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Williams v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

January 23, 2018




         This case is before the Court on Petitioner Leotis Williams's Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence (Civ. Doc. 1, Motion to Vacate).[1] The United States has responded (Civ. Doc. 4, Response), and Williams has replied (Civ. Doc. 5, Reply).

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 and Rule 8(a) of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings[2], the Court has considered the need for an evidentiary hearing and determines that an evidentiary hearing is not necessary to resolve the merits of this action. See Aron v. United States, 291 F.3d 708, 714-15 (11th Cir. 2002) (an evidentiary hearing on a § 2255 petition is not required when the petitioner asserts allegations that are affirmatively contradicted by the record or patently frivolous, or if in assuming the facts that he alleges are true, he still would not be entitled to any relief); Holmes v. United States, 876 F.2d 1545, 1553 (11th Cir. 1989) (a petitioner's ineffective assistance claim can be dismissed without an evidentiary hearing when the petitioner alleges facts that, even if true, would not entitle him to relief); Dickson v. Wainwright, 683 F.2d 348, 351 (11th Cir. 1982) (“On habeas a federal district court need not conduct an evidentiary hearing if it can be conclusively determined from the record that the petitioner was not denied effective assistance of counsel.”); Patel v. United States, 252 F. App'x 970, 975 (11th Cir. 2007).[3]For the reasons set forth below, Williams's Motion to Vacate is due to be denied.

         I. Background

         On September 25, 2012, Williams sold approximately two ounces of cocaine to a confidential informant named Alvin Williams (“the informant”), who was working at the time for the Fernandina Beach Police Department under a deferred arrest agreement. (See Crim. Doc. 99, Trial Transcript Volume II at 36-37, 52, 54-56). Three days later, on September 28, 2012, Williams sold three “cookies” of crack cocaine to the same informant. See id. at 60-61. The police arrested Williams shortly after the second transaction. Both controlled purchases were audio- and video-recorded. See id. at 38-41, 61-62.

         On August 1, 2013, a grand jury sitting in the Middle District of Florida indicted Williams on one count of distributing cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C), and one count of distributing crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C). (Crim. Doc. 37, Superseding Indictment). Williams pled not guilty and proceeded to a jury trial.

         At trial, the United States introduced the testimony of the informant, the informant's handler (Sergeant Matthew Bowen), as well as audio and video recordings of the controlled purchases, along with other evidence. The informant described how he came to work for the police under a deferred arrest agreement and how the controlled purchases with Williams transpired. Trial Tr. Vol. II at 34-81. The informant described purchasing two one-ounce bags of cocaine from Williams on September 25, 2012, as well as purchasing three crack cocaine “cookies” from Williams on September 28, 2012. Id. at 53-60, 60-61. Still-shots from the video recordings of the transactions depicted Williams himself, id. at 58-60, two one-ounce bags of cocaine, id. at 54-56, three “cookies” of crack cocaine, id. at 68-69, and Williams counting the money from the sale, id. at 69-71. Additionally, audio from the September 25 transaction captured Williams and the informant discussing the need to get a “bench, ” or a scale, to weigh the drugs. Id. at 53, 111-12. Audio from that same transaction further captured Williams and the informant negotiating a price for the cocaine. Id. at 113-14.

         The jury deliberated for a little over an hour before returning a guilty verdict on both counts. Id. at 199-200. The Court sentenced Williams to concurrent terms of 120 months in prison as to each count, followed by a three-year term of supervised release. (Crim. Doc. 87, Judgment). Williams appealed the judgment, challenging only the reasonableness of his sentence. United States v. Williams, 573 F. App'x 912, 912 (11th Cir. 2014). The Eleventh Circuit rejected Williams's argument, concluding that “[t]he district court did not abuse its discretion by sentencing Williams to a term of imprisonment far below his advisory guideline range, ” which had been 210 to 262 months in prison. Id. at 912-13. After the Eleventh Circuit affirmed Williams's conviction and sentence, he did not petition the Supreme Court for certiorari review.

         II. Williams's Motion to Vacate

         On October 15, 2014, Williams timely filed the instant Motion to Vacate. In Ground One, Williams contends that the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because (1) Sergeant Bowen represented himself to be a member of the Fernandina Beach Police Department rather than the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); (2) the controlled purchases were operated and funded by the Fernandina Beach Police Department; and (3) Williams's activities involved only intrastate commerce. Motion to Vacate at 4. In Ground Two, Williams claims that counsel gave ineffective assistance by (1) failing to advise the Court that the defense had not received all of the discovery, (2) failing to object to the lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and (3) failing to object to alleged Brady[4]violations. Id. at 5. In Ground Three, Williams alleges two types of prosecutorial misconduct: (1) that the prosecution violated Brady by withholding “ordered information, ” including video and audio recordings, and (2) that the prosecution misrepresented the existence of the Court's jurisdiction. Id. at 7. In Ground Four, Williams claims that he is actually innocent because “the government lacked authority to prosecute.” Id. at 8.

         On May 9, 2016, Williams moved to amend his Motion to Vacate. (Civ. Doc. 6, Motion to Amend). In the Motion to Amend, Williams added a claim that he was improperly classified as a career offender under § 4B1.1 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Williams claims that § 4B1.2's “residual clause” is unconstitutionally vague in light of Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), and as such, that his career offender classification is unlawful.

         III. Discussion

         Pursuant to Title 28, United States Code, Section 2255, a person in federal custody may move to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. Section 2255 permits such collateral challenges on four specific grounds: (1) the imposed sentence was in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the court did not have jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) the imposed sentence exceeded the maximum authorized by law; or (4) the imposed sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C §2255(a) (2008). Only jurisdictional claims, constitutional claims, and claims of error that are so fundamentally defective as to cause a complete miscarriage of justice will warrant relief through collateral attack. United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 184-86 (1979). A petitioner's challenge to his sentence based on a Sixth Amendment claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is normally considered in a collateral attack. United States v. Teague, 953 F.2d 1525, 1534 n. 11 (11th Cir. 1992).

         A. Ground One: Lack of Jurisdiction

         Williams's first claim is that the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, essentially because a local police department rather than the DEA conducted the investigation that led to his arrest, and because his activities involved only intrastate commerce. This claim lacks merit.

         It does not matter that local law enforcement officers, rather than the DEA, spearheaded the investigation that led to the charges against Williams. “The district courts of the United States have original and exclusive jurisdiction over ‘all offenses against the laws of the United States.'” United States v. Peter, 310 F.3d 709, 713 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 3231); see also U.S. Const. art. III, § 2, cl. 1 (“The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority…”). Thus, so long as an indictment charges the defendant with violating the “laws of the United States, ” that is enough to vest subject-matter jurisdiction in a federal court. United States v. Brown, 752 F.3d 1344, 1348 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing Alikhani v. United States, 200 F.3d 732, 734 (11th Cir. 2000)). While a defective indictment could strip a federal court of subject-matter jurisdiction, it does so if it charges (1) a crime that simply did not exist in the United States Code, (2) conduct that undoubtedly fell outside the sweep of the criminal statute, or (3) a violation of a regulation that was not intended to be a “law” for the purpose of criminal liability. Brown, 752 F.3d at 1353 (internal citations omitted). None of these exceptions applies here. The grand jury charged Williams with violating 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C) - a federal criminal statute - for distributing cocaine and crack cocaine. Superseding Indictment at 1-2. Section 841 makes it a crime “to ...

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