PRO SE APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. NOS. 60CR-86-299, 60CR-86-874. HONORABLE LEON JOHNSON, JUDGE.
Charles Weekley, appellant, Pro se.
Dustin McDaniel, Att'y Gen., by: Eileen W. Harrison, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.
In 1986, appellant Charles Weekly entered a plea of guilty to rape and kidnapping charges in the Pulaski County Circuit Court in both case No. 60CR-86-299 and case No. 60CR-86-874. He was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment in each of the cases for rape and a term of ten years' imprisonment in each case for kidnapping.
In 2013, appellant filed in the trial court a pro se petition for writ of error coram nobis, alleging that he had been subjected by the police to verbal and physical abuse to obtain confessions, he had been coerced by his attorney into pleading guilty by threats that the police would retaliate against him with grave bodily harm and other egregious injustices, the prosecution had withheld certain statements and information from the defense, and he was temporarily insane at the time the plea was entered. The trial court denied appellant's petition on the grounds that the claims were conclusory in nature. The trial court further declared that the petition was subject to denial on the basis that appellant did not act with due diligence in filing the petition, which was filed almost twenty-seven years after the judgments had been entered. Appellant brings this appeal from the order.
The standard of review of a denial of a petition for writ of error coram nobis is whether the circuit court abused its discretion in denying the writ. Wright v. State, 2014 Ark. 25 (per curiam); McClure v. State, 2013 Ark. 306 (per curiam); Lee v. State, 2012 Ark. 401 (per curiam). An abuse of discretion occurs when the circuit court acts arbitrarily or groundlessly. Wright, 2014 Ark. 25; McClure, 2013 Ark. 306.
A writ of error coram nobis is an extraordinarily rare remedy more known for its denial than its approval. Cromeans v. State, 2013 Ark. 273 (per curiam). Coram-nobis proceedings are attended by a strong presumption that the judgment of conviction is valid. Greene v. State, 2013 Ark. 251 (per curiam). The function of the writ is to secure relief from a judgment rendered while there existed some fact that would have prevented its rendition if it had been known to the circuit court and which, through no negligence or fault of the defendant, was not brought forward before rendition of the judgment. Id. The petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a fundamental error of fact extrinsic to the record. Burks v. State, 2013 Ark. 188 (per curiam).
Due diligence is required in making an application for relief. Pitts v. State, 2014 Ark. 132 (per curiam); McClure, 2013 Ark. 306.
The writ is allowed only under compelling circumstances to achieve justice and to address errors of the most fundamental nature. Cromeans, 2013 Ark. 273. We have held that a writ of error coram nobis is available to address certain errors that are found in one of four categories: (1) insanity at the time of trial, (2) a coerced guilty plea, (3) material evidence withheld by the prosecutor, or (4) a third-party confession to the crime during the time between conviction and appeal. Wright, 2014 Ark. 25; Greene, 2013 Ark. 251.
On appeal, appellant first argues that the trial court erred by not holding an evidentiary hearing on the coram-nobis petition. We find no error as the claims in the petition were unsupported by factual substantiation sufficient to warrant a hearing, and the claims were not raised with due diligence. See Nelson v. State, 2014 Ark. 91, 431 S.W.3d 852; see Pierce v. State, 2009 Ark. 606 (per curiam). When a petition for writ of error coram nobis is filed directly in the trial court, a hearing is not required if the petition clearly has no merit, either in that it fails to state a cause of action to support issuance ...