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United States v. Williams

United States District Court, W.D. New York

February 27, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
MILTON WILLIAMS, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HONORABLE RICHARD J. ARCARA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Government moves, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3145(a)(1), to revoke Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy's order releasing the Defendant pending trial. After de novo review, and for the reasons stated below, the Government's motion is denied, but the Court modifies the conditions of release imposed by Judge McCarthy.

         BACKGROUND

         The Defendant is charged with possessing, with intent to distribute, cocaine and marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C); possessing firearms in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i); and possessing three firearms with defaced serial numbers, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(k) and 924(a)(1)(B). See 18-MJ-1020, Docket No. 1 (Complaint). The Court assumes familiarity with the allegations in the criminal complaint, the Government's proffer at the detention hearing, and the arguments for and against release.

         DISCUSSION

         1. The Bail Reform Act's standard for pretrial detention The Court reviews Judge McCarthy's release order de novo. United States v. Leon, 766 F.2d 77, 80 (2d Cir. 1985).

         The Bail Reform Act “requires a court to order the pre-trial release of a defendant on a personal recognizance bond ‘unless [the court] determines that such release will not reasonably assure the appearance of the person as required or will endanger the safety of any other person or the community.'” United States v. Sabhnani, 493 F.3d 63, 75 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 3142(b)). If a court determines that release on a recognizance bond would not “reasonably assure the appearance of the person as required or will endanger the safety of any other person or the community, ” § 3142(c), “the law still favors pre-trial release ‘subject to the least restrictive further condition, or combination of conditions, that [the court] determines will reasonably assure the appearance of the person as required.'” Sabhnani, 493 F.3d at 75 (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 3142(c)(1)(B)).

         If, however, a court finds “that no condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the appearance of the person as required and the safety of any other person and the community, ” the court “shall order the detention of the person before trial.” 18 U.S.C. § 3142(f). The standard of proof by which a court must make detention findings depends on the basis for the Government's detention motion: If the Government seeks detention based on a defendant's danger, “[t]he facts the judicial officer uses to support a finding . . . that no condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the safety of any other person and the community shall be supported by clear and convincing evidence.” 18 U.S.C. § 3142(f). In other words, “the evidence must support a conclusion of danger to the community ‘with a high degree of certainty.'” United States v. Enix, 209 F.Supp.3d 557, 563 (W.D.N.Y. 2016) (quoting United States v. Chimurenga, 760 F.2d 400, 405 (2d Cir. 1985)). If, on the other hand, the Government seeks detention based on a defendant's flight risk, the Government must first prove by a preponderance of the evidence that “the defendant presents a risk of flight.” Sabhnani, 493 F.3d at 68 n.5. If the Government does so, it must then prove by a preponderance of the evidence that “there are [no] conditions or a combination of conditions which reasonably will assure the presence of the defendant at trial if he is released.” United States v. Shakur, 817 F.2d 189, 194-95 (2d Cir. 1987).

         When a defendant is charged with committing certain offenses, the Bail Reform Act imposes “a presumption . . . that no condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the appearance of the person as required and the safety of the community.” 18 U.S.C. § 3142(e)(3). Two of the charges in the criminal complaint in this case-the narcotics charge and the § 924(c) charge-trigger the presumptions of dangerousness and flight. 18 U.S.C. § 3142(e)(3)(A)-(B).[1]

         “In a presumption case such as this, a defendant bears a limited burden of production-not a burden of persuasion-to rebut that presumption by coming forward with evidence that he does not pose a danger to the community or a risk of flight.” United States v. Mercedes, 254 F.3d 433, 436 (2d Cir. 2001). “Once a defendant has met his burden of production relating to these two factors, the presumption favoring detention does not disappear entirely, but remains a factor to be considered among those weighed by the district court.” Id. Thus, “[e]ven in a presumption case, the government retains the ultimate burden of persuasion by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant presents a danger to the community.” Id.

         To determine whether the Defendant has rebutted the presumptions of dangerousness and flight, the Court considers the four factors listed in 18 U.S.C. § 3142(g): (1) the nature and circumstances of the crime charged; (2) the weight of the evidence against the Defendant; (3) the Defendant's history and characteristics, such as his family ties, employment, community ties, and past conduct; and (4) the nature and seriousness of the danger to the community or to an individual that the Defendant's release would present. See Mercedes, 254 F.3d at 436.

         2. Application to the facts of this case

         A. The nature and circumstances of the crimes charged

         The penalties the Defendant faces if he is convicted demonstrate the seriousness of the charges in this case. First, the Defendant faces a maximum penalty of 20 years' imprisonment for the narcotics distribution charge. 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(C).[2] To be sure, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines would likely recommend a sentence well below the statutory maximum, but that sentence would run consecutive to a mandatory minimum five-year sentence for the 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) charge. Further, the statutory maximum penalty for the defaced-firearms charge is five years. Thus, if he is convicted, the Defendant faces a not-insignificant jail sentence, and one that is far greater than any sentence he has previously served.

         The circumstances of the charged offenses are also serious. The Defendant is alleged to have possessed three handguns with defaced serial numbers, two of which, the Government proffers, were purchased by a straw purchaser in Pennsylvania. Moreover, the Government proffers that one of the firearms was traced to two shootings in July 2017. The Government acknowledges that it has no evidence connecting the Defendant to either of these shootings, and nothing in the record suggests that the Defendant has committed any act of violence in connection with this case.

         Nonetheless, the Government's proffer underscores the seriousness of the firearm charges in this case, and it strengthens the statutory presumption that no condition or combination of conditions can reasonably ensure the safety of the community. Moreover, given the penalties the Defendant faces if he is convicted-including a mandatory five-year consecutive sentence-the nature of the crimes charged also strengthen the presumptions that apply in this case. The Defendant has not brought forth evidence rebutting this factor.

         B. The weight of the evidence against the Defendant

         The weight of the evidence against the Defendant appears to be strong. The firearms and narcotics at issue were found in the Defendant's home, and one of the firearms was found on top of an envelope addressed to the Defendant. Officers also found two firearms in the kitchen, baggies of marijuana in the oven, cocaine, and a digital scale. See 18-MR-069, Docket No. 1-2 at 9-18, 21-28. In addition, the Defendant's state-issued identification card was found in the master ...


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