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United States v. Williams

United States District Court, D. Nevada

October 25, 2019



         Presently before the court is petitioner Carolyn Shelmadine Willis-Casey's (“petitioner”) motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (ECF No. 950). The United States of America (“the government”) filed a response (ECF No. 960), to which petitioner replied (ECF No. 968).

         Also before the court is petitioner's motion for early termination of supervised release. (ECF No. 965). The government did not file a response, and the time to do so has passed.

         I. Background

         On May 20, 2014, the federal grand jury returned the third superseding indictment charging petitioner with aiding and abetting theft of government money, conspiracy, and several counts of mail fraud. (ECF No. 240). Petitioner proceeded to trial, and on January 19, 2016, a jury verdict was entered finding petitioner guilty of count 20, mail fraud. (ECF No. 719).

         On June 30, 2016, the court sentenced petitioner to 30 months' custody followed by a three-year term of supervised release with special conditions. (ECF No. 811). Restitution was ordered in the amount of $218, 708, jointly and severally with codefendants Frederick Williams, Denise Williams, and Jacqueline Gentle. (ECF Nos. 832). Judgment was entered on July 13, 2016. (ECF No. 826).

         On July 12, 2016, petitioner filed a notice of appeal. (ECF No. 824). The Ninth Circuit affirmed petitioner's conviction and sentence on March 22, 2018. (ECF No. 913). The order on mandate affirming the district court's judgment was entered on December 12, 2018. (ECF No. 933).

         In the instant motion, petitioner moves to vacate arguing ineffective legal counsel based on trial counsel's failure to investigate, failure to move to sever, failure to object to the admissibility of certain evidence, and the government's use of knowingly-perjurious testimony in violation of due process. (ECF No. 950).

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal prisoners “may move . . . to vacate, set aside or correct [their] sentence” if the court imposed the sentence “in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States . . . .” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Section 2255 relief should be granted only where “a fundamental defect” caused “a complete miscarriage of justice.” Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333, 345 (1974); see also Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428 (1962).

         Limitations on § 2255 motions are based on the fact that the movant “already has had a fair opportunity to present his federal claims to a federal forum, ” whether or not he took advantage of the opportunity. United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 164 (1982). Section 2255 “is not designed to provide criminal defendants multiple opportunities to challenge their sentence.” United States v. Johnson, 988 F.2d 941, 945 (9th Cir. 1993).

         “When a defendant has raised a claim and has been given a full and fair opportunity to litigate it on direct appeal, that claim may not be used as basis for a subsequent § 2255 petition.” United States v. Hayes, 231 F.3d 1132, 1139 (9th Cir. 2000). Further, “[i]f a criminal defendant could have raised a claim of error on direct appeal but nonetheless failed to do so, ” the defendant is in procedural default. Johnson, 988 F.2d at 945; see also Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 622 (1998).

         Defendants who fail to raise an issue on direct appeal may later challenge the issue under § 2255 only if they demonstrate: (1) sufficient cause for the default; and (2) prejudice resulting from it. See Bousley, 523 U.S. at 622. The “cause and prejudice” exception revives only defaulted constitutional claims, not nonconstitutional sentencing errors. United States v. Schlesinger, 49 F.3d 483, 485 (9th Cir. 1994).

         Further, ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims are an exception to procedural default, since the trial record is often inadequate for the purpose of bringing these claims on direct appeal. Massaro v. United States, 538 U.S. 500, 504-05 (2003); see also Schlesinger, 49 F.3d at 509 (“[F]ailure to raise an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim on direct appeal does not bar the claim from being brought in a later, appropriate proceeding under § 2255.”).

         III. Discussion

         A. Section 2255 motion

         The purpose of the effective assistance guarantee is “to ensure that criminal petitioners receive a fair trial.” Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 689 (1984). To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, the petitioner must show that her counsel's performance was deficient and that she was prejudiced by that deficiency. Id. at 687.

         “First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient.” Id. “Judicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential.” Id. at 689. “A fair assessment of attorney performance requires that every effort be made to eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight . . . .” Id. at 689. “[A] court must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance; that is, the defendant must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged action might be considered sound trial strategy.” Id. To establish deficient performance, the petitioner “must show that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” Id. at 688.

         “Second, the defendant must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. This requires showing that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.” Id. at 687. “The defendant must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been ...

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