APPEAL FROM THE MISSISSIPPI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, CHICKASAWBA
DISTRICT [NO. 47BCR-08-383] HONORABLE RALPH WILSON, JR.,
Kenneth Ramirez, pro se appellant.
Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Vada Berger, Ass't
Att'y Gen., for appellee.
DANKEMP, CHIEF JUSTICE
Kenneth Dale Ramirez entered a negotiated plea of guilty to
first-degree murder and four counts of aggravated assault,
and in accord with the State's recommendation, the trial
court imposed consecutive sentences of 480 months'
imprisonment on the murder charge and 72 months'
imprisonment on each of the assault charges, for an aggregate
term of 768 months' imprisonment. More than seven years
after the judgment had been entered, Ramirez filed in the
trial court a pro se petition for writ of error coram nobis.
The court denied and dismissed the petition without a
hearing. Ramirez brings this appeal, asserting that the trial
court erred in denying his petition without a hearing and in
failing to find that his plea was coerced. Ramirez did not
state a basis in his petition to support issuance of the writ
in that he failed to allege facts to support a finding of
coercion. Accordingly, we affirm the denial of coram nobis
relief without a hearing.
claimed in the petition that he was coerced by trial counsel,
who exploited his fear of being given the death penalty and
incorrectly assured him that he would be eligible for work
release and furloughs if he accepted the plea agreement.
Ramirez additionally argued that the State's evidence
against him was insufficient to support the
charges. He asserted that he brought the petition
after he had belatedly learned that he would not be eligible
for work release or furloughs. The trial court reviewed the
petition, plea-hearing transcript, and plea agreement,
it concluded that Ramirez had failed to support his claim of
coercion with a factual basis and that the petition was
standard of review for the denial of a petition for writ of
error coram nobis is whether the trial court abused its
discretion in granting or denying the writ. Scott v.
State, 2017 Ark. 199, 520 S.W.3d 262. An abuse of
discretion happens when the trial court acts arbitrarily or
groundlessly. Id. 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. Smith v.
State, 2017 Ark. 236, 523 S.W.3d 354. There is no abuse
of discretion in the denial of error coram nobis relief when
the claims in the petition are groundless. Id. A
hearing is not required if the petition clearly has no merit,
either because it fails to state a cause of action to support
issuance of the writ, or because it is clear from the
petition that the petitioner did not act with due diligence.
Scott, 2017 Ark. 199, 520 S.W.3d 262.
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. Faulkens v. State, 2017 Ark. 291. The
petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a fundamental
error of fact extrinsic to the record. McCullough v.
State, 2017 Ark. 292, 528 S.W.3d 833. A writ of error
coram nobis is available for addressing 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.
this court reviews a trial court's ruling on a coram
nobis petition on appeal, the appellant is limited to the
scope and nature of the arguments he or she made below that
were considered by the trial court in rendering its ruling,
and we therefore limit our consideration on appeal to those
claims, and any factual support for those claims, that were
contained in the petition filed in the trial court.
Smith, 2017 Ark. 236, 523 S.W.3d 354.
argued in his petition and on appeal that he was coerced by
his attorney, who advised him that a jury trial "was not
an option" because Ramirez had confessed to shooting the
victim, Palmore; there were several individuals who had
witnessed the shooting; and the defense had no witnesses.
Ramirez's claim is that he was pressured by counsel into
entering a plea. His attorney indicated a plea deal was
"the only option" because the evidence against him
was overwhelming and that the likely outcome of a trial was
conviction and the death penalty. Ramirez maintains that
counsel had also explained that, with a lesser sentence,
Ramirez would be eligible for work release and furloughs in
prison. He asserts that this representation was important to
his decision to accept the plea agreement and that he would
have gone to trial had it not been made.
court has held that, to rise to the level of coercion to
warrant issuance of the writ, allegations that a plea was
coerced must demonstrate the compulsion of a free agent by
physical, moral, or economic force or threat of physical
force. Id. Mere pressure to plead guilty occasioned
by the fear of a more severe sentence is not coercion.
Nelson v. State, 2014 Ark. 91, 431 S.W.3d 852.
Ramirez's factual basis for his allegations of pressure
in the form of misrepresentations by counsel does not support
a cognizable claim of coercion in coram nobis proceedings.
This court has recognized that coram nobis proceedings do not
provide relief to a petitioner who, although he couches his
claims in terms of a coerced guilty plea, actually bases his
claims on allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel
and trial error. Green v. State, 2016 Ark. 386, 502
S.W.3d 524. Ramirez's allegation that counsel incorrectly
advised him concerning his eligibility for early release was
the type of claim that should have been raised under Arkansas
Rule of Criminal Procedure 37 and not in coram nobis
proceedings. White v. State, 2015 Ark. 151, 460
final claim for issuance of the writ is that he is actually
innocent of the offense to which he pleaded guilty. This also
does not establish a ground for the writ because the claim
constitutes a direct attack on the judgment. Williams v.
State, 2017 Ark. 313, 530 S.W.3d 844. The trial court
did not err in finding that a hearing was not required
because the petition clearly had no merit in that it failed
to state a cause of action to support issuance of the writ.
Despite Ramirez's allegations to the contrary, there was
no need for the trial court to consider evidence of his
attorney's ineffective assistance. Establishing that fact
would not, as noted above, provide a basis for the writ.