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Williams v. States

June 30, 2005


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (F14042-88). (Hon. Henry F. Greene, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wagner, Chief Judge

Argued October 20, 2004

Before WAGNER, Chief Judge, and REID, Associate Judge, and NEBEKER, Senior Judge.

Appellant, Craig Williams, appeals from a decision of the trial court denying his motion to vacate conviction filed pursuant to D.C. Code § 23-110 (2001). The issue raised by his appeal is whether an order entered in a collateral attack proceeding under § 23-110 must "be set forth on a separate document," in conformity with Super. Ct. Civ. R. 58. Appellant argues that the trial court erred in failing to reduce its order to writing as required by the Superior Court's Civil Rules, thereby depriving him of an adequate record for review. We hold that the trial court's recorded oral findings, entered on the docket, are sufficient in this case to meet the requirements of law, and affirm.


A detailed factual background of this case is set forth in this court's opinion in Williams v. United States, 783 A.2d 598 (D.C. 2001) (en banc)(Williams II); therefore, we summarize the facts only briefly as context for the present appeal. Following a jury trial, appellant was convicted of first-degree murder while armed and carrying a pistol without a license. Id. at 600. He filed a notice of appeal, which this court stayed pending disposition of a motion he filed in the trial court pursuant to D.C. Code § 23-110, alleging ineffective assistance of trial counsel. The trial court denied the motion after a hearing, and appellant attempted to note an appeal. This court affirmed appellant's conviction, but it did not consider the issues raised by his appeal from the denial of the § 23-110 motion "because the steps necessary to effectuate an appeal . . . had not been accomplished . . . ." Id. Subsequently, this court denied appellant's petition for rehearing without prejudice to him seeking in the trial court additional relief related to his ineffective assistance claim. Id. Appellant filed a second § 23-110 motion based on counsel's failure to perfect his earlier appeal. Id. The trial court denied the motion based on this court's decision in Lee v. United States, 597 A.2d 1333, 1334 (D.C. 1991) (holding that because there was no constitutional right to counsel for a § 23-110 motion, Lee "[could not] prevail on a claim that his counsel was constitutionally ineffective in relation to that motion"). A panel of this court agreed and affirmed on appeal. Williams v. United States, 760 A.2d 205 (D.C. 2000) (Williams I). Subsequently, rehearing the case en banc, this court held that when a criminal defendant, entitled to representation under the District of Columbia Criminal Justice Act, appeals his conviction and pending appeal, files a § 23-110 motion under the procedure established in Shepard v. United States, 533 A.2d 1278 (D.C. 1987), counsel has a duty to perfect the appeal, in default of which "the order of denial [will] be vacated so that an appeal may be properly noted." Williams II, 783 A.2d at 601. Pursuant to this court's en banc ruling, the trial court re-entered its order denying appellant's first § 23-110 motion. Appellant noted the present appeal from the trial court's order denying his original § 23-110 motion.


Appellant argues that the trial court erred in failing to reduce to writing its order denying his § 23-110 motion, which he contends is required by D.C. Code § 23-110 (f) and the separate document requirement of Super. Ct. Civ. R. 58. He also contends that the absence of a written order effectively deprived him of a record adequate for appellate review, and therefore, he is entitled to a remand for a hearing on the merits of the government's case.*fn1 The government responds that orders deciding § 23-110 motions are not governed by Super. Ct. Civ. R. 58. It contends that even if the rule were applicable, any remand should be limited to permitting the trial court to enter judgment in accordance with the rule.

