United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
convicted of one count of conspiracy to engage in sex
trafficking in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1594(c),
Desalashia Williams seeks 28 U.S.C. § 2255 relief. Doc.
see also docs. 7 (indictment); 50 (superseding
indictment); 77 (plea agreement); 112 (judgment ordering 156
months' imprisonment). The Government opposes.
was indicted for conspiring to and engaging in sex
trafficking of minors, and multiple counts of sex trafficking
of a minor by force, fraud or coercion, transportation with
intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and coercion
and enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity. Docs.
7 & 50. The penalty certifications informed her that she
faced any term of imprisonment up to and including
life for the conspiracy charge. Docs. 8 & 51.
counsel, Williams entered into a plea agreement with the
Government. Docs. 64 & 77. The agreement set forth a
factual basis, an outline of the maximum possible sentence
(life) she could receive, an outline of rights that would be
waived by pleading guilty, and a statement that she was
satisfied with counsel's representation. Doc. 77. Movant
certified that she had "read and carefully reviewed this
agreement with my attorney. I understand each provision of
this agreement, and I voluntarily agree to it. I hereby
stipulate that the factual basis set out therein is true and
accurate in every respect." Id. at 9.
pleading guilty, Williams admitted that she knowingly and
intentionally conspired to engage in sex trafficking. Docs.
77 & 123. She also waived her right to directly appeal or
collaterally attack her conviction and sentence, excepting
circumstances not relevant here. Doc. 123 at 8-9. The Court
found movant's plea to be intelligently, knowingly, and
voluntarily made, Williams affirmed it was so, and the Court
accepted her guilty plea. Id. at 20-21, 27.
sentencing, the Court reviewed counsel's 25-page
objections to the Presentence Investigation Report's
(PSR's) factual description, point reductions and
enhancement, then heard testimony regarding Williams'
relationship with her co-defendant and ex-boyfriend Jeremy
Grant. Doc. 127; see PSR, Addendum; Docs. 83, 84, 85
& 110. The Court overruled all but two of Williams'
objections to the PSR, and adopted the PSR's factual
statements, conclusions, and guidelines applications. Docs.
Ill; 127 at 105-118. The Court found a total offense level of
40 and criminal history category of I, resulting in an
advisory guideline range of 292 to 365 months'
imprisonment. Id. at 118. But it also granted
Williams a downward variance given her lack of criminal
history, family and community support system, and her
co-defendant's dominating role in the enterprise.
Id. at 118-155. So, it sentenced her to 156 months
in prison. Doc. 112. She appealed but later voluntarily
dismissed the appeal, making her conviction final. Docs. 128
presents three grounds for relief: (1) her plea was not
knowing and voluntary because counsel failed to fully explain
"the charges, the possible sentencing guideline frame,
possible reductions and enhancements, and the pros and cons
of proceeding to trial" and incorrectly advised movant
that she would not be sentenced to more than five years; (2)
counsel failed to interview a possible witness; and (3)
counsel failed to file mitigating factors in support of a
reduction of sentence. Doc. 134.
Knowing and Voluntary Plea
her clear testimony to the contrary, Williams contends that
her guilty plea was not voluntarily, knowingly, or
intelligently given. Doc. 134. "A guilty plea, if
induced by promises or threats which deprive it of the
character of a voluntary act, is void. A conviction based
upon such a plea is open to collateral attack."
Machibroda v. United States, 368 U.S. 487, 493
(1962). At the same time, plea bargaining retains its
benefits of certainty and efficiency "only if
dispositions by guilty plea are accorded a great measure of
finality." Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63,
71 (1977) ("To allow indiscriminate hearings in federal
postconviction proceedings . . . for federal prisoners under
28 U.S.C. § 2255 . . . would eliminate the chief virtues
of the plea system --speed, economy, and finality.").
While § 2255 exists "to safeguard a person's
freedom from detention in violation of constitutional
guarantees, " "[m]ore often than not a prisoner has
everything to gain and nothing to lose from filing a
collateral attack upon his guilty plea." Id. at
result, "the representations of the defendant, his
lawyer, and the prosecutor at [a plea] hearing, as well as
any findings made by the judge accepting the plea, constitute
a formidable barrier in any subsequent collateral
proceedings." Blackledge, 431 U.S. at 73-74, 80
n. 19 (if the record reflects the procedures of plea
negotiation and includes a verbatim transcript of the plea
colloquy, a petitioner challenging his plea will be entitled
to an evidentiary hearing "only in the most
extraordinary circumstances"). "The subsequent
presentation of conclusory allegations unsupported by
specifics is subject to summary dismissal, as are contentions
that in the face of the record are wholly incredible."
Id. at 74.
contends that her guilty plea was made unknowingly and
involuntarily because (1) her attorney did not fully explain
to her what a guilty plea meant, and (2) her attorney induced
her to sign the plea deal by promising her sentence would be
capped at five years. Doc. 134 at 4 & 6. Her sworn
testimony at the Change of Plea and Sentencing Hearings,
however, directly contradicts these
contentions.Williams swore that she had spoken with her
lawyer about the indictment, her guilty plea, and the plea
agreement, and that she understood the charges against her.
Doc. 123 at 9-13. She also testified that she understood she
could receive a prison sentence for her part in the
conspiracy for any amount of time, up to and including
life imprisonment. Id. at 13. And she swore
she understood that the role she played in the conspiracy
would be included in the calculation of her sentence.
Id. at 18; see also Id. at 20 (admitting
that the reason she was pleading guilty was because she was,
in fact, guilty). Finally, she testified that no one had
predicted or guaranteed any sentence to her, nor had anyone
done anything "wrong or unfair" to force her to
plead guilty. Id. at 15. Based on her unambiguous
and clear testimony, the Court found Williams was "in
full possession of all of her faculties, " had
"participated knowingly and intelligently" with the
"services of a competent defense lawyer who has gone
through all the requisite pleadings with her, " and that
"her offer to plead guilty to [one count of conspiracy
to engage in sex trafficking] is knowing" and
"voluntary." Id. at 21.
with her sworn affirmation of understanding in an otherwise
thorough and wide-ranging plea colloquy, and unsworn,
self-serving testimony to the opposite effect at a time when
she has every incentive to embellish, see Winthrop-Redin
v. United States, 767 F.3d 1210, 1216 (11th Cir. 2014),
the Court finds Williams' plea testimony dispositive.
Movant cannot now escape her sworn testimony at the Rule 11
hearing, that her plea was both knowing and voluntary, only
to now claim that it was neither. See Blackledge,
431 U.S. at 74 ("Solemn declarations in open court carry
a strong presumption of veracity."); accord United
States v. Gonzalez-Mercado, 808 F.2d 796, 800 n. 8 (11th
Cir. 1987) ("While Rule 11 is not insurmountable, there
is a strong presumption that the statements made during the
colloquy are true."); United States v. Stitzer,
785 F.2d 1506, 1514 n. 4 (11th Cir. 1986) ("[I]f the
Rule 11 plea-taking procedure is careful and detailed, the
defendant will not later be heard to contend that he swore
falsely."). Hence, her unintelligent plea claim fails on