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Johnson v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

December 11, 2014



Willis Ward Johnson, appellant, Pro se.

Dustin McDaniel, Att'y Gen., by: Laura Shue, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.


Page 88


In 1997, appellant Willis Ward Johnson entered a negotiated plea of guilty in the Pulaski County Circuit Court to first-degree murder and aggravated assault, and he was sentenced to serve an aggregate term of 552 months' imprisonment. Pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 16-93-611 (Supp. 1995) (repealed by Act 570 of 2011), as in effect when appellant committed the offenses, a person who is found guilty of first-degree murder is not eligible for parole until he serves seventy percent (70%) of his sentence.

In 1999, the Arkansas General Assembly amended section 16-93-611 to allow the trial court, in its discretion, to waive the seventy-percent requirement under the following circumstances: (1) the defendant was a juvenile at the time of the offense; (2) the juvenile was merely an accomplice to the offense; and (3) the offense occurred on or after July 28, 1995. Ark. Code Ann. § 16-93-611(b) (Supp. 1999).[1] At the time that he committed the offenses on October 9, 1996, appellant was fourteen years old. However, there is nothing in the record showing that he fell within the mere-accomplice circumstance found in the statute.

On April 18, 2013, appellant filed in the trial court a " Motion for Nunc Pro Tunc Order and for Waiver of 70% Provisions for a Juvenile Offender," alleging that the record of his 1997 guilty-plea proceedings shows that the trial court waived the seventy-percent requirement pursuant to section 16-93-611; that, based on communications from his trial counsel, it was his understanding that the trial court waived the seventy-percent requirement; that, even if the trial court at the time of sentencing did not waive the seventy-percent requirement, the court could now waive the requirement; and that a juvenile-transfer hearing was not held. Subsequently, appellant filed a " Motion to Amend Motion/Complaint for Writ of Habeas Corpus Relief," raising allegations stemming from the claim that a juvenile-transfer hearing was not held. Following a hearing, the trial court denied both motions based on its findings that it no longer had jurisdiction in the matter pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37.2(c) (1997) because the motions were not filed within ninety (90) days of the entry of the judgment. Appellant has lodged an appeal from that order.

On appeal, appellant argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion seeking waiver of the seventy-percent requirement, contending that the court had jurisdiction to retroactively apply section 16-93-611, as amended, to waive the requirement and that the time limitations on seeking relief pursuant to Rule 37.2 and Arkansas Code Annotated section 16-90-111 (Supp. 1997) are not controlling because

Page 89

he filed the motion pursuant to section 16-93-611. He raises a number of arguments for the first time on appeal to support his claim that the trial court retained jurisdiction and should have retroactively applied the statute to his sentence. However, on appeal, an appellant is limited to the scope and nature of the arguments he or she made below that were considered by the circuit court in rendering its ruling. Stewart v. State, 2014 Ark. 419, 443 S.W.3d 538 (per curiam). We will not consider new arguments raised for the first time on appeal or consider factual substantiation added to bolster the allegations made below. Thornton v. State, 2014 Ark. 113 (per curiam). Likewise, issues raised below but not argued on appeal are considered abandoned. Springs v. State, 2012 Ark. 87, 387 S.W.3d 143.

The trial court treated the motion as a petition for postconviction relief pursuant to Rule 37.1. Whether the motion was one under Rule 37.1 or under section 16-90-111(b), it was not timely filed, and the trial court did not err in denying it. Even though appellant did not label his petition as a petition under Rule 37.1, a pleading that mounts a collateral attack on a judgment is governed by the provisions of our postconviction rule, Rule 37.1. Newton v. State, 2013 Ark. 320 (per curiam). Here, appellant filed the motion in his criminal case, seeking to attack his judgment through the petition. To the extent that a claim is cognizable under the Rule, section 16-90-111 has been superseded, and any allegation that can be considered under Rule 37.1 is subject to the time limitations contained in the Rule. Murphy v. State, 2013 Ark. 243 (per curiam).

Pursuant to Rule 37.2, when an appellant enters a plea of guilty, a petition must be filed within ninety days of the date that the judgment was entered. Ark. R. Crim. P. 37.2(c). The time limitations imposed in Rule 37.2(c) are jurisdictional in nature, and, if they are not met, the trial court lacks jurisdiction to grant postconviction relief. Talley v. State, 2012 Ark. 314 (per curiam); Benton v. State, 325 Ark. 246, 925 S.W.2d 401 (1996) (per curiam). The motion in the instant case was not timely filed pursuant to the Rule. Because appellant filed the motion sixteen years after the sentencing order was entered, the trial court had no jurisdiction to grant the relief sought. Where the circuit court lacks jurisdiction, the appellate court also lacks jurisdiction. Winnett v. State, 2012 Ark. 404 (per curiam).

Even if considered under section 16-90-111, appellant's motion was also untimely. At best, appellant's claim challenges the imposition of his sentence. The statute allows a circuit court to correct a sentence imposed in an illegal manner within the time allowed under the statute for a reduction of sentence. Section 16-90-111(b), as in effect at the time that appellant was sentenced pursuant to a guilty plea, required that an order under the statute that reduces a sentence must be entered within 120 days after the sentence was imposed or within sixty days after receipt by the trial court of the mandate issued ...

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