Myers v. State, 89-KP-1272

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Citation583 So.2d 174
Docket NumberNo. 89-KP-1272,89-KP-1272
PartiesTimothy MYERS v. STATE of Mississippi.
Decision Date19 June 1991

Page 174

583 So.2d 174
Timothy MYERS
STATE of Mississippi.
No. 89-KP-1272.
Supreme Court of Mississippi.
June 19, 1991.

Timothy Myers, pro se.

Mike C. Moore, Atty. Gen., Jackson, for appellee.


ROBERTSON, Justice, for the court:


This case presents the perennially troublesome question of whether and when a felon convicted on a plea of guilty may secure post-conviction relief on grounds his lawyer's advice was so problematical that his plea was, in law, involuntary. Today we face the more limited question whether the prisoner's complaint in this regard is legally sufficient, such that it may not be dismissed on its face.

We hold that the complaint passes this threshold test and reverse and remand for further proceedings.


On December 8, 1987, the grand jury for the First Judicial District of Hinds County returned an indictment charging Timothy

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Myers with the offense of aggravated assault. 1 Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 97-3-7(2) (Supp.1987). The Circuit Court appointed Jeffrey Weill, a lawyer who has his office in Jackson, Mississippi, to represent Myers on this charge. On March 4, 1988, Myers petitioned the Court that he be allowed to enter a plea of guilty to the indictment. The Circuit Court accepted the plea and on April 13, 1988, adjudged Myers guilty of aggravated assault and sentenced him to sixteen years imprisonment in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

On September 17, 1989, Myers filed in the Circuit Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County, Mississippi, his complaint for post-conviction relief, alleging his guilty plea was involuntarily given. Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 99-39-5(1)(f) (Supp.1989). He charges, inter alia, that in the course of the original criminal proceedings before the Circuit Court, his lawyer, Weill, advised Myers that, if he went to trial on the aggravated assault charge, he would likely receive a sentence of twenty-five years. More to the point, Myers says Weill told him that, if he entered a plea of guilty, the Court would sentence him to no more than twelve years.

Myers' complaint is supported by the affidavit of his mother, Claudette Williams, who states, inter alia:

During the interview, Mr. Weill told Timothy that if he appeared at the blind hearing the judge would give him less than twelve (12) years but if he insisted on going to trial, he would get twenty-three (23) years.... Timothy, while I was present, continuously told Mr. Weill that he was not guilty of aggravated assault and he did not want to plead guilty.

Cynthia Woodall, Myers' sister, filed a supporting affidavit stating that she, too, was present when Myers was meeting with his attorney, Jeffrey Weill, and that in her presence,

Mr. Weill informed us that this hearing would result in Timothy receiving a sentence of not more than twelve (12) years.

In his complaint, Myers charges further that, in preparation for the plea hearing, his lawyer advised him "that when the judge asked him a question he should respond Yes and not hesitate or go into long drawn answer." He says further that Weill provided him "with incorrect advice and information to induce ... [him] to plead guilty, misinformed ... [him] as to the possible sentence the court would impose ... [and] had ... [him] to lie to the court."

On September 7, 1989, the Circuit Court entered an order reciting that:

It plainly appearing from the motion, exhibits, and prior proceedings in the case that the movant is not entitled to the relief and the motion should be dismissed.

And thereupon, the Court dismissed Myers' complaint with prejudice. Myers now appeals to this Court.


Our procedural posture is all important. Myers' complaint has been dismissed on its face, and, when this has happened and a prisoner appeals pro se, we employ special rules, familiar and well settled.

We put the premises in Billiot v. State, 515 So.2d 1234 (Miss.1987):

... we today encounter the sole question of whether Billiot, within the pleading confines of the Uniform Post-Conviction Relief Act, has sufficiently posed allegations which, if proven, would entitle him to relief. In other words, has he alleged facts which require further inquiry in the expanded setting of an evidentiary hearing?

As we have recently noted in another ... case, review of claims brought via formal post-conviction petition proceeds in a structural order whereby "[o]ur procedural posture is analogous to that

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when a defendant in a civil action moves to dismiss for failure to state a claim. See Rule 12(b)(6), Miss.R.Civ.P.; Stanton & Associates, Inc. v. Bryant Construction Company, Inc., 464 So.2d 499, 504-06 (Miss.1985). Functionally, Section 99-39-9 is substituted for the pleadings requirements of Rule 8(a) and (e), Miss.R.Civ.P." Neal v. State, 525 So.2d 1279, 1280 (Miss.1987). Neal further instructs that we examine such petitions for the following essential pleading components:

(c) A concise statement of the claims or grounds upon which the motion is based.

