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Bridgeman v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Divisions III, IV

May 17, 2017



          Bobby G. Bridgeman, pro se appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Pamela Rumpz, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, Judge.

         Appellant Bobby Bridgeman appeals a Pope County Circuit Court denial of his pro se petition for postconviction relief pursuant to Rule 37.1 (2016) of the Arkansas Rules of Criminal Procedure. On appeal, he challenges the circumstances surrounding the entry of his guilty plea and the effectiveness of his counsel in explaining the consequences of his suspended sentence. Because his claims have no merit, we affirm.

         Before we can address the specific arguments that Bridgeman raises on appeal, we must first address how our court obtained jurisdiction over appeals such as this, which have historically been decided by our supreme court. In the beginning, amendment 58 of our state constitution vested in the supreme court the power to determine the jurisdiction of the court of appeals.[1] Ark. Const. amend. 58. Likewise, amendment 80, which repealed amendment 58, continues to make clear that the court of appeals "shall have jurisdiction as the supreme court shall by rule determine." See Bales v. City of Fort Smith, 2017 Ark. 161 (quoting Ark. Const. amend. 80, § 5 (emphasis added)). Pursuant to this grant of authority, our supreme court has outlined our courts' respective appellate jurisdiction in Rule 1-2 of the Rules of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. Under Rule 1-2, all cases appealed shall be filed in the court of appeals except for a subset of designated cases delineated in subsection (a) in which our supreme court has expressly retained jurisdiction. Under Rule 1-2(a)(8), our supreme court reserves jurisdiction over appeals "required by law to be heard in the Supreme Court." Ark. Sup. Ct. R. 1-2(a)(8).

         Prior to March 2, 2017, the Arkansas Supreme Court exerted jurisdiction over all postconviction matters, as it had previously and consistently held that such appeals are "required by law to be heard by the Supreme Court" pursuant to Rule 1-2(a)(8). Ark. Sup. Ct. R. 1-2(a)(8) (emphasis added). See non life-or-death Rule 37 appeals citing Ark. Sup. Ct. R. 1-2(a)(8) as the basis for jurisdiction: Green v. State, 2014 Ark. 284 (per curiam) (10-year aggregate sentence); Moore v. State, 2014 Ark. 231 (per curiam) (29-year aggregate sentence); Barber v. State, 2014 Ark. 179 (per curiam) (40-year aggregate sentence); Mathis v. State, 2014 Ark. 148 (per curiam) (112-year aggregate sentence); Thornton v. State, 2014 Ark. 113 (per curiam) (45- year aggregate sentence); Rackley v. State, 2014 Ark. 39 (37-year aggregate sentence); Ellis v. State, 2014 Ark. 24 (per curiam) (40-year aggregate sentence); Moten v. State, 2013 Ark. 503 (per curiam) (22-year aggregate sentence); Williams v. State, 2013 Ark. 375 (per curiam) (60-year aggregate sentence); Bond v. State, 2013 Ark. 298 (per curiam) (115-year aggregate sentence); Golden v. State, 2013 Ark. 144, 427 S.W.3d 11 (25-year aggregate sentence); Charland v. State, 2012 Ark. 246 (75-year aggregate sentence); Tornavacca v. State, 2012 Ark. 224, 408 S.W.3d 727 (30-year aggregate sentence); Henington v. State, 2012 Ark. 181, 403 S.W.3d 55 (36-year sentence); Keck v. State, 2012 Ark. 145 (25-year sentence); McLeod v. State, 2010 Ark. 95 (per curiam) (5-year sentence); State v. Smith, 368 Ark. 620, 249 S.W.3d 119 (2007) (15-year sentence); Fisher v. State, 364 Ark. 216, 217 S.W.3d 117 (2005) (55-year aggregate sentence). To assist in the exercise of this jurisdiction, the supreme court employed, and still employs for its exclusive use, [2] an entire office to handle these types of cases.

         On March 2, 2017, however, our supreme court, without effectuating a rule change and without any explication or further explanation as to why it was no longer required by law to hear such cases, summarily transferred a majority of its Rule 37 cases to this court by means of a footnote in an unsigned per curiam opinion.[3] See Barnes v. State, 2017 Ark. 76, footnote 1, 511 S.W.3d 845, footnote 1 (per curiam). Thus, we exercise jurisdiction over this appeal pursuant to the authority apparently delegated to us by virtue of this simple footnote contained in Barnes.

