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Williams v. Gonyea

United States District Court, N.D. New York

October 31, 2017

PAUL GONYEA, Superintendent, Mohawk Correctional Facility, Respondent.


          JAMES K. SINGLETON, JR. Senior United States District Judge

         Marcus Williams, a New York state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus with this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Williams is in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and incarcerated at Mohawk Correctional Facility. Respondent has answered the Petition, and Williams has not replied.


         On August 4, 2011, Williams was charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. On direct appeal of his conviction, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court recounted the following facts underlying the charge against Williams:

A police captain heard gunshots, and an identified citizen then gave him a description of the shooter and his direction of flight from the area in which the gunshots originated. Other police officers who heard the broadcast description of the shooter observed [Williams] in a driveway approximately two blocks from the scene of the shooting, and he was nervous, sweating and breathing heavily. The police observed that he matched the description of the suspect, and he fled when he saw the unmarked patrol car. [Williams] ran behind a house out of the sight of an officer who pursued him, but he emerged quickly with his hands up. Although [Williams] was frisked, no weapon was recovered from his person. He was handcuffed, and other police officers quickly recovered a gun inside a grill in the backyard of the house behind which [Williams] had run. As the police were conducting a showup identification procedure with the identified citizen, who was brought to the scene where [Williams] was detained, [Williams] spontaneously yelled out to his family nearby the name of the identified citizen and that this person had seen [Williams] shoot the gun. [Williams] was arrested and, after being advised of his Miranda rights, he gave an inculpatory statement to the police.

People v. Williams, 12 N.Y.S.3d 699, 700 (N.Y.App.Div. 2015).

         The trial court subsequently held a Huntley[1] hearing regarding the admissibility of Williams' statements to his family before he was taken into custody by the police, premised upon Williams' claim that he was arrested without probable cause. Defense counsel argued:

[A]t the time of the arrest, [Williams] was simply standing in a private driveway at a time when he noticed four people running at him with weapons pointed at him. He then ran in fear for his safety, stopped at the corner of the house, where he was then handcuffed, taken to the ground, and then actually placed in custody at that point and our position would be the officers had absolutely no probable cause at that time that [Williams] had committed a crime or was about to commit a crime or was involved in committing a crime.

         After hearing testimony from Syracuse Police Captain John Brennan and Police Detective James Quatrone, the hearing court found that Williams was not in Miranda custody when he made the statement and that the statement, and the fact that police knew his grandmother lived at the house where he was found, were themselves sufficient for probable cause to put him in the police car, which then constituted Miranda custody. The court reasoned that the level-three intrusion[2] turned into level-four, probable cause to arrest, after Williams, without denial of his constitutional rights, made statements implicating himself as the shooter, and the police found a gun within 20 to 30 feet of Williams in his grandmother's grill.

         On November 28, 2011, Williams appeared with counsel to plead guilty to the charge. Prior to accepting his guilty plea, the court explained that "the specific terms of the plea proposal would be if you entered a plea of guilty to criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, I would give you if you took the offer today the lowest that I could give you, which is seven years determinate plus five years post-release supervision." Williams confirmed that he understood the terms of the deal. He additionally denied that he had received other statements or promises to influence his decision to plea guilty, and denied that he had been threatened. Williams stated that hewas32, a U.S. citizen, and could read and write English. He acknowledged that he had sufficient time to discuss his case with his attorney, and that he had no physical or mental problems that would affect his understanding of the plea proceedings. The court explained the rights he was giving up, and Williams confirmed his understanding that he was waiving those rights.

         Williams answered affirmatively when asked, "Do you admit on or about July 12, 2011, in the City of Syracuse, County of Onondaga, that you possessed a loaded firearm at a place other than your home or place of business, do you admit having done that?" Williams additionally admitted that he was convicted in April 2000 of first-degree robbery for which he received a 7-year term of imprisonment, and stipulated that, based on that prior conviction, he was a second violent felony offender.

         At his sentencing hearing, Williams requested to withdraw his guilty plea. Williams stated that he was not guilty and that the police wrongfully arrested him before they found the gun. Williams argued that the proof against him was not strong. The court denied the motion and imposed the agreed-upon sentence of 7 years' imprisonment followed by 5 years of post-release supervision.

         Williams filed a pro se motion to set aside his sentence pursuant to CPL § 440.20 on the ground that he was improperly sentenced as a second violent felony offender because second-degree weapons possession was not a violent felony. The court rejected Williams' motion because Williams had a prior violent felony conviction and his current offense was also a violent felony.

         Williams then filed a pro se motion to vacate his conviction pursuant to CPL § 440.10. In that motion, he argued, among other grounds not relevant to the instant Petition, that counsel was ineffective for not investigating his case and not advising him as to his "actual charge, " which subsequently rendered his plea unknowing, unintelligent, and involuntary, and that the police lacked probable cause to arrest him. In support of his motion, Williams attached affidavits from his girlfriend and a neighbor, which indicated that Williams was not outside when the shootings occurred. The County Court denied the motion on August 7, 2013. The court found that the ineffective assistance of counsel claim was barred by CPL § 440.10(2)(c)[3] and alternatively concluded that the plea record evidenced Williams' voluntary plea. The court also stated that the affidavits were not properly considered in a § 440.10 motion and, in any event, Williams had not shown that he could not have obtained this evidence with the exercise of diligence such that the evidence could not be considered "new." Through counsel, Williams then appealed his conviction to the Appellate Division on the ground that the court erred in declining to suppress his pre- and post-Miranda statements because they were the product of an arrest for which the police lacked probable cause. Williams additionally filed a pro se supplemental brief in which he argued that: 1) the hearing court erred in finding that his arrest was supported by probable cause; 2) the evidence before the grand jury was legally ...

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