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United States v. Williams

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

June 25, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
CHRISTOPHER WILLIAMS

         SECTION “R”

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SARAH S. VANCE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is defendant Christopher Williams's motion to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.[1] Upon review of the entire record, the Court has determined that this matter can be disposed of without an evidentiary hearing. The Court denies the motion because it is time barred, except that the Court reduces Williams's term of supervised release from ten years to five years.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 20, 2015, defendant Christopher Williams pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit sex trafficking in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1594(c) and 1591(a).[2] Williams waived his right to appeal and collaterally challenge his conviction and sentence, but he retained the right to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in an appropriate proceeding.[3] The Court accepted the plea agreement and sentenced Williams to 180 months of imprisonment followed by ten years of supervised release.[4] Williams's judgment was entered on July 13, 2016, [5] and he did not appeal. Williams now moves to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Section 2255 of Title 28 of the United States Code provides that a federal prisoner serving a court-imposed sentence “may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Only a narrow set of claims are cognizable on a Section 2255 motion. The statute identifies four bases on which a motion may be made: (1) the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the court was without jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) the sentence exceeds the statutory maximum sentence; or (4) the sentence is “otherwise subject to collateral attack.” Id. A claim of error that is neither constitutional nor jurisdictional is not cognizable in a Section 2255 proceeding unless the error constitutes “a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.” United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979) (quoting Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428 (1962)).

         When a Section 2255 motion is filed, the district court must first conduct a preliminary review. “If it plainly appears from the motion, any attached exhibits, and the record of prior proceedings that the moving party is not entitled to relief, the judge must dismiss the motion . . . .” Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings, Rule 4(b). If the motion raises a non-frivolous claim to relief, the court must order the Government to file a response or to take other appropriate action. Id. The judge may then order the parties to expand the record as necessary and, if good cause is shown, authorize limited discovery. Id., Rules 6-7.

         After reviewing the Government's answer, any transcripts and records of prior proceedings, and any supplementary materials submitted by the parties, the court must determine whether an evidentiary hearing is warranted. Id., Rule 8. An evidentiary hearing must be held “[u]nless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). No. evidentiary hearing is required if the prisoner fails to produce any “independent indicia of the likely merit of [his] allegations.” United States v. Edwards, 442 F.3d 258, 264 (5th Cir. 2006) (quoting United States v. Cervantes, 132 F.3d 1106, 1110 (5th Cir. 1998)).

         Ultimately, the petitioner bears the burden of establishing his claims of error by a preponderance of the evidence. Wright v. United States, 624 F.2d 557, 558 (5th Cir. 1980). For certain “structural” errors, relief follows automatically once the error is proved. Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 629-30 (1993). For other “trial” errors, the court may grant relief only if the error “had substantial and injurious effect or influence” in determining the outcome of the case. Id. at 637-38 (citation omitted); see also United States v. Chavez, 193 F.3d 375, 379 (5th Cir. 1999) (applying Brecht in a Section 2255 proceeding). If the court finds that the prisoner is entitled to relief, it “shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the prisoner or resentence him or grant a new trial or correct the sentence as may appear appropriate.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Timeliness

         As Williams did not appeal this Court's judgment, his conviction and sentence became final on July 27, 2016, fourteen days after the Court's entry of judgment. See Fed. R. App. P. 4(b)(1); United States v. Scruggs, 691 F.3d 660, 669 (5th Cir. 2012) (“When a defendant does not file a direct appeal, his conviction becomes final on the day when the time for filing a direct appeal expires.”). Section 2255(f) provides as follows:

         A 1-year period of limitation shall apply to a motion under this section. The limitation ...


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