Williams v. United States, No. 16-3715 (7th Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Williams was charged with two counts of Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1952(a); bank robbery, section 2113(a), (d); and three counts of brandishing a firearm in furtherance of those crimes, section 924(c). On the firearm counts alone, he faced a statutory minimum of 57 years in prison. The government offered a plea deal that would reduce his sentencing exposure by more than 39 years. After sending the terms to Williams’s attorney, the prosecutor emailed the proposal to Judge McCuskey pursuant to the judge’s standard practice. The judge replied by email, stating that the deal was “exceedingly fair” and “[o]nly a fool would refuse.” Williams pleaded guilty. The judge sentenced him to 18 years in prison pursuant to the agreement. A year later Williams moved to set aside his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255, claiming that the judge impermissibly participated in plea negotiations in violation of FRCP 11(c)(1) and the Due Process Clause. He alleged ineffective assistance based on his lawyer’s failure to raise that violation and request recusal. A new judge denied the motion without a hearing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Rule 11(c)(1) forbids any judicial participation in plea negotiations, but this violation was harmless. That Williams would not have taken the plea deal but for the judge’s email is “not remotely plausible.” The government’s case was rock solid and the plea deal substantially reduced Williams’s prison exposure.