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Williams v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. New York

June 1, 2017



          Sandra J. Feuerstein United States District Judge

         Petitioner Jamel Williams (“Williams”) moves this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate his sentence of imprisonment. (See § 2255 Motion (Dkt. 1) and Memorandum in Support (“Mov. Br.”) (Dkt. 2)). The United States of America (the “Government”) has filed a response in opposition to Williams' motion, and Williams has filed a reply brief in further support of his motion. (See Response in Opposition (“Opp.”) (Dkt. 5); Williams' Reply to the Government's Response of August 6, 2014 (“Reply”) (Dkt. 10)). For the following reasons, Williams' motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Relevant Procedural History Preceding § 2255 Motion

         On July 13, 2005, a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of New York returned a superseding indictment, charging Williams with, inter alia, possessing and conspiring with other members of a racketeering enterprise to distribute 50 or more grams of a substance containing cocaine base (i.e., “crack” cocaine) in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846. (E.D.N.Y. Case No. 03-cr-795 (“Cr. Dkt.”) 148, 153). The case was assigned to United States District Judge David G. Trager and United States Magistrate Judge Steven M. Gold. On October 31, 2005, Magistrate Judge Gold held a plea allocution hearing, during which Williams pled guilty to the charge of possessing and conspiring to distribute 50-plus grams of crack cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), and 846, pursuant to a plea agreement with the Government. (See Transcript of Criminal Cause for Pleading before the Honorable Steven M. Gold (“Plea Tr.”) (Cr. Dkt. 194) at 13-14, 22). At the time of his allocution, Williams was in the midst of serving an eight-year state prison sentence for a prior state court narcotics-sales conviction. (See Id. at 14). During his allocution, Williams affirmed, inter alia, that in 2001 and 2002, he and other members of a racketeering enterprise conspired to and did sell more than 1.5 kilograms of crack cocaine in Brooklyn. (See Id. at 23-26).

         Williams and the Government agree that, at some point prior to the plea hearing and sentencing, the Government filed an information, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851(a)(1), [1] indicating that, in 2002, Williams had been convicted in state court for selling narcotics, and was thus subject to an enhanced mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years imprisonment under the pre-Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (“FSA”) version of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) then in effect.[2] (See Mov. Br. at 2, 6-7, 16; Opp. at 1-2; Reply at 2-5). On July 18, 2007, Judge Trager held a sentencing hearing during which Williams' counsel acknowledged that “the government filed a prior felony offender statement which fundamentally mandates for a minimum sentence of 20 years before the Court.” (See Transcript of Criminal Cause for Sentencing before the Honorable David G. Trager (“Sentencing Tr.”) (Cr. Dkt. 412) at 2). Williams' counsel indicated that Williams contested certain contents of the pre-sentence report, but that, “giv[en] the [Government's] [§ 851(a)(1)] filing, I don't know that it ultimately impacts the sentencing.” (Id. at 2-3). Judge Trager sentenced Williams to 240 months imprisonment, to run concurrent with his state sentence, with credit for time served since May 15, 2002, the beginning of his state incarceration. (Id. at 5). On July 25, 2007, the Clerk entered judgment. (Cr. Dkt. 329). Williams did not file an appeal.

         On January 4, 2013, following the reassignment of his case from Judge Trager to District Judge Brian M. Cogan, Williams filed a motion pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2), seeking a reduction of his sentence from 240 months to 188 months. (Cr. Dkt. 524). Williams argued that the FSA, which increased from 50 to 280 grams the crack cocaine weight threshold necessary to trigger a 20-year minimum sentence for a defendant with a prior drug conviction, should be applied retroactively to reduce his sentence. (See generally id.). On January 16, 2013, the case was reassigned to this Court. On July 15, 2013, this Court denied Williams' § 3582(c)(2) motion on the basis that, under controlling precedent, the FSA cannot be applied retroactively to reduce a sentence that became final prior to its enactment. (Cr. Dkt. 541); see U.S. v. Diaz, 627 F.3d 930, 931 (2d Cir. 2010) (FSA does not have retroactive effect).

         B. Williams' § 2255 Motion

         On June 27, 2014, Williams filed the present motion to vacate his July 2007 sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Substantively, Williams argues that his sentence should be vacated because: (1) the pre-FSA version of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as it mandated that someone convicted of selling 50 grams of crack cocaine receive the same sentence as someone convicted of selling 500 grams of powder cocaine, disproportionately burdening black defendants vis-à-vis white defendants, and the failure to apply the FSA retroactively to Williams' conviction also violates the Equal Protection Clause; (2) prior to imposing the enhanced 240-month sentence based upon Williams' prior state conviction, Judge Trager did not, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851(b), “inquire … whether he affirms or denies that he has been previously convicted” or “inform him that any challenge to a prior conviction which is not made before sentence is imposed may not thereafter be raised to attack the sentence”; and (3) the imposition of an enhanced 240-month sentence based upon his prior state drug conviction was rendered invalid by the Supreme Court's subsequent decision in Descamps v. U.S., 133 S.Ct. 2276 (2013). (See Mov. Br. at 7-16).


         A. § 2255 Generally

         28 U.S.C. § 2255(a) provides:

(a) A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress 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, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack, may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.

         Relief under § 2255 is available “only for a constitutional error, a lack of jurisdiction in the sentencing court, or an error of law or fact that constitutes a fundamental defect which inherently results in complete miscarriage of justice.” Graziano v. U.S., 83 F.3d 587, 590 (2d Cir. 1996) (internal quotations omitted). “Because collateral challenges are in tension with society's strong interest in the finality of criminal convictions, the courts have established rules that make it more difficult for a defendant to upset a conviction by collateral, as opposed to direct, attack.” Yick Man Mui v. U.S., 614 F.3d 50, 53 (2d Cir. 2010) (internal quotations omitted). A prisoner may receive an evidentiary hearing on his § 2255 motion unless “it plainly appears from the motion, any attached exhibits, and the record of prior proceedings that [he] is not entitled to relief…” Puglisi v. U.S., 586 F.3d 209, 213 (2d Cir. 2009).

         B. ยง 2255 ...

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