In claiming that proceedings under D.C. Code § 23-110 are civil in nature, and therefore, governed by the court's civil rules, appellant makes two principal arguments, namely that: (1) D.C. Code § 23-110 (f) provides that appeals from an order entered on a motion under this section shall be taken "as from a final judgment on application for a writ of habeas corpus," which is civil in nature; and (2) § 23-110 proceedings are substantially similar to those under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (governing habeas corpus proceedings in federal courts), which, he contends, are recognized as inherently civil in nature and governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Therefore, he argues, § 23-110 proceedings should be treated in the same manner, and governed by Super. Ct. Civ. R. 58 and 79, as they are in the federal courts. The government concedes that § 23-110 is modeled after § 2255 and provides an equivalent remedy. The government argues, however, that the proceedings are treated by courts as hybrid in character, i.e., civil in some respects, and criminal in others. It contends that Rule 12, governing § 23-110 proceedings in the Superior Court, unlike its federal counterpart, does not require application of Super. Ct. Civ. R. 58 or any other civil rule.

A. Nature of the Proceedings

First, as appellant and the government recognize, "the scope of the remedy provided by § 23-110 is the same as that provided by § 2255." Swain v. Pressley, 430 U.S. 372, 381-82 (1977). This court has not determined specifically whether proceedings under § 23-110 are civil or criminal in nature. Since the two statutes are nearly identical, "and § 23-110 is the functional equivalent of the federal statute[,]" this court will look to federal cases interpreting § 2255 in interpreting § 23-110. Snell v. United States, 754 A.2d 289, 292 n.3 (D.C. 2000) (citing Peoples v. Roach, 669 A.2d 700, 702 (D.C. 1995)) (other citations omitted). Appellant argues that the majority of federal circuits hold that § 2255 proceedings are inherently civil in nature, and therefore, are governed by the FEDERAL RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE.

Federal courts confronting issues arising under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (habeas corpus remedy for state prisoners) and 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (providing post-conviction remedy for federal prisoners) have recognized that the nature of these proceedings depends upon their context.*fn2

Generally, for some procedural purposes, habeas proceedings have been considered civil. Simmonds, supra note 2, 111 F.3d at 742 (citing Browder v. Director, Illinois Dep't of Corrections, 434 U.S. 257, 269 (1978); Ex parte Tom Tong, 108 U.S. 556, 559-60 (1883)). For other purposes, the proceedings have not been considered as civil in nature. Id. (citing Harris v. Nelson, 394 U.S. 286, 293-94 (1969) and Ewing v. Rodgers, 826 F.2d 967, 971 (10th Cir. 1987)). Similarly, proceedings under § 2255 have not been characterized uniformly as civil or criminal. See id. (comparing United States v. Gutierrez, 839 F.2d 648, 651 (10th Cir. 1988) with United States v. Cook, 997 F.2d 1312 (10th Cir. 1993)). Some federal courts have recognized that such proceedings have characteristics of civil and criminal proceedings. United States v. Johnston, 258 F.3d 361, 365 (5th Cir. 2001); see Simmonds, 111 F.3d at 742.

In Johnston, for example, the Fifth Circuit, which had generally construed § 2255 proceedings as civil, stated that "the determination of whether a § 2255 proceeding is civil or criminal in nature is dependent on the context of the proceedings, including the legislative and statutory framework in which the § 2255 proceeding must be examined." Johnston, supra, 258 F.3d at 366. In that case, having considered the statutory framework and legislative intent of 28 U.S.C. § 636 (b) and (c) (concerning the jurisdiction of federal magistrate judges), the court held that "for purposes of § 636 (c), a § 2255 proceeding is a civil matter over which Congress intended magistrate judges to exercise jurisdiction upon consent of the parties." Id. However, having considered the criminal nature of the proceeding, the court also determined "that the consensual delegation of § 2255 motions to magistrate judges violated Article III of the Constitution." Id. at 372. The court reasoned that in vacating a criminal sentence under § 2255, the magistrate judge would not merely be overturning another judge's civil ruling, but rather directly entering into the area of federal criminal law and procedure. Id. at 369. The court explained further that: (1) a magistrate judge, handling § 2255 motions by consent, would have controlling authority in attacks on the validity of the Article III judge's prior ruling; (2) sentencing is an integral part of the criminal process, and § 2255 proceedings are a further step in that process; (3) it would be anomalous for the magistrate judge, who lacks authority to impose ...

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