June 18, 2019

Archives for August 12, 2015

Tenth Circuit: District Court Lacked Authority to Consider Defendant’s Fraud on the Court Motion

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Williams on Tuesday, June 23, 2015.

Jeffrey Dan Williams was convicted on federal drug and firearm charges in the late 1990s. He unsuccessfully challenged his convictions multiple times in state and federal court. In November 2010, he filed his fifth request for postconviction relief, in which he claimed at least five Tulsa police officers who were involved in the investigation in his case were investigated for corruption, including planting evidence and perjury in criminal cases. The Tenth Circuit denied Williams’ motion to file a second or subsequent habeas petition due to lack of supporting evidence but allowed him to refile a motion for authorization containing complete descriptions of all relevant facts, with supporting evidence. Williams attempted to comply but the Tenth Circuit found the evidence insufficient and denied the motion.

Williams next filed a pro se “Motion to Withdraw and Nullify Guilty Plea” in district court in January 2012, arguing that the officers involved in the corruption investigation had “engaged in the same type of illegal conduct” in Williams’ case. Williams attached evidence undermining the testimony of the DEA agent used to support the quantity findings at Williams’ sentencing. The district court construed the motion as an F.R.C.P. 60(d)(3) request, appointed counsel for Williams, ordered the parties to conduct discovery, and held an evidentiary hearing. At the hearing the district court heard testimony from multiple witnesses that supported Williams’ fraud claims. The district court issued an opinion and order vacating Williams’ judgment and sentence and dismissing the third superseding indictment. The court found that the Tulsa Police officers committed a fraud on the court that required Williams’ convictions to be set aside. Alternatively, the district court granted Williams’ motion to withdraw his guilty plea based on the court’s common law authority to prevent a miscarriage of justice. The district court distinguished an intervening Tenth Circuit decision, United States v. Baker, which held that motions alleging fraud on the court should be treated as second or successive petitions, noting that the court sua sponte invoked its authority to construe Williams’ motion as a fraud on the court. The government appealed.

The Tenth Circuit agreed with the government that AEDPA divested the district court of authority to rule on the motion, characterizing it as a second or successive petition for habeas relief. The Tenth Circuit found the district court did not properly invoke its inherent authority to correct fraud on the court and therefore lacked subject matter jurisdiction. Explaining that for AEDPA purposes it looks at the substance of a motion and not the title, the Tenth Circuit found that Williams’ motion challenged his underlying conviction, falling squarely in the definition of a second or successive habeas petition for AEDPA purposes. Although an exception existed for newly discovered factual bases for relief, that exception did not apply in Williams’ case because his claims of corruption existed from its inception. The Tenth Circuit clarified that newly discovered proof is not the same as a newly discovered factual basis, so although the evidence supporting Williams’ corruption claims had not yet been uncovered at the time of his first appeal, the basis of the claims existed. Because Williams failed to obtain certification from the Tenth Circuit before filing his motion, he was prohibited from filing a second or successive habeas motion.

The Tenth Circuit next rejected the district court’s characterization that it was acting sua sponte to correct the fraud on the court. The Tenth Circuit explained that in the years following AEDPA’s enactment, the court’s authority to remedy fraud on the court was narrowed, and in Baker, the Tenth Circuit further limited a court’s authority in cases where the defendant has already had fair habeas review. The Tenth Circuit dismissed the district court’s statement that it was acting sua sponte, finding instead that it acted on the successive application for habeas relief because it considered the new claims and evidence contained in Williams’ motion. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision to vacate Williams’ convictions based on fraud on the conviction court.

The Tenth Circuit also found the district court was not free to exercise its common law authority to prevent a miscarriage of justice, noting it must be constrained by the limits set by Congress. Because Williams did not first obtain certification from the Tenth Circuit to appeal, the district court lacked jurisdiction to consider the miscarriage of justice claims.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit evaluated Williams’ motion as a request to file a second or successive petition, which it granted in part. The Tenth Circuit evaluated Williams’ new evidence and the testimony of the witnesses supporting his fraud claims, and found that only his firearm conviction would be affected by the new evidence since Williams did not contest every search or all evidence gained by the police as obtained by corruption. In fact, the Tenth Circuit found that the evidence tended to support Williams’ possession charges.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded with instructions to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction. The Tenth Circuit granted Williams’ motion to file a second or successive habeas petition as related to the firearm charge. Judge Bacharach dissented, arguing the Circuit should have respected the district court’s assertion that it acted sua sponte.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 8/11/2015

On Tuesday, August 11, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and five unpublished opinions.

Martin v. Mt. St. Mary’s University Online

McCoy v. Maye

United States v. Killman

Maxsween v. Miller

United States v. Sanabria-Bolanos

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.