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Williams v. United States

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

August 14, 2014

ROBIN WILLIAMS, Petitioner – Defendant
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent. Criminal No. 08-377

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Joy Flowers Conti Chief United States District Judge

Defendant Robin Williams (“Williams”), a prisoner in federal custody at the Federal Correctional Institution of Ashland, Kentucky, filed a motion to vacate sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, arguing that two of his three court-appointed counsel were ineffective. (ECF Nos. 428 and 441.) The government asks the court to summarily dismiss Williams’ § 2255 motion on the ground that it is barred by a comprehensive waiver of direct appellate and collateral attack rights set forth in a written plea agreement signed by Williams on July 26, 2011. (ECF No. 445 at 7-8 and 445-1.)

For the reasons set forth below, the court will not enforce the collateral waiver because to do so would work a miscarriage of justice. Williams, however, is not entitled to relief under § 2255, and his motion, therefore, will be denied.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. Williams’ Counsel

On October 28, 2008, Williams was charged in a five-count indictment of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of powder cocaine and fifty grams or more of crack cocaine from July 2006 until October 2008 in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 846. (ECF No. 1.)[1] Three co-defendants were charged in the same indictment. (Id.) Williams was arrested on July 24, 2009, and waived his right to a detention hearing. (ECF Nos. 81, 84, and 91-93.) Attorney Donna McClelland, who was appointed to represent Williams pursuant to the Criminal Justice Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3006A(a)(1)(A), appeared on behalf of Williams at the arraignment, (ECF Nos. 93-94), and filed a motion to suppress evidence on Williams’ behalf, (ECF No. 174). After Williams filed two motions seeking to dismiss Attorney McClelland, Attorney McClelland sought permission from the court to withdraw due to irreconcilable differences with her client, which motion was granted on March 7, 2011. (ECF Nos. 143, 204, 205, and 209.)

Thereafter, the court appointed Attorney Alexander Lindsay to represent Williams. (ECF No. 216.) Attorney Lindsay represented Williams at a May 31, 2011 hearing on the motion to suppress that had been previously filed by Attorney McClelland. (ECF No. 233.) The motion to suppress was denied at the hearing. (Id.) Attorney Lindsay also represented Williams at a July 26, 2011 change of plea hearing. (ECF Nos. 247-48.) On October 17, 2011, Williams filed motions to dismiss Attorney Lindsay, withdraw his guilty plea, and modify the order of detention to allow him to be immediately released. (ECF Nos. 256-58.) On the same day, Attorney Lindsay filed a motion to withdraw as counsel, which the court granted at an October 26, 2011 motion hearing. (ECF No. 263.) The court denied Williams’ other motions, without prejudice.

The court next appointed Attorney Mark Sindler to represent Williams on November 7, 2011. (ECF No. 264.) Attorney Sindler promptly filed a motion to postpone Williams’ sentencing hearing, then scheduled for December 2, 2011, and later sought an additional extension in order to review Williams’ file. (ECF Nos. 266 and 280.) The court granted both extensions. (11/17/2011 text order and ECF No. 283.) Attorney Sindler filed a motion to withdraw Williams’ guilty plea on March 16, 2012. (ECF No. 291.) Williams, however, orally withdrew that motion at the May 30, 2012 hearing on it, and was sentenced on July 30, 2012. (5/30/12 minute entry; ECF Nos. 336-37.) Attorney Sindler sought permission to withdraw as counsel upon Williams’ filing of various pro se motions after his sentencing. (ECF Nos. 431 and 433.) The court, thereafter, appointed the Office of the Federal Public Defender to represent Williams.[2] (ECF No. 434.)

B. Williams’ Guilty Plea

Approximately six weeks after Williams’ motion to suppress was denied, Attorney Lindsay notified the court that Williams wished to change his plea to guilty. (ECF No. 233 and 7/14/2011 text entry.) A change of plea hearing was held on July 26, 2011. (ECF Nos. 247-48.) At that hearing, Williams disclosed that he was pleading guilty pursuant to a written plea agreement dated July 8, 2011 (the “July 2011 plea agreement”). (ECF Nos. 316 at 2 and 445-1.) The court conducted a colloquy in accordance with Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 to ensure that Williams’ guilty plea was voluntary. (ECF Nos. 285 and 316.) At various times throughout the colloquy Williams sought clarification and asked pointed questions of the court, reflecting that Williams was competent, fully engaged in the proceedings, and aware of the significance of entering a guilty plea. (ECF Nos. 285 at 10-12 and 316 at 9-13.)

