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Williams v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

January 30, 2017

RAYMOND DONOVAN WILLIAMS, #13371-003, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent. Criminal No. 13-00213-KD-B-1

          ORDER

          KRISTI K. DUBOSE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is Petitioner's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. 93), Petitioner's Motion to Amend and Add a Supplement (Doc. 95), Petitioner's Motion to Supplement (Doc. 96), the Government's Response in Opposition (Doc. 102), Petitioner's Reply to the Government's Response (Doc. 104), and Petitioner's Amended and Supplemental Memorandum in Support (Doc. 108). Having carefully reviewed the record, the undersigned finds that no evidentiary hearing is necessary for the disposition of this matter.[1] Upon consideration, Petitioner's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is DENIED, this action is DISMISSED, and judgment shall be entered in favor of Respondent, the United States of America, and against Petitioner, Raymond Donovan Williams. Should Williams file a certificate of appealability, it should be denied as he is not entitled to appeal in forma pauperis.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Petitioner Raymond Donovan Williams was indicted on August 23, 2013 on one count of conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute and one count of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 and 21 U.S.C § 841(b)(1)(B). (Doc. 30). This indictment came after the arrest of Williams and a co-defendant at a truck stop, where they were involved in the transport and protection of a cocaine load. (Doc. 102 at 2). This arrest was made possible due to the cooperation of a cooperating witness (CW), who assisted law enforcement in a sting operation after his own arrest. (Id. at 1).

         The CW told investigators that Williams and his co-defendant, a police officer from Prichard, had previously transported cocaine for him. (Id. at 2). Police recorded conversations between Williams and CW in which Williams agreed to pick up five kilograms of cocaine at a truck stop in Grand Bay for $15, 000.00[2] . (Id.) When Williams and the co-defendant arrived to pick up the cocaine as planned, both were arrested. (Id.; see also Doc. 30).

         After a one-day trial, a jury found Williams guilty of conspiracy and possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 and 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B). (Doc. 60). Williams was sentenced to a term of eighty-four (84) months imprisonment. (Doc. 75). Williams timely appealed his judgment. (Docs. 71, 73). The Eleventh Circuit affirmed his conviction in September 2014, holding that “there was more than sufficient evidence to infer that a drug trafficking conspiracy… existed.” (Doc. 90 at 4).

         Williams subsequently filed his § 2255 motion on April 28, 2015[3]. (Doc. 93). On May 8, 2015, the Court ordered Williams to sign the motion and re-file. (Doc. 94). Williams subsequently filed a Motion to Amend and add a Supplement on May 3, 2015[4] and a Motion to Supplement on May 15, 2015. (Docs. 95, 96). The court granted these motions on June 1, 2015. (Docs. 97, 98). The Government filed a Response in Opposition on August 11, 2015. (Doc. 102). Williams replied to the Government's response on August 27, 2015. (Doc. 104). Williams filed an Amended and Supplemental Memorandum in Support on December 8, 2016. (Doc. 108).

         II. HABEAS STANDARD

         The limited scope of habeas relief is well established, as this Court has recognized:

Collateral relief is an extraordinary remedy which “may not do service for a [] [direct] appeal.” United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 165, 102 S.Ct. 1584, 71 L.Ed.2d 816 (1982); see also Lynn v. United States, 365 F.3d 1225, 1232 (11th Cir. 2004) (“Courts have long and consistently affirmed that a collateral challenge, such as a § 2255 motion, may not be a surrogate for a direct appeal.”). A defendant who has waived or exhausted his right to appeal is presumed to stand “fairly and finally convicted.” Frady, 456 U.S. at 164. Unless a claim alleges a lack of jurisdiction or constitutional error, the scope of collateral attack has remained extremely limited. United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185, 99 S.Ct. 2235, 60 L.Ed.2d 805 (1979). Consequently, “[i]f issues are raised and considered on direct appeal, a defendant is thereafter precluded from urging the same issues in a later collateral attack . . . A defendant is, of course, entitled to a hearing of his claims, but not to duplicate hearings. The appellate process does not permit reruns.” Moore v. United States, 598 F.2d 439, 441 (5th Cir. 1979).

