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United States v. Williams

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

March 5, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
VERNEL AUBREY WILLIAMS, Appellant

          Argued: December 11, 2018

          On Appeal from the District Court of the Virgin Islands (D.C. No. 3-14-cr-00035-001) District Judge: Hon. Curtis V. Gomez

          Omodare B. Jupiter [ARGUED] Office of Federal Public Defender

          Kia D. Sears Office of Federal Public Defender Counsel for Appellant

          Everard E. Potter, I [ARGUED] Gretchen C.F. Shappert Office of United States Attorney Counsel for Appellee

          Before: CHAGARES, HARDIMAN, and RESTREPO, Circuit Judges

          OPINION

          RESTREPO, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Vernel Aubrey Williams appeals his judgment of conviction and the sentence imposed by the District Court, contending that his rights under the Speedy Trial Act of 1974, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3161-3174, were violated. Williams argues that the District Court erred in denying his motions to dismiss the Indictment, in which he asserted that time had elapsed in excess of the seventy-day period during which the Speedy Trial Act requires the Government to commence a trial of a defendant, and Williams petitions the Court to dismiss the Indictment with prejudice. For the reasons that follow, we hold that Williams's rights under the Speedy Trial Act were violated, and we will reverse the order of the District Court denying Williams's motions to dismiss the Indictment, vacate the judgment of conviction and sentence imposed, and remand to the District Court with the direction to dismiss the Indictment with prejudice.

         I.

         On January 28, 2014, the Government charged Williams, in a five-count Information, with (a) possessing a firearm within 1, 000 feet of a school zone, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(q)(2)(A) and 924(a)(4); (b) discharging a firearm within 1, 000 feet of a school zone, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(q)(3)(A) and 924(a)(4); (c) discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A); (d) assault with a deadly weapon, in violation of V.I. Code tit. 14, § 295(2); and (e) possessing, transporting, and carrying a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, in violation of V.I. Code tit. 14, § 2253(a). The charges contained in the Information arose from Williams's conduct on December 24, 2013, when the Government alleges that Williams shot a store owner on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, during an altercation that began inside the store owner's place of business and ended outside of a nearby elementary and high school.

         Nearly a month after the Government's filing the Information, but before Williams had been arraigned, Williams's counsel filed a motion for a hearing to determine Williams's mental competency pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4241(a). Thereafter, the District Court granted Williams's motion, ordering Williams to undergo a psychological examination. Williams refused to participate in the court-ordered psychological examination, however, and thus the District Court neither received a formal report nor held a hearing with respect to Williams's competency. As a result, the Government filed its own motion for a hearing to determine Williams's competency, which the District Court granted on June 11, 2014. The District Court ordered that Williams be transported to the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina ("FMC Butner"), to undergo a psychological examination.

         The following day-June 12, 2014-a grand jury returned a five-count Indictment, charging Williams with (a) discharging a firearm within 1, 000 feet of a school zone, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(q)(3)(A) and 924(a)(4); (b) possessing a firearm within 1, 000 feet of a school zone, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(q)(2)(A) and 924(a)(4); (c) possessing, on a separate occasion, a firearm within 1, 000 feet of a school zone, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(q)(2)(A) and 924(a)(4); (d) assault with a deadly weapon, in violation of V.I. Code tit. 14, § 297(2); and (e) possessing, transporting, and carrying a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, in violation of V.I. Code tit. 14, § 2253(a). Four of the counts arose from the same conduct that was the subject of the charges contained in the Information; the second count for possessing a firearm within 1, 000 feet of a school zone arose from Williams's arrest on December 29, 2013. On June 18, 2014, Williams was arraigned with respect to the charges contained in the Indictment.

         Pursuant to the District Court's order dated June 11, 2014, Williams was transported to FMC Butner to undergo a psychological examination, but Williams did not arrive at FMC Butner until July 29, 2014. Following an examination of Williams, on October 31, 2014, a forensic psychologist submitted a formal report to the District Court with respect to Williams's competency. On November 5, 2014, the District Court held a hearing, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4241, to determine Williams's mental competency. The District Court determined that Williams lacked the mental competency to stand trial and, on November 6, 2014, entered an order committing Williams to the custody of the United States Attorney General pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d).

         During the period of Williams's incompetency, the Government filed a motion to involuntarily medicate Williams, in an attempt to restore his competency. On October 9, 2015, the District Court held an evidentiary hearing on the Government's motion. During a recess, a physician employed by FMC Butner-who previously recommended that Williams be involuntarily medicated-conducted an examination of Williams, after which the physician testified that Williams indeed was competent to stand trial. Following the testimony of the physician, the Government withdrew its motion, and the District Court indicated that it promptly would set a date for Williams's trial.

         The District Court did not set a trial date, however, and neither the Government nor Williams filed any pleadings in the case for nearly two months following the evidentiary hearing on October 9, 2015. On December 2, 2015, the Government ended the fifty-three-day lapse in activity by filing a motion in limine (the "Motion in Limine") to "exclude evidence, argument, or questioning regarding [Williams's] mental health or competency." App. 87.

         Rather than filing a brief in opposition to the Government's Motion in Limine, on December 18, 2015, Williams filed a motion to dismiss the Indictment (the "First Motion to Dismiss"), asserting that his rights under the Speedy Trial Act had been violated. The Government filed a brief in opposition to Williams's First Motion to Dismiss on December 31, 2015, and the District Court held an evidentiary hearing with respect to Williams's First Motion to Dismiss on February 25, 2016. At the conclusion of the evidentiary hearing, the District Court ordered the Government and Williams to submit supplemental briefing on certain issues raised during the hearing, which the parties submitted on March 10, 2016. The District Court then ordered ...


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