         We now turn to the merits of Bridgeman's claims. The facts are these. Bridgeman was originally charged with residential burglary and felony theft of property. Later, the State filed an "amended" information adding a habitual-offender allegation.[4] Eventually, Bridgeman pled guilty to a reduced charge of breaking or entering instead of his initial charge of residential burglary. In exchange for his plea, the State further agreed to dismiss the theft-of-property charge and to recommend a sentence of ten years in the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC) with an additional five years suspended.[5] The court accepted Bridgeman's guilty plea on the breaking-or-entering charge and sentenced him to ten years in the ADC with five years suspended. The court entered a sentencing order reflecting his conviction, but the order did not indicate that Bridgeman was being sentenced as a habitual offender.

         On August 4, 2016, Bridgeman timely filed a verified Rule 37 petition with the court. In his petition, Bridgeman alleged that he had been improperly sentenced to ten years' imprisonment on a Class D felony that carried a range of only zero to six years. He claimed that the trial court sentenced him as a habitual offender, despite not having been convicted of being one. Based on those assertions, Bridgeman alleged that he was sentenced outside the appropriate sentencing range, thereby denying him his right to due process and to a fair trial, and that he received an illegal sentence. The trial court denied his petition for postconviction relief without a hearing on August 10, 2016.

         On appeal, Bridgeman challenges the trial court's factual findings, argues that his attorney was ineffective for not sufficiently informing him of the sentencing consequences of his suspended sentence, and asserts that he was convicted of a crime for which he was never charged. We do not reverse a denial of postconviction relief unless the trial court's findings are clearly erroneous. Greene v. State, 356 Ark. 59, 146 S.W.3d 871 (2004). 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. Flores v. State, 350 Ark. 198, 85 S.W.3d 896 (2002). When a plea of guilty or nolo contendere is entered, the sole issue in postconviction proceedings is whether the plea was intelligently and voluntarily entered on advice from competent counsel. See Mancia v. State, 2015 Ark. 115, 459 S.W.3d 259. We must now turn our attention to the record of the proceedings before the trial court at the time Bridgeman entered his plea.[6]

         Bridgeman appeared before the trial court on June 6, 2016, for entry of his plea. Prior to taking his plea, the trial court advised Bridgeman of the charges for which he was pleading guilty, that he was being charged as a habitual offender, that the habitual-offender designation elevated the sentencing range on his crimes, and that the range as charged was from zero to fifteen years in the ADC and/or a fine not exceeding $10, 000. Bridgeman indicated that he understood the charges against him and the possible ranges of punishment for his crimes. The court then questioned Bridgeman to determine whether his plea was voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently made. The court also inquired as to whether Bridgeman was satisfied with the services of his attorney, to which Bridgeman responded, "Yes." The court then informed Bridgeman of the State's sentencing recommendation and that his sentence would be served consecutively with his convictions arising out of Johnson County. Bridgeman acknowledged his understanding of the plea agreement as announced by the court.

         In denying the petition, the court found that Bridgeman was fully aware that he was being charged as a habitual offender and that he had entered a knowing and voluntary negotiated plea of guilty to a reduced charge of breaking or entering. The court further found that Bridgeman knew at the time of his plea that his offense contained a range of punishment from zero to fifteen years' imprisonment in the ADC. The trial court determined that the sentencing order was entered mistakenly, and it had inadvertently failed to check the box reflecting that Bridgeman had been sentenced as a habitual offender. However, the trial court held that because the plea agreement negotiated by Bridgeman's attorney was exactly the plea agreement to which he pled guilty, counsel was not ineffective. Moreover, because Bridgeman waived his right to a jury trial when he knowingly and voluntarily entered his guilty plea, he was not denied his right to a fair trial. The court then issued an amended sentencing order nunc pro tunc correcting the habitual-offender designation.

         Here, Bridgeman argues that the order denying his postconviction relief contains errors: that he was initially charged with residential burglary and theft of property and that an amended information added the habitual-offender enhancement. He further argued that he was convicted of breaking ...

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