are deemed waived, procedurally defaulted, and cannot be raised on a 2255 Motion. United States v. Mikalajunas, 186 F.3d 490, 492 (4th Cir. 1999). However, an individual may raise a procedurally defaulted claim if he or she can show (1) "cause and actual prejudice resulting from the errors of which [he or she] complains" or (2) that "a miscarriage of justice would result from the refusal of the court to entertain the collateral attack... . [meaning] the movant must show actual innocence by clear and convincing evidence." Id. at 492-93. To demonstrate cause and prejudice, a petitioner must show the errors "worked to [his or her] actual and substantial disadvantage, infecting [his or her] entire trial with error of constitutional dimensions." United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 170 (1982).

         B. Guilty Pleas' Effect on 2255 Motions

         Guilty pleas are '"grave and solemn act[s] to be accepted only with care and discernment.'" United States v. Moussaui, 591 F.3d 263, 278 (4th Cir. 2010) (quoting Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 748 (1970)). As such, when a defendant makes a knowing and voluntary guilty plea, that person '"waives all nonjurisdictional defects in the proceedings conducted prior to entry of the plea.'" Id. at 279 (quoting United States v. Bundy, 392 F.3d 641, 644 (4th Cir. 2004)). Therefore, any statements made under oath, including during a plea colloquy, are binding on the defendant Fields v. Attorney Gen. of Md, 956 F.2d 1290, 1299 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 74-75 (1977)).

         A guilty plea generally limits collateral attacks to "whether the plea was counseled or voluntary." Id. at 1295 (citing United States v. Broce, 488 U.S. 563, 569 (1989)). However, a guilty plea may be subject to collateral attack if there is a substantive change in the law, which would result in a miscarriage of justice. United States v. Bousley, 523 U.S. 614, 621 (1998). In such cases, a petitioner is still subject to procedural default, meaning the claim must be one of "actual innocence." United States v. Adams, 814 F.3d 178, 182 (4th Cir. 2016) (citing Wolfe v. Johnson, 565 F.3d 140, 160 (4th Cir. 2009)). Claims based on intervening authority that narrows the statute of conviction are ones of actual innocence, but if the Government dismissed other charges as part of the plea negotiations, the petitioner must also show that he or she is actually innocent of the "underlying criminal conduct" to which he or she pleaded guilty. Id. at 184.

         III. ...

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