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Stephenson v. Kelley

Supreme Court of Arkansas

April 26, 2018

DEANDRA L. STEPHENSON APPELLANT
v.
WENDY KELLEY, DIRECTOR, ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION APPELLEE

          PRO SE APPEAL FROM THE JEFFERSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 35CV-17-303] HONORABLE JODI RAINES DENNIS, JUDGE

          Deandra L. Stephenson, pro se appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Amanda Jegley, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          COURTNEY HUDSON GOODSON, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE.

         In 2017, appellant Deandra L