United States v. Williams, No. 19-1358 (7th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
In 1998, an Illinois state court convicted Williams, a teenager, of first‐degree murder. Williams was paroled in 2008 but had his parole revoked after pleading guilty to domestic battery. In 2017, he traded cocaine to his employer for a firearm. His employer cooperated with the government. Williams pled guilty to possession of a firearm as a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2). The court confirmed Williams’s admission that he possessed a firearm; that the firearm had traveled in interstate commerce; and that he had been convicted of a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year. The court sentenced him to 96 months’ imprisonment, below the Guidelines range. Four months later, the Supreme Court held that an element of a conviction under section 922(g), 924(a)(2), is the defendant’s knowledge of his status as a felon or alien illegally in the U.S. The government would have needed to prove—or Williams to admit—that he knew he had “been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.” Williams sought to vacate his conviction and withdraw his guilty plea.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed his conviction. Williams failed to carry the burden of showing that his erroneous understanding of section 922(g) affected his decision to plead guilty. Williams cannot plausibly argue that he did not know his conviction had a maximum punishment exceeding a year. Williams would have to convince a jury that he either had no knowledge of where he spent 12 years or that he believed Illinois had imprisoned him 11 years beyond the maximum punishment for first‐degree murder. Most defendants would want to avoid informing the jury of a murder conviction.