United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Newport News Division
AMENDED MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Raymond A. Jackson United States District Judge
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.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
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.
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.
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).
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).
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).
Guilty Pleas' Effect on 2255 Motions
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)).
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.