Specifically, the court determined that Williams was competent to plead guilty. (ECF No. 285 at 3-5.) The court then engaged in the following exchange:

THE COURT: Have you had ample, meaning enough, time and opportunity to discuss your case with your attorney, Mr. Lindsay?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, I have.
THE COURT: Are you fully satisfied with the counsel, representation, and advice, given to you in this case by your attorney, Mr. Lindsay?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

(ECF No. 285 at 5.) The court advised Williams that he would be waiving his right to a jury trial and against self-incrimination by pleading guilty, which Williams acknowledged and accepted. (Id. at 5-10.) The court explained how the federal sentencing guidelines would impact Williams’ sentence:

THE COURT: Now, do you understand that the United States Sentencing Commission has promulgated Sentencing Guidelines?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
THE COURT: Do you understand that the Guidelines are advisory and that it is one of the factors that the Court will consider in determining your actual sentence?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
THE COURT: And have you discussed with your attorney how the Guidelines might apply in your case?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
THE COURT: Now, do you understand that the Court cannot determine the actual advisory Guideline range for your case until after the presentence investigation report has been prepared and you and the government have had an opportunity to challenge the facts and recommendations reported in the presentence report?
THE DEFENDANT: I understand.
THE COURT: So, do you understand that because that process has to take place, that if the Guideline range determined by the Court is different than the Guideline range your counsel discussed with you, you will still be bound by your guilty plea and will have no right to withdraw it, even if your counsel made a mistake?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
THE COURT: Now, do you understand, after it has been determined what the Guideline range will be for your case, that the Court will also examine other statutory sentencing factors under Title 18, United States Code, Section 3553(a) that may result in the imposition of a sentence that is either greater or lesser than that called for by the Guidelines?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, ma’am.
THE COURT: Do you understand that if the sentence imposed is more severe, meaning greater, than you expect, you will still be bound by your guilty plea and will have no right to withdraw it?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

(Id. at 13-14, 14-15.) The court reviewed the applicable minimum and maximum penalties, and the consequences of being adjudged guilty of a felony offense:

THE COURT: Okay. So, the Court has calculated the pertinent minimum and maximum penalties as follows. Now, do you understand that the minimum penalty to a lesser included offense at Count One of the indictment is a term of supervised release of at least three years?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
THE COURT: And do you understand that the maximum penalty to the lesser included offense at Count One of the indictment is a term of imprisonment of not more than twenty years, a term of supervised release of life, and a fine not to exceed $1 million?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

(Id. at 15-16.) Williams denied that anyone had threatened him or forced him in any way to plead guilty. (Id. at 17.)

The court conducted a lengthy colloquy at side bar with respect to the terms of Williams’ written plea agreement with the government.

THE COURT: Have you entered into a plea agreement with the government?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
THE COURT: Now, did you have an opportunity to read all the provisions of the plea agreement before you signed it?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, I have.
THE COURT: Did you discuss the plea agreement with your attorney before you signed it?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

(ECF No. 316 at 2.) After Assistant United States Attorney Lenhardt reviewed the initial terms of the plea agreement, including a broad waiver of Williams’ direct appeal and collateral attack rights, the court interrupted to specifically review and reiterate the terms of Williams’ waiver in this regard:

THE COURT: Mr. Williams, I just want to go over that last paragraph with you. Do you understand that by entering into the plea agreement, you have agreed to give up or limit in very substantial ways your ability to take an appeal or come back at a later time and attack your sentence?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, I do.
THE COURT: Do you understand that there's only going to be three situations in which you can take an appeal?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
THE COURT: The first situation is, if the government were to appeal, then you could appeal. You understand that?
THE DEFENDANT: I understand.
THE COURT: You understand there's no limit on the government's ability to appeal.
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
THE COURT: The second situation in which you could take an appeal is if the Court were to impose a sentence that exceeds the statutory maximums. If you remember just a few minutes ago, I went over with you what the maximum penalties were by statute.
So, if Court were to impose a sentence that would exceed those statutory maximums, then you could appeal. Do you understand that?
THE DEFENDANT: I understand, Your Honor.
THE COURT: The third and final situation is, after the Court determines what the actual Guideline range would be for your case, if the Court were to impose a sentence that unreasonably exceeds that Guideline range, then you could appeal?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: So, if you don't fall within those three situations, do you understand that you will not have a right to take an appeal?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
THE COURT: You understand, also, that you have totally and completely given up your right to come back at a later time and to attack your conviction or sentence?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
THE COURT: So, you understand then if you don't fall within one of those three situations, the sentence that this Court imposes can't be attacked?
THE DEFENDANT: I understand.
THE COURT: Are you willing to give up those very significant rights for the benefits of the plea agreement?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
THE COURT: Do you have any questions about it?
THE DEFENDANT: No.

(Id. at 4-6.)

After the remaining terms of the plea agreement were recited by Attorney Lenhardt, the court engaged in the ...


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