KARL D. ROBERTS, APPELLANT
STATE OF ARKANSAS, APPELLEE
FROM THE POLK COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. NO. CR-1999-70. HONORABLE
J.W. LOONEY, JUDGE.
Horan, Fed. Def., by: Scott W. Braden, Ass't Fed. Def.,
Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Vada Berger, Ass't
Att'y Gen., for appellee.
K. WOOD, Associate Justice. BRILL, C.J., and DANIELSON and
GOODSON, JJ., dissent.
K. WOOD, Associate Justice
Roberts appeals the circuit court's finding that he has
the capacity to choose between life and death and to
knowingly and intelligently waive his right to postconviction
relief. He also asserts that mandatory review should be
extended to postconviction proceedings in capital cases and
that a rejection of his attempt to rescind his waiver
violates the " solid footing" doctrine. We hold
that the circuit court erred when it found that Roberts has
the capacity to choose between life and death and could make
a knowing and intelligent waiver; accordingly, we reverse and
2000, Roberts was convicted of capital murder and sentenced
to death for the murder of his twelve-year-old niece.
Following his conviction, Roberts filed a waiver of appeal
and of postconviction review. A hearing was held on the
waiver, and the circuit court found that Roberts had the
capacity to knowingly and intelligently waive his appeal
rights. This court conducted an automatic review pursuant to
State v. Robbins, 339 Ark. 379, 5 S.W.3d 51 (1999),
and affirmed Roberts's waiver of his right to appeal, as
well as his conviction and sentence. Roberts v.
State, 352 Ark. 489, 102 S.W.3d 482 (2003).
2003, the circuit court held a hearing pursuant to Arkansas
Rule of Criminal Procedure 37.5 (2015). At the hearing
Roberts appeared pro se and again waived his right to seek
postconviction relief. The circuit court concluded that he
had the capacity and the competency to knowingly and
intelligently waive his right to postconviction relief. This
court reviewed the record of Roberts's Rule 37.5 waiver
hearing and affirmed the circuit court's findings.
See Roberts v. State, 354 Ark. 399, 123
S.W.3d 881 (2003).
in January 2004, the day of his scheduled execution, Roberts
moved for a stay of execution in the United States District
Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, which was
granted. In July 2004, Roberts filed a writ of habeas corpus
with the federal district court, but in 2007, the federal
district court granted Roberts's request to hold the
federal habeas corpus petition in abeyance, directing Roberts
to seek relief in the state courts regarding all unexhausted
claims. The federal habeas petition is currently stayed for
Roberts to be given an opportunity " to convince the
state courts that he did not competently waive his right to
appeal and seek state post-conviction relief" and "
to seek relief in the state courts under Rule 37.5 regarding
all unexhausted claims." See Roberts v.
Norris, 526 F.Supp.2d 926 (E.D. Ark. 2007).
Roberts filed an untimely Rule 37.5 petition and an amended
postconviction petition, which the circuit court denied. In
January 2012, Roberts filed a motion to reopen the
proceedings and reinvest the circuit court with jurisdiction.
Roberts v. State, 2013 Ark. 57, 426 S.W.3d 372. We
granted Roberts's motion and held that a more recent
competency evaluation of Roberts was required to adequately
determine his competency to elect execution and waive
Id. Roberts was subsequently evaluated, and the
circuit court held a hearing to determine whether
Roberts's waiver of his postconviction appeals was made
knowingly and intelligently and with the capacity to choose
between life and death. It concluded that Roberts was
competent and had the capacity to waive his postconviction
rights. Accordingly, the circuit court dismissed
Roberts's petition for postconviction relief. Roberts now
appeals the circuit court's decision regarding competency
asserts several bases on which we should reverse the circuit
court. Roberts first contends that the circuit court failed
to make " sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of
law sufficient to allow for meaningful appellate
review." He alleges, in the alternative, that the
circuit court's conclusion that he is competent to
knowingly and intelligently waive all rights to
postconviction relief and has the capacity to choose between
life and death is clearly erroneous and that the circuit
court substituted its opinion for that of the experts who
testified at the postconviction hearing. Roberts also argues
that this court should establish a mandatory postconviction
proceeding and review for death-penalty defendants who waive
their postconviction rights. Finally, he claims that this
court should reverse the circuit court's acceptance of
Roberts's waiver under the " solid footing"
must determine preliminarily whether the circuit court issued
sufficient findings to allow for meaningful appellate review.
