Smith v. State, W2021-00890-CCA-R3-PC

CourtCourt of Appeals of Tennessee. Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtTIMOTHY L. EASTER, JUDGE
PartiesROBERT SMITH v. STATE OF TENNESSEE
Docket NumberW2021-00890-CCA-R3-PC
Decision Date10 June 2022

ROBERT SMITH
v.

STATE OF TENNESSEE

No. W2021-00890-CCA-R3-PC

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

June 10, 2022


Assigned on Briefs May 3, 2022

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County Nos. 16-06651, 16-06652, 17-01523, 18-06253 J. Robert Carter, Jr., Judge

In November of 2018, Petitioner, Robert Smith, pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated rape in exchange for an effective 18-year sentence. The crimes were all committed in 1986. Petitioner filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief alleging ineffective assistance of plea counsel. At the evidentiary hearing, the post-conviction court heard testimony and arguments on the ineffective assistance of counsel claim and whether Petitioner freely and voluntarily entered his guilty plea. The post-conviction court denied relief. On appeal, Petitioner argues that he did not freely and voluntarily enter his guilty plea. After review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal Court Affirmed

Joseph A. McClusky (on appeal), Memphis, Tennessee, and Robert Felkner (at guilty plea hearing), Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Robert W. Smith.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Garrett D. Ward, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Cavette Ostner, Regina Thompson, and Leslie Byrd, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Timothy L. Easter, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which James Curwood Witt, Jr., and Camille R. McMullen, JJ., joined.

OPINION

TIMOTHY L. EASTER, JUDGE

Between 2016 and 2018, a Shelby County Grand Jury indicted Petitioner in four separate cases for five counts of aggravated rape that allegedly occurred in 1986. A guilty plea hearing was held on November 15, 2018. Petitioner pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated rape under indictment numbers 16-06652, 17-01523, and 18-06253,

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with 16-06651 being dismissed. Petitioner stipulated to the State's factual summaries for each case and asked the court to enter a best interest plea pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970). The trial court asked Petitioner whether he reviewed the guilty plea with trial counsel before he signed the document. Petitioner answered in the affirmative. The trial court explained to Petitioner his right to a jury trial. Specifically, the trial court said:

If the jury found you guilty of anything, you would have a right to an appeal, . . . [y]ou could have a higher court look at any conviction to see if there were legal errors or mistakes in it, but when you enter a guilty plea, there's not going to be any jury trial and not going to be any appeal from that trial; do you understand

Petitioner replied "[y]es." The trial court reviewed the plea agreement with Petitioner. Petitioner affirmed that he was to plead guilty to three counts of aggravated rape under indictment numbers 16-06652, 17-01523, and 18-06253. Petitioner acknowledged that he would receive three concurrent 18-year sentences in confinement and that indictment number 16-06651 would be dismissed. Petitioner confirmed he understood the plea terms, he was entering the plea freely and voluntarily, and nobody threatened or coerced him to enter the plea. The trial court explained to Petitioner the meaning of a best interest plea. The trial court again asked Petitioner if was entering the plea freely, voluntarily, and without force or threat. Petitioner again affirmed his understanding. The trial court found that Petitioner entered his plea freely and voluntarily, that Petitioner made the waiver knowingly and intelligently, and that Petitioner was free from threats or coercion. The trial court accepted the plea and sentenced Petitioner to 19 years in confinement.[1]

Petitioner filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief alleging ineffective assistance for counsel's failure to file an "interlocutory appeal on [Petitioner's] motion for pre-indictment delay" and for failure to file a motion to dismiss for violating the statute of limitations. The trial court appointed post-conviction counsel. The State's response to Petitioner's petition for post-conviction relief indicates that appointed counsel filed an amended petition; however, the record does not include an amended petition. The State's response included an argument that Petitioner's "guilty plea was voluntarily and knowingly entered." The post-conviction court held an evidentiary hearing on June 1, 2021.

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At the evidentiary hearing, Petitioner testified he only pled guilty because his counsel told him "that they w[ere] going to find [him] guilty and the best thing for [him] to do was to get a sentence that [he] could do and plead guilty." When asked whether counsel explained to Petitioner that he would be unable to appeal from a guilty plea, Petitioner said no. Petitioner confirmed counsel advised him to plead guilty and receive a lower sentence. Petitioner acknowledged that he followed counsel's advice.

On cross-examination, Petitioner admitted that he remembered entering his plea and speaking with the trial court. Petitioner recalled the trial court's explaining the effect of entering a guilty plea and the inability to appeal from the plea. Petitioner denied that the trial court explained the difference between sentencing laws in 1986 when the offenses were committed and in 2018 when he pleaded guilty. Petitioner acknowledged that he understood the guilty plea hearing proceedings.

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