(d) A separate statement of the specific facts which are within the personal knowledge of the prisoner and which shall be sworn to by the prisoner.

(e) A specific statement of the facts which are not within the prisoner's personal knowledge. The motion shall state how or by whom said facts will be proven. Affidavits of the witnesses who will testify and copies of documents or records that will be offered shall be attached to the motion. The affidavits of other persons and the copies of documents and records may be excused upon a showing, which shall be specifically detailed in the motion, of good cause why they cannot be obtained. This showing shall state what the prisoner has done to attempt to obtain the affidavits, records and documents, the production of which he requests the court to excuse.

Neal 525, So.2d at 1280, quoting Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 99-39-9 (Supp.1987).

The court's authority in the face of a petition such as that presented by Billiot is fixed:

The Court upon examination of the application has the authority to dismiss it outright,

"if it plainly appears from the face of the motion, any annexed exhibits and the prior proceedings in the case that the movant is not entitled to any relief...." Mississippi Code Annotated, Sec. 99-39-11(2).

On the other hand, if the application meets these pleading requirements and presents a claim procedurally alive "substantial[ly] showing denial of a state or federal right," the petitioner is entitled to an in court opportunity to prove his claims. Mississippi Code Annotated, Sec. 99-39-27(5) (Supp.1986).

Neal, 525 So.2d at 1281. 2

Billiot, 515 So.2d at 1236-37.

Beyond Billiot, we take the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true, see, e.g., Cain v. McKinnon, 552 So.2d 91, 91 (Miss.1989); McFadden v. State, 542 So.2d 871, 874 (Miss.1989); see Wilkinson v. Mercantile National Bank, 529 So.2d 616, 618 (Miss.1988); Knight v. Moore, 396 So.2d 31, 34 (Miss.1981) (quoting Franklin v. City of Marks, 439 F.2d 665, 670 (5th Cir.1971)), "well-pleaded" bearing the PCR Act's special definition. Where, as here, a prisoner is proceeding pro se, we take that fact into account and, in our discretion, credit not so well pleaded allegations, see Sanders v. State, 440 So.2d 278, 283 n. 1 (Miss.1983); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21, 92 S.Ct. 594, 596, 30 L.Ed.2d 652, 654 (1972), to the end that a prisoner's meritorious complaint may not be lost because inartfully drafted. Moore v. Ruth, 556 So.2d 1059, 1061 (Miss.1990).

In sum, the question before this Court is whether, on the papers and record before us, we can say with confidence that Myers will not be able to show that his plea was sufficiently involuntary that he may of right obtain vacation of the judgment of conviction entered thereon.



Where a defendant's plea of guilty is coerced or otherwise involuntary, any

Page 177

judgment of conviction entered thereon is subject to collateral attack. Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 89 S.Ct. 1709, 23 L.Ed.2d 274 (1969). To be enforceable, a guilty plea must emanate from the accused's informed consent. See generally, Vittitoe v. State, 556 So.2d 1062 (Miss.1990). In a similar context in Sanders v. State, supra, we said:

The question whether a plea of guilty was a voluntary and knowing one necessarily involves issues of fact. Advice received by the defendant from his attorney and relied upon by him in tendering his plea is a major area of factual inquiry. Chavez v. Wilson, 417 F.2d 584, 586 (9th Cir.1969). For example, counsel's representation to the defendant that he will receive a specified minimal sentence may render a guilty plea involuntary. Mosher v. Lavallee, 491 F.2d 1346 (2d Cir.) cert. denied, 416 U.S. 906, 94 S.Ct. 1611, 40 L.Ed.2d 111 (1974). Where defense counsel lies to the defendant regarding the sentence he will receive, the plea may be subject to collateral attack. Where defense counsel advises the defendant to lie and tell the court that the guilty plea has not been induced by promises of leniency (when in fact it has), the plea may be attacked.... [W]here the defendant receives any such advice of counsel, and relies on it,...

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