JASON N. WATSON APPELLANT
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE
MOTION TO INCLUDE EVIDENCE OF MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES IN RECORD
LODGED ON APPEAL [HOWARD COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO.
2005, appellant Jason N. Watson entered a plea of guilty to
capital murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment without
parole. On January 25, 2016, Watson filed in the trial court
a pro se petition for writ of error coram nobis. The trial
court held a hearing on the petition and denied it. Watson
lodged an appeal from the order, and now before us is his
motion to supplement the record with additional evidence that
was not included in the coram nobis petition that the trial
dismiss the appeal as it is clear from the record that Watson
could not prevail if the proceeding went forward. An appeal
from an order that denied a petition for postconviction
relief, including a petition for writ of error coram nobis,
will not be permitted to proceed when it is clear that the
appellant could not prevail. Millsap v. State, 2014
Ark. 493, at 2, 449 S.W.3d 701, 703, cert. denied,
135 S.Ct. 2054, reh'g denied, 136 S.Ct. 10
(2015). As the appeal is dismissed, the motion to supplement
the record is moot.
standard of review of an order entered by the trial court on
a petition for writ of error coram nobis is whether the trial
court abused its discretion in granting or denying the writ.
Newman v. State, 2014 Ark. 7. An abuse of
discretion occurs when the court acts arbitrarily or
groundlessly. Nelson v. State, 2014 Ark. 91, 431
S.W.3d 852. The trial court's findings of fact,
on which it bases its decision to grant or deny the petition
for writ of error coram nobis, will not be reversed on appeal
unless they are clearly erroneous or clearly against the
preponderance of the evidence. Newman, 2014 Ark. 7.
There is no abuse of discretion in the denial of error coral
nobis relief when the claims in the petition were groundless.
Nelson, 2014 Ark. 91, 431 S.W.3d 852.
of error coram nobis is an extraordinarily rare remedy.
State v. Larimore, 341 Ark. 397, 17 S.W.3d 87
(2000). 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
trial court and which, through no negligence or fault of the
defendant, was not brought forward before rendition of the
judgment. Newman v. State, 2009 Ark. 539, 354 S.W.3d
61. The petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a
fundamental error of fact extrinsic to the record.
Roberts v. State, 2013 Ark. 56, 425 S.W.3d 771.
writ is allowed only under compelling circumstances to
achieve justice and to address errors of the most fundamental
nature. Id. 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. Howard v.
State, 2012 Ark. 177, 403 S.W.3d 38. Error coram nobis
proceedings are attended by a strong presumption that the
judgment of conviction is valid. Nelson, 2014 Ark.
91, at 3, 431 S.W.3d at 854.
petition, Watson raised the following grounds for issuance of
the writ: (1) he was mentally incompetent when he entered his
negotiated plea of guilty; (2) he was coerced and threatened
into entering the plea of guilty; (3) he did not knowingly
and voluntarily waive his right to stand trial. Interspersed
throughout the arguments were multiple assertions that the
evidence was not sufficient to establish his guilt.
we have repeatedly held that a challenge to the sufficiency
of the evidence is not cognizable in coram nobis proceedings.
Wallace v. State, 2016 Ark. 400, 503 S.W.3d 754 (per
curiam). Moreover, by pleading guilty, Watson waived any
claim that he was not guilty of the charges. Sherman v.
State, 2014 Ark. 474, at 4, 448 S.W.3d 704, 709 (per
respect to Watson's claim that a writ of error coram
nobis should be issued on the ground that he did not
voluntarily enter his plea, any claim that a guilty plea was
not entered intelligently and voluntarily is properly brought
pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37.1 (2016),
not in a petition for writ of error coram nobis.
E.g., Nelson, 2014 Ark. 91, at 5-6, 431
S.W.3d at 856 ("[W]e have been clear that error coram
nobis proceedings are not a substitute for proceeding under
Rule 37.1 to challenge the validity of a guilty plea, nor are
the two proceedings interchangeable."); see also
White v. State, 2015 Ark. 151, at 4, 460 S.W.3d 285, 288
claims raised by Watson in his petition that were within the
purview of the writ were the allegations that he was
incompetent when he entered the plea and that the plea was
coerced. As support for the allegations, Watson appended to
his petition the transcript of a part of the
fitness-to-proceed hearing that was held before he entered
the plea. He alleged that the answers given by the doctor who
conducted his mental evaluation on cross-examination by his
counsel revealed that the doctor's finding of competence
was questionable. He also appended the transcript of a
document labeled "State v. Jason Watson; Foster Family
Phone Interviews" and a document labeled "State v.
Jason Watson; Mitigation Table." Both documents contain
information about Watson's life before he committed the
offense of which he was convicted. Watson states that the
documents attached to his petition were intended as support
for the claims in the petition.
Watson's claim that his plea was coerced, the allegation
was not sufficient to warrant issuance of the writ because
the allegation did not rise to the level of coercion, which
is defined as "compulsion of a free agent by physical,
moral, or economic force or threat of physical force."
Black's Law Dictionary 315 (10th ed. 2014);
see White, 2015 Ark. 151, at 5, 460 S.W.3d at 288.
Watson's allegations were founded primarily on his
statements that he was not mentally competent to enter the
plea rather than any claims of force or threats of physical
force. The coercion he claimed arose from his counsel
advising him that he would get the death penalty if he went
to trial. However, we have held that the mere fact that a
petitioner's trial counsel informed him that he could
receive a more severe penalty if he went to trial, and thus
the petitioner felt pressure to plead guilty by the fear of a
more severe sentence, is not coercion. Nelson, 2014
Ark. 91, at 4, 431 S.W.3d at 855.
claim, raised in his petition and repeated at the hearing on
his petition, that he was not competent at the time he
entered his plea also failed to establish that the writ
should issue because the claim was not supported with
sufficient facts to substantiate the allegation. He again
contended that the doctor who conducted the mental evaluation
before he entered his plea was not thorough enough in his
examination and that the doctor's findings did not take
into account all the evidence that showed Watson was
incompetent, including Watson's history of mental-health
problems. He again relied on the doctor's testimony at
the fitness-for-trial proceeding to substantiate the claim
that the doctor's evaluation was lacking. He suggests
that the documents attached to the petition demonstrate that
the doctor who performed the pretrial mental evaluation
should have considered information that could have been
obtained from sources other than those the doctor consulted.
burden is entirely on the petitioner who claims a history of
mental defect or illness to overcome the strong presumption
that the judgment was valid. Noble v. State, 2015
Ark. 215, at 3, 462 S.W.3d 341, 344 (per curiam). When a
petitioner alleges insanity at the time of trial, he must
present facts sufficient to demonstrate that there was
information not known at the time of trial, or which could
not have been known at the time of trial, that could have
established that the defendant was incompetent to proceed.
The application for coram nobis relief must make a full
disclosure of specific facts relied upon as the basis for the
writ. Millsap, 2014 Ark. 493, 449 S.W.3d 701. The
petitioner's mere statement that he suffered from mental
problems from a young age does not demonstrate incompetence
at the time of trial. Noble, 2015 Ark. 215, at 3,
462 S.W.3d 341, 344. The information that Watson relied on in
his petition and at the hearing would have, or could have,
been known to him at the time he entered the plea. Again, the
burden was on Watson to demonstrate that ...