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United States v. Williams

United States District Court, W.D. New York

July 31, 2018





         The Government appeals Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy's order releasing Defendant Latisha Williams from pretrial detention. See ECF Nos. 151, 154. For the reasons that follow, the Government's appeal is denied.


         On April 19, 2017, Defendant Williams and two codefendants were indicted for cocaine trafficking. ECF No. 1. The DEA could not initially locate Defendant, but the Erie County Sheriff's Office learned that her brother, co-defendant Lamel Williams, was selling cocaine at his home in Buffalo, New York. ECF No. 155 at 2. When deputies from the Sheriff's Office executed a search warrant of the home, they found Defendant attempting to flush cocaine base down the toilet. Id. They also discovered evidence of distribution, including scales, baggies, and $18, 000 in cash. Id. Finally, they recovered a firearm that had been stolen from the Buffalo Police Department. Id. at 3. The deputies discovered the gun in a cooler located outside of the apartment's rear entry door and buried under several other items. Id.; ECF No. 163 at 3.

         On April 28, 2017, the Court held a detention hearing. ECF No. 155 at 3. The Government and the U.S. Probation Office (USPO) recommended Defendant's detention, although Judge McCarthy questioned the extent to which Defendant posed danger to the community, noting that the strength of the evidence tying Defendant to the gun found outside of her brother's house was weak.[1] The Court set a follow-up hearing date of May 2, 2017 for Defendant to post $7, 500 in bail and find a residence with a landline where she could live. ECF No. 155 at 4. Defendant could not meet those conditions at that time, so Judge McCarthy ordered her detained on May 15, 2017 but informed her of her right to seek reconsideration based upon changed circumstances. ECF No. 47 at 2.

         A federal Grand Jury returned a superseding indictment against Defendant and her co-defendants on October 4, 2017. ECF No. 74. The indictment reflects the initial charges from the August 2016 Complaint and those stemming from the discovery of the stolen firearm outside of Lamel Williams's home. Id.

         On June 5, 2018, Defendant moved for reconsideration of bail. ECF No. 148 at 4. Defendant's aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Mixson, were willing to supervise Defendant at their home in Lockport, New York. Id. Defendant stated that she was close with the Mixsons, and they expressed full confidence in her ability to comply with any terms of supervised release.[2]Additionally, both individuals were willing to sign signature bonds for $20, 000. On June 11, 2018, Mr. Mixson, Mrs. Mixson, and Defendant each signed a $20, 000 signature bond.

         Judge McCarthy's June 20, 2018 Order Setting Conditions of Release requires home incarceration, forbids Defendant from using any alcohol or drugs, requires her to submit to drug testing and participate in substance abuse counseling, and bars her from obtaining a passport, among other conditions. ECF No. 162 at 2.


         The district court reviews a magistrate judge's release order de novo. U.S. v. Leon, 766 F.2d 77, 80 (2d Cir. 1985) (stating that the district judge should “not simply defer to the judgement of the magistrate, but reach its own independent conclusion”). The Court may rely on the record of the proceedings before the magistrate judge and also accept additional evidence. U.S. v. Colombo, 777 F.2d 96, 98 (2d Cir. 1985).


         The law “generally favors bail release.” U.S. v. Sabhani, 493 F.3d 63, 75 (2d Cir. 2007). Doubts about the wisdom of release should be resolved in favor of defendants. See Herzog v. U.S., 75 S.Ct. 349, 351 (1955). The Bail Reform Act requires a court to order detention only if “no condition or combination of conditions [of release] will reasonably assure the appearance of the” defendant or “will endanger the safety of any other person or the community.” 18 U.S.C. § 3142(e)(1). There is a rebuttable presumption that no conditions of release could assure the defendant's appearance or protect the community if the defendant is charged with an offense “for which a maximum term of imprisonment of ten years or more is prescribed in the Controlled Substances Act.” Id. at § 3142(e)(3)(A). This rebuttable presumption applies to Defendant, and she bears the burden of producing evidence that she does not pose danger to the community or risk of flight. U.S. v. Mercedes, 254 F.3d 433, 436 (2d Cir. 2001). The presumption will not disappear even if Williams meets this burden but remains a factor for the Court to consider. Id.

         Even in a case where the statutory presumption applies, the government retains two burdens of persuasion: 1) to establish by “clear and convincing” evidence that the defendant presents a danger to the community, and 2) to establish by “a preponderance of the evidence” that the defendant is a flight risk. Id. The Bail Reform Act requires the district court to examine several factors when determining whether the defendant has rebutted the presumptions of flight and dangerousness, including the nature and circumstances of the crime charged, the weight of the evidence against the defendant, the defendant's history and characteristics, and the nature and seriousness of the danger to the community and/or to an individual. See Id. at § 3142(g). When applying these “factors to any particular case, ...

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