United States v. Evans, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59836, *8-9 (S.D. Ala. August 4, 2008) (quotation marks in original).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Williams raises many individual claims in the instant petition. The majority of these claims are brought under a principle claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Claims against his trial counsel can be found in his Motion to Vacate (Doc. 93), Motion to Amend (Doc. 95), Motion to Supplement (Doc. 96), Reply to the Government's Response (Doc. 104), and Amended and Supplemental Memorandum in Support (Doc. 108). Additionally, he makes several claims that do not seem to be related to the conduct of his counsel, focusing instead on prosecutorial and judicial misconduct. Some of Williams' claims are subject to a procedural bar, as they were raised before the Eleventh Circuit in a direct appeal. Several of the claims fail for vagueness, as Williams did not specify the details of the offensive conduct or point to said conduct in the record. The rest fail on their merits.[5]

         A. Procedural Bar

         It is well-settled that a prisoner is procedurally barred from raising arguments in a motion to vacate that have already been raised and rejected on direct appeal. Stoufflet v. United States, 757 F.3d 1236, 1239 (11th Cir. 2014). Williams raised two issues on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit - that the district court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal challenging the sufficiency of the evidence offered to establish that he conspired with another person to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, and that the district court abused its discretion by admitting evidence of his past possession of cocaine. (Doc. 90 at 1-2). The Eleventh Circuit affirmed on both issues. (Id. at 2). Therefore, to the extent that the claims in the instant petition relate to these issues, they are procedurally barred.

         1. Counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the Government on a lack of evidence in the alleged conspiracy

         Williams claims that counsel was ineffective because he “failed to challenge the government on the lack of evidence in the alleged conspiracy other than CW's allegations.” (Doc. 93-1 at 4). This issue was raised on direct appeal. The Eleventh Circuit held:

“As the record shows, there was more than sufficient evidence to infer that a drug trafficking conspiracy between Williams, Edmond Kennies Burke, and [CW] existed - notably, before the August 2013 recorded conversations, when [CW]began acting as a government agent. To begin with there was testimony that [CW] repeatedly told investigators about their previous cocaine dealings. The recordings also revealed a pre-existing criminal relationship between Williams and[CW]. Additionally, given the evidence of Williams's extensive gambling activity over a period of months preceding the undercover operation, without legitimate income to sustain the activity, the jury could have reasonably inferred that Williams funded his gambling through the fees he earned delivering drugs with [CW]prior to August 2013. On this record, accepting all inferences in the government's favor, a reasonable jury could conclude that [CW] and Williams were participating in a conspiracy that pre-dated [CW's] becoming a government agent.
A jury also could have reasonably concluded that Burke and Williams were participating in a conspiracy, despite Burke's lack of knowledge of the other member of the conspiracy…. Moreover, the statements Williams and Burke made during the delivery support the inference that Burke knew a drug transaction was about to occur. Thus, we conclude a reasonable jury could have found Burke to be a knowing participant in the conspiracy.”

(Doc. 90 at 4). It is clear the Eleventh Circuit has already done a thorough analysis of this issue, and this claim should therefore be considered procedurally barred. See Stoufflet, 757 F.3d at 1242. To the extent that Williams argues that counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the Government on this issue, it is clear that any such argument would be futile.

         2. Counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge 404(b) evidence presented at trial

         Williams claims that counsel was ineffective for failing to file a Motion to Suppress with regard to “404(b) evidence” of his prior cocaine charge. (Docs. 93-1 at 4; 108 at 22-26). The claims regarding Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) were raised on direct appeal. (Doc. 90). The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court did not err in admitting evidence of the prior possession of cocaine:

“Here, the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence of Williams's prior possession of crack cocaine. For starters, since Williams pleaded not guilty, raising a lack of knowledge or wrongful intent defense, he placed his intent at issue, thereby imposing a substantial burden on the government to prove his knowledge of the cocaine and his intent to participate in the drug conspiracy. In addition, the evidence from both Williams's sister and the officer who found the cocaine and money among Williams's belongings was sufficient to permit the jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Williams possessed the cocaine. Further, the prejudicial effect of the evidence did not substantially outweigh its probative value, given the government's need for evidence of Williams's intent to transport cocaine. Moreover, the prior cocaine possession and the cocaine distribution charge at issue, although different in quantity of drugs and in Williams's position as a possessor or distributor, were substantially similar in their overall purpose to intentionally possess cocaine.
In any event, even if the district court did err in admitting the Rule 404(b) evidence, the error was harmless since, as we've discussed, there was sufficient evidence of Williams's guilt without the evidence of the prior cocaine possession.”

(Doc. 90 at 6-7). It is clear these issues were thoroughly analyzed by the Eleventh Circuit, and to the extent that Williams is challenging this evidence in the instant motion, those claims are procedurally barred from being relitigated. See Stoufflet v. United States, 757 F.3d at 1242. To the extent that Williams is claiming that counsel should have moved to suppress this evidence, it is again clear that any such motion would have been futile.

         B. Vague and Conclusory Allegations

         Many of the claims raised by Williams in the instant case are not well-supported, and amount to merely vague or conclusory statements about the perceived inadequacies of his trial counsel's performance. Conclusory assertions will not support a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Randolph v. McNeil, 590 F.3d 1273, 1276 n.1 (11th Cir. 2009); see also Wilson v. United States, 962 F.2d 996, 998 (11th Cir. 1992); Tejada v. Dugger, 941 F.2d 996, 996 (11th Cir. 1991)(addressing the issue in the context of § 2254); Story v. United States, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26031, 2012 WL 671677, at *4 (S.D. Ala. Jan. 31, 2012)(rejecting § 2255 claim of ineffective assistance where the movant had not indicated what a more thorough investigation by his attorney would have revealed or how any supposed discovery would have been fruitful in his case).

         1. Counsel was ineffective for failing to object to or supplement incomplete or missing conversations in the evidence, for failing to object to evidence beyond the scope of the conspiracy, for allowing evidence that had been “tampered” or “altered”, and for failing to object to “erroneous information”

         Williams claims counsel was ineffective due to a failure to object to a variety of evidentiary issues, but he fails to elaborate on any of the perceived inadequacies. Williams alleges that counsel was ineffective because he failed to offer other conversations that occurred between CW and Williams that “taint” the case. (Doc. 104 at 3). He seems to re-address this issue in this amended/supplemental response, when he argues that counsel was ineffective for “failing to object to the testimony or the presentation of the exhibits as these exhibits were not complete, inaccurate and perjured.” (Doc. 108 at 56). Williams further alleges that counsel was ineffective for allowing evidence that had been “tampered”, “altered” or was beyond the scope of the alleged conspiracy, and that counsel allowed the Government to “mislead the court with erroneous information further complicating due process”. (Doc. 93-1 at 5).

         At no point does Williams go into detail about the alleged insufficiencies of the evidence presented. Williams presents no evidence regarding the content of the conversations he believes were omitted from the evidence, how the offered messages ‘taint' the case, or how any additional conversations could have improved Williams' defense. (Doc. 104). Further, he does not indicate what evidence he believes was tampered or altered, what evidence was erroneous, what evidence he believes was beyond the scope of the conspiracy in this case, or how the Government violated due process in bringing forth this evidence. (Doc. 93-1 at 5). As such, these claims are vague and conclusory, and fail for that reason. See Randolph, 590 F.3d at 1276 n.1.

         2. Counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the fact that the evidence was insufficient to Prove Crimes Charged under 841(a)(1) and 846

         Williams claims that counsel was ineffective for failing to raise “facially and legally sufficient objections to the asserted facts that were erroneously supporting the information filed pursuant to 841(a)(1) and 846”. (Doc. 93-1 at 5). If counsel had conducted a meaningful investigation, Williams alleges counsel would have discovered “that it was inapplicable to support the government's indictment of petitioner for 841(a)(1) and 846 nor the quantity of cocaine it was implied he was accountable for.” (Id.). Williams also seems to indicate that this would have required counsel challenging the time frame and duration of the alleged events. (Id.)

         To the extent that Williams is claiming there is not enough evidence to support the conspiracy charge in 21 U.S.C. § 846, this claim has already been argued before the Eleventh Circuit, and has been found meritless. See, supra, pg. 6-7. As to the claim that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction under 841(a)(1), Williams does not plead his claim with the specificity required to support an allegation of ineffective assistance of counsel. He does not state why the facts presented were not enough to support the indicted offenses, or what additional investigation should have been done on the subject. He does not explain why the time frame and duration of the events are worthy of investigation or objection. This amounts a vague and conclusory claim and should be dismissed on those grounds. See Randolph, 590 F.3d at 1276 n.1.

         3. Counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that hearsay testimony should not be allowed

         Williams claims counsel was ineffective because he did not argue that the testimony of the Government's witnesses should not be allowed under Federal Rule of Evidence 807.[6] (Doc. 104 at 1). He claims this exception to the hearsay rule is so extraordinary, reasonable counsel should have objected to the inclusion of evidence under this exception. (Id. at 2). This allegedly resulted in prejudice by significantly affecting the outcome of the trial. (Id.). Williams also claims that his direct appeal to the Eleventh Circuit addressed the issue of the credibility of witnesses, citing the phrase “regardless of the excluded testimony”. (Id.). As a result, he claims his right to a fair trial was violated, and he was prevented from presenting his defense. (Id.).

         Williams claims that counsel should have objected to this residual exception because it is so “extraordinary”. (Doc. 104 at 1). He does not indicate what evidence was offered under this rule, or why that evidence does not meet the criteria for admission under the rule. (Id.). He also does not point to what part of the Eleventh Circuit decision he is referring to with regards to excluded testimony. As such, these are vague and conclusory claims and should therefore be dismissed. See Randolph, 590 F.3d at 1276 n.1.

         4. Counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the testimony of ...


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