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United States v. Williams

May 13, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Richard J. Arcara United States District Judge



Defendant David Williams was indicted in January 1999 on charges that he was a principal administrator in a continuing criminal enterprise and was alleged to be one of the largest cocaine suppliers in Buffalo, New York. The indictment also included allegations of drug trafficking, using a firearm to facilitate drug trafficking activity, using a telephone to facilitate drug trafficking and being a felon in possession of a weapon.*fn1 The indictment named 29 others in various drug-related charges, including Mark Overall, Dawood Naseer and Alvin Jackson.

Williams retained attorney Anthony Leonardo to represent him. Leonardo had previously represented Williams on earlier federal drug charges. As it turns out, Leonardo was involved in illegal activity that included selling illegal firearms, money laundering, cocaine distribution and conspiracy to commit murder. Some of Leonardo's criminal conduct involved Williams. The government first learned about allegations of illegal conduct from Mark Overall in March 1999 but did not move to recuse Leonardo because the allegations were uncorroborated at that point. As pretrial proceedings progressed, the government learned more about Leonardo's illegal conduct and ultimately, in December 2000, Leonardo was arrested. In early February 2001, attorney Gary Greenwald was substituted as counsel for Williams.

In August 2001, Williams moved (through new counsel) to dismiss the indictment asserting that his Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated as a result of Leonardo's conflict of interest. This Court denied the motion and the case proceeded to trial. On December 14, 2001, a jury found Williams guilty of:

(1) engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 848(a) and (b); (2) conducting a financial transaction involving the proceeds of unlawful activity with the intent to promote unlawful activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(A)(i) and (ii); (3) possessing with intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B); (4) possessing firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1) and (2); and (5) four counts of using a telephone while committing a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(b). Under the then-mandatory guidelines regime, Williams was sentenced to life imprisonment for the first and third counts, a consecutive term of 5 years' imprisonment on the fourth, and a concurrent term of 20 years' imprisonment on the remaining offenses.

Williams appealed his conviction and sentence to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and reasserted his Sixth Amendment claim on appeal. In June 2004, the Circuit found that Williams' Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated because his attorney was burdened by an actual conflict of interest that adversely affected counsel's representation. The Circuit found that a lapse in representation occurred when Leonardo failed to make any significant effort to negotiate a plea disposition on Williams' behalf, and actively discouraged Williams from cooperating, out of fear that his own criminal conduct might be revealed. The Circuit found that Williams was denied conflict-free counsel during the "critical months after [his] arrest when [he] asserts that he had valuable information that he could have offered the government concerning [the whereabouts of fugitive co-defendant Alvin Jackson]." See United States v. Williams, 372 F.3d 96, 106 (2d Cir. 2004).

Having determined that Williams' representation was marred by an actual conflict, the Circuit determined that neither dismissal of the charges or a new trial was warranted. Instead, the Circuit found that the appropriate remedy was to resentence Williams to the sentence he would have received had he been given conflict-free advice. Id. at 111. Although the government represented to the Circuit "that it would not have consented to a sentence short of life imprisonment," the Circuit declined to take the government's "hardline bargaining position at face value." Id. at 107. Rather, the Circuit directed this Court to "gather any evidence needed to reconstruct the likely result Williams would have obtained had he not had conflicted counsel" including inquiry into "the terms of the agreement the defendant could have received, whether [he] would in fact have accepted the plea, and . . . whether [the] court would have followed the sentencing recommendations contained in the agreement." Id. at 111 (internal quotations omitted). In so holding, the Circuit cautioned that "it is possible that Williams' sentence ought not to be reduced" if this Court were to determine that "even if Williams had constitutionally effective counsel after his arrest, the same sentence would have eventuated." Id.

In accordance with the remand, this Court held an evidentiary hearing on February 13th through 16th of 2007, and the hearing continued on April 28th, April 30th and May 1st of 2008. Following the hearing, the Court directed the parties to brief the following issues:

(1) whether the defendant would have been able to obtain a favorable plea offer from the government had he been represented by conflict-free counsel during the pretrial proceedings and if so, what the terms of that offer would have been;

(2) whether the defendant would have accepted that plea offer; and

(3) whether it is likely that this Court would have sentenced the defendant in accordance with the terms of that plea deal.

The parties filed their respective briefs and the Court held oral argument on December 16, 2009.*fn2

For the reasons stated, the Court finds that, even if Williams had been represented by conflict-free counsel immediately after his arrest, any plea offer made by the government would have required the defendant to agree to a sentence of life imprisonment, ...

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