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Williams v. United States

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division

July 12, 2016

Webster Douglas Williams, III, Petitioner,
v.
United States of America, Respondent. Civil Action No. 4:15-cv-04849-RBH

          ORDER

          R. Bryan Harwell United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Petitioner Webster Douglas Williams's ("Petitioner's") pro se [ECF #194] motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence ("motion to vacate") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Also pending is Petitioner's [ECF #190] motion to proceed in forma pauperis; Petitioner's [ECF #192] motion to recuse; Petitioner's [ECF #193] motion to stay restitution; Petitioner's [ECF #203] motion for reconsideration of the Court's Order requiring any transcripts or other discovery made available to Petitioner be maintained by and used under the supervision of the personnel of the Bureau of Prisons; Petitioner's [ECF #213] motion to appoint counsel; and Petitioner's [ECF #223] motion for a subpoena. Also pending is the Government's [ECF #236] motion for summary judgment and Petitioner's pro se [ECF #255] motion for summary judgment.

         Petitioner's motion to vacate alleges twenty-nine grounds for relief including an allegation that he instructed his counsel to file a direct appeal despite having specifically waived his right to appeal in his Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement and having signed an appeal waiver at sentencing. Based on the Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement, Petitioner would also be limited in his ability to pursue an appeal based on 18 U.S.C. § 3742. Petitioner indicated on the record during his guilty plea that his appeal waiver was freely and voluntarily given. There is, by all accounts, overwhelming evidence in the record that Petitioner waived his right to a direct appeal; however, the Court is constrained by Petitioner's sworn statement that he requested that an appeal be filed anyway. See United States v. Poindexter, 492 F.3d 263, 273 (4th Cir. 2007). The Court is skeptical of Petitioner's highly suspect claim that he requested an appeal despite the various waivers and Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement. Nevertheless, under the mandates of Poindexter and the unique circumstances of this case, including the length of Petitioner's sentence (effectively life in prison), the Court sees little harm in forgoing an evidentiary hearing on this issue and granting Petitioner a belated appeal. Accordingly, for the reasons explained more fully below, the Court grants Petitioner's motion to vacate as to ground four only and grants Petitioner a belated appeal. On direct appeal, the government may raise the appeal waiver and limitations concerning Rule 11(c)(1)(C), which the court of appeals can address.

         Procedural History and Factual Background

         Petitioner was indicted on December 18, 2012, in a four count indictment for child pornography related offenses. [ECF #2]. Count one alleged that on or about September 22, 2006, Petitioner knowingly induced or coerced a minor, "Jane Doe #1, " to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a) and (e). Count two alleged that on or about September 4, 2011, Petitioner knowingly induced or coerced a minor, "Jane Doe #2, " to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a) and (e). Count three alleged that from December 19, 2009, to December 23, 2009, Petitioner traveled in interstate commerce with a minor, "Jane Doe #1, " for the purpose of engaging in a sexual act in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(b). Count four alleged that on or about November 12, 2011, Petitioner knowingly possessed child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(B).

         On June 24, 2013, Petitioner's defense counsel filed a motion to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of a search of Petitioner's home on November 12, 2011, including a subsequent search of electronic storage devices on November 18, 2011. On January 8, 2014, the Court conducted a hearing on the motion to suppress. On January 13, 2014, Petitioner's defense counsel filed a supplemental memorandum in support of the previously filed motion to suppress. After a second hearing on February 19, 2014, the Court denied Petitioner's motion to suppress in an Order dated March 12, 2014.

         On June 16, 2014, Petitioner signed a plea agreement pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(C), which provided that Petitioner would plead guilty to counts one, three, and four in exchange for a stipulated sentence of 262 to 327 months imprisonment. The plea agreement also provided that Petitioner agreed to pay restitution in an amount to be determined by the Court at sentencing. Petitioner further agreed in the plea agreement to pay Jane Doe #1 restitution in the amount of $136, 600.00 plus $550 per month during the time he is incarcerated with said payments to begin one year from the day Petitioner was sentenced. The plea agreement contained a waiver of appeal provision waiving Petitioner's right to contest either the conviction or the sentence in any direct appeal or other post-conviction action, including any proceedings under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The appeal waiver did not apply to claims of ineffective assistance of counsel or prosecutorial misconduct.

         The Court conducted a change of plea hearing on June 16, 2014, and accepted Petitioner's guilty plea after conducting a complete Rule 11 plea colloquy. The Court deferred acceptance of the Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement until after the Court had the opportunity to review the presentence investigation report prepared by the U.S. Probation Office. Upon motion of the government, the Court sealed the portion of the change of plea hearing that involved the minor victim.

         A presentence investigation report ("PSR") dated August 14, 2014, and revised on September 16, 2014, was prepared by the U.S. Probation Office. With regard to sentencing options, the PSR stated that Petitioner's maximum possible statutory sentence was a total of 840 months or 70 years (30 year maximum for count one 30 maximum for count three 10 year maximum for count four). Petitioner's advisory guideline range was 360 months to life imprisonment. As to restitution to the victim of counts one and three, the PSR stated that the Petitioner agreed to pay restitution to Jane Doe #1 in the amount of $136, 600 plus $550 per month during the time Petitioner is incarcerated with the payments to begin one year after sentencing. Accordingly, the PSR indicated that restitution to Jane Doe #1 would be calculated as follows: (number of months received at sentencing - 12 months x $550.00 per month $136, 600.00). With respect to restitution to the victims of count four (possession of child pornography count), the PSR indicated that the victims requested restitution in the amount of $177, 500.00.

         On December 19, 2014, Petitioner was sentenced to 327 months imprisonment pursuant to his Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement. Petitioner was also placed on supervised release for life upon his release from prison and ordered to pay restitution to Jane Doe #1 in the amount of $309, 850.00. Petitioner was also ordered to pay restitution to the victims of count four in the amount of $177, 500.00. The total amount of restitution ordered was $487, 350.00 to all of Petitioner's victims. Again, upon motion of the government, the Court sealed the portion of the sentencing hearing that involved the minor victim.

         After sentencing on December 19, 2014, Petitioner filed a waiver of appeal indicating the following: 1) that he had been notified by the court of his right to appeal; 2) the time limit for filing a notice of appeal; 3) that he had discussed his right to appeal with his attorney; and 4) that he did not want to appeal.

         Judgment was filed on January 7, 2015, and an Amended Judgment reflecting priority of the victims for restitution was filed on February 10, 2015.

         Petitioner filed a pro se motion to amend the judgment to reduce the amount of restitution payments on June 17, 2015. The Court denied Petitioner's motion on June 22, 2015, finding that Petitioner had agreed to the restitution in his plea agreement and had not shown a material change in circumstances.

         On October 19, 2015, Petitioner filed pro se motions for subpoenas seeking the visitation logs for the Dillon County Detention Center and a transcript of a jailhouse phone call between Petitioner and his counsel. The Court denied Petitioner's motion on October 21, 2015, finding that any request for ...


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