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Carter v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

February 26, 2015



Karen Thompson, The Innocence Project, for appellant.

Dustin McDaniel, Att'y Gen., by: Christian Harris, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

JIM HANNAH, Chief Justice

Appellant, Sanders M. Carter, appeals from the circuit court's denial of his motion for postconviction forensic DNA testing pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated sections 16-112-201 to -208 (Repl. 2006). We reverse and remand for an evidentiary hearing.

The following facts, except where supplemented in footnote 1, were recited by this court on direct appeal:

On November 18, 1986, a criminal committed the felonies of rape and aggravated robbery of the prosecutrix and the burglary of her home. During the forty to forty-five minute ordeal, the criminal, who had entered the home through a kitchen window off a deck, threatened to kill the prosecutrix with a knife, and also told her that if she called the police he would come back at a later time and slit her throat. In spite of his threat, she called the police, reported the crimes, and gave a description of the criminal.[1]
One night about a month and one-half later, on January 4, 1987, she heard someone on the deck and saw a man pass by the window. She called the police and they immediately caught the appellant on the deck. Later that day, and again at trial, she identified the appellant as the person who had committed the earlier rape, aggravated robbery, and burglary. The appellant was charged with those three felonies and was also charged with the later attempted burglary. The attempted burglary charge was severed and later dismissed.

Carter v. State, 295 Ark. 218, 220, 748 S.W.2d 127, 127 (1988). On June 3, 1987, Carter was convicted of rape, aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon, and burglary. For his convictions, Carter was sentenced as a habitual offender to consecutive terms of imprisonment totaling life plus forty years. This court affirmed on direct appeal. See id., 748 S.W.2d at 127. Carter subsequently filed numerous unsuccessful petitions for postconviction relief.[2]

On May 16, 2012, Carter filed a motion for postconviction forensic DNA testing and requested that he be allowed to conduct DNA testing of so-called "touch DNA" purportedly located on the handle of the knife that was admitted into evidence at trial and identified by the victim as the knife Carter used during the rape, aggravated robbery, and burglary. Carter alleged that DNA testing of the knife could produce evidence materially relevant to his assertion of actual innocence. The State responded that Carter was not entitled to relief because he failed to satisfy the statutory requirements for postconviction DNA testing.

The circuit court denied the motion without a hearing and ruled that Carter was entitled to no relief because he (1) failed to satisfy the chain-of-custody requirements of section 16-112-202(4), (2) failed to satisfy the timeliness requirement of section 16-112-202(10), and (3) failed to demonstrate that he should be permitted to file a subsequent petition for postconviction relief. Carter appeals.

In appeals of postconviction proceedings, we will not reverse a circuit court's decision granting or denying postconviction relief unless it is clearly erroneous. E.g., Pankau v. State, 2013 Ark. 162, at 5. A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, the appellate court after reviewing the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. Id. The same standard of review applies when a circuit court denies DNA testing under Arkansas Code Annotated sections 16-122-201 to-208. Id. Unless the petition and the files and records of the proceeding conclusively show that the petitioner is entitled to no relief, the court shall promptly set an early hearing on the petition and response, promptly determine the issues, make findings of fact and conclusions of law, and either deny the petition or enter an order granting the appropriate relief. Ark. Code Ann. § 16-122-205(a).

Except when direct appeal is available, a person convicted of a crime may make a motion for the performance of . . . DNA testing, or other tests which may become available through advances in technology to demonstrate the person's actual innocence if a number of requirements are satisfied. See Ark. Code Ann. ยง 16-122-202. ...

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