We conclude that it did. As he does on appeal, Roberts raised
six points in his prehearing brief: (1) whether Roberts is
incompetent to waive under Rees v. Peyton, 384 U.S.
312, 86 S.Ct. 1505, 16 L.Ed.2d 583 (1966); (2) whether
Roberts's waiver is illness driven and thus involuntary;
(3) whether Roberts is incompetent under Franz v.
State, 296 Ark. 181, 754 S.W.2d 839 (1988); (4) whether
Roberts's waiver is not " knowing" and "
intelligent" ; (5) whether the waiver should be
disallowed under the " solid footing" doctrine; and
(6) whether the court should require mandatory postconviction
review. However, the first four points all address the issue
of whether Roberts was competent to waive his postconviction
petition for postconviction relief is denied following a
hearing, Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37.5(i) requires
that the court " make specific written findings of fact
with respect to each factual issue raised by the petition and
specific written conclusions of law with respect to each
legal issue raised by the petition." Absent such
findings, there can be no meaningful appellate review because
the court determines whether the findings are supported by a
preponderance of the evidence. See Charland v.
State, 2012 Ark. 246.
concise, the circuit court's findings sufficiently
specify the basis for its ruling. With regard to the first
four issues raised in Roberts's brief, the circuit
court's order denying postconviction relief states that
it considered the testimony and reports of Dr. Mark Peacock
and Dr. Daryl Fujii, Roberts's letter to Judge Richard
Kopf, Roberts's letter to the circuit court, and
affidavits of various people who had assisted in
Roberts's defense. It applied the standard of competency
this court outlined in Roberts v. State, 2013 Ark.
57, 426 S.W.3d 372, and concluded that Roberts " is
competent to knowingly and intelligently waive all rights to
post conviction relief and has the capacity to choose between
life and death (i.e., elect execution) and to forego
representation." We conclude that this sufficiently
addressed the first four
issues raised by Roberts, all of which fall under the
umbrella of waiver. In addition, the circuit court adequately
addressed Roberts's remaining arguments by finding that
they were inapplicable and moot, respectively.
to the merits, although Roberts divides the issue of
competency into separate points, the crux of his appeal is
whether he is competent to waive his postconviction remedies.
The standard for competency to elect execution is not
equivalent to the standard for competency to stand trial.
Roberts, 2013 Ark. 57, at 11, 426 S.W.3d at 378.
" [A] defendant sentenced to death will be able to
forego a state appeal only if he has been judicially
determined to have the capacity to understand the choice
between life and death and to knowingly and intelligently
waive any and all rights to appeal his sentence."
Franz, 296 Ark. 181, 754 S.W.2d 839, overruled
on other grounds by State v. Robbins, 339 Ark.
379, 5 S.W.3d 51 (1999). This is the standard that governs
the waiver of rights to postconviction remedies following the
affirmance of a death sentence, and we will reverse only if
we find that the trial judge's conclusion is clearly
erroneous. Id. 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 made.
Sartin v. State, 2012 Ark. 155, 400 S.W.3d 694.
competency hearing in the circuit court, both parties
presented testimony from psychological experts. The experts
agreed that Roberts suffers from schizophrenia. Thus, the
pertinent inquiry is whether this mental disease renders
Roberts incapable of choosing between life and death or
knowingly and intelligently waiving his postconviction
State's expert, Dr. Mark Peacock, testified that he
diagnosed Roberts with schizophrenia with themes of auditory
and visual hallucinations and delusional beliefs. On direct
examination, Dr. Peacock testified that there are varying
degrees of schizophrenia and that this diagnosis does not
necessarily mean that the person is incompetent to make a
rational decision. However, when asked if Roberts was
competent to make a decision whether to live or die, Dr.
Peacock failed to reach an ultimate conclusion. He stated,
[I]t's a very difficult call for me just because there
were elements of both psychotic reasoning involved in what I
believe was going on with Mr. Roberts' decision as well
as some very overtly stated, rational sounding reasons for
why he would want to waive his [proceedings] . . . And
whether one or the other amount to what I guess a
preponderance of ...