FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. CR94-1676]
HONORABLE TIMOTHY DAVIS FOX, JUDGE.
AND REMANDED; REQUEST TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS GRANTED;
LEE D. SHORT APPOINTED AS COUNSEL IN THE CIRCUIT COURT.
C. Williams, for appellant.
Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Vada Berger, Ass't
Att'y Gen., for appellee.
F. WYNNE, Associate Justice.
Ray Williams appeals from an order of the Pulaski County
Circuit Court denying his petition for writ of error coram
nobis. He argues on appeal that this court should reverse the
circuit court's order denying his petition and order a
new trial, or if this court determines that immediate relief
is unwarranted in light of the current record, he asks that
this court reverse and remand for factual development and a
reasoned opinion. If the case is remanded, he also asks that
this court reverse the circuit court's denial of his
request to proceed in forma pauperis and appoint counsel. We
find merit in his arguments and reverse and remand for an
evidentiary hearing and an order containing findings of fact.
We also grant his request to proceed in forma pauperis and
appoint Lee D. Short as counsel.
November 1994, Williams was found guilty by a jury of
first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. This
court affirmed on direct appeal. Williams v. State,
325 Ark. 432, 930 S.W.2d 297 (1996). This court subsequently
affirmed the denial of Williams's petition for
postconviction relief under Rule 37. Williams v.
State, No. CR 97-1020 (Ark. Dec. 10, 1998) (unpublished
per curiam). In December 2015, Williams filed a petition
asking this court to reinvest jurisdiction in the circuit
court to consider a petition for writ of error coram
nobis. The State filed a response. This court
granted Williams's petition by syllabus entry on January
this court granted permission to proceed, Williams filed his
petition for writ of error coram nobis in the Pulaski County
Circuit Court. The basis for his petition is a Brady
claim. Williams was convicted of first-degree murder in the
shooting death of Ron Henry; he asserted that the shooting
was justified by self-defense. He contends that the
prosecution failed to disclose an exculpatory statement by a
witness that supported his claim that Henry pulled the gun
and he (Williams) obtained the gun in their struggle and shot
Henry in self-defense.
circuit court entered an order denying Williams's
petition, stating as follows: "On the 15th day of March
2016, Petitioner's Petition for Writ of Error Coram
Nobis filed on February 5, 2016 came on for
consideration. The court finds that Petitioner's
Petition for Writ of Error Coram Nobis should be and
hereby is Denied." On the same date, the circuit court
entered an order denying Williams's motion to appoint
counsel and to proceed in forma pauperis, also without
findings. Williams filed a motion for reconsideration and for
ruling and a renewed motion to proceed in forma pauperis,
both of which the circuit court denied. This appeal followed.
court's standard for considering a petition to reinvest
jurisdiction in the circuit court to consider a petition for
writ of error coram nobis is as follows:
This court will grant permission for a petitioner to proceed
in the trial court with a petition for writ of error coram
nobis only when it appears the proposed attack on the
judgment is meritorious. In making such a determination, we
look to the reasonableness of the allegations of the petition
and to the existence of the probability of the truth thereof.
Howard v. State, 2012 Ark. 177, at 5, 403 S.W.3d 38,
43. Furthermore, although there is no specific time limit for
seeking a writ of error coram nobis, due diligence is
required in making an application for relief. Philyaw v.
State, 2014 Ark. 130, at 6 (per curiam). The essence of
the writ of error coram nobis is that it is addressed to the
very court that renders the judgment where injustice is
alleged to have been done, rather than to an appellate or
other court. State v. Larimore, 341 Ark. 397, 406,
17 S.W.3d 87, 92 (2000) (citing Black's Law
Dictionary 337 (6th. ed. 1990)).
these standards, we agree with Williams's argument that
the circuit court was required to do more than deny
Williams's petition without allowing discovery, holding
an evidentiary hearing, or making any findings of fact. In
granting Williams's petition, this court necessarily
found that his petition for writ of error coram nobis
appeared to be meritorious. As it now stands, the circuit
court reviewed the exact same record as was before this
court, determined that the petition did not have
merit, and denied the petition without findings of fact.
Cf. Penn v. State, 282 Ark. 571, 577, 670 S.W.2d
426, 429 (1984) ("If [the petition for writ of error
coram nobis] has merit, by all means a writ should be
granted; if the petitioner fails in his burden of proof, then
at least a hearing will have resulted. There will be no void
in the system as there is now.")
State responds by arguing that the circuit court's order
should be affirmed for lack of diligence or for failure to
demonstrate a reasonable probability that the judgment would
not have been entered had the statement been available to
Williams at trial. The State further argues that, at most,
Williams is entitled only to a remand for further factual
development because thus far he has only alleged, not proved,
that the prosecution withheld Smith's statement from him
and his trial counsel. We note that the State made
substantially similar arguments regarding diligence and the
merits in its response brief before this court on the
petition to reinvest jurisdiction, but this court nonetheless
granted the petition. Thus, these arguments have been
considered by this court previously and
rejected. We reverse and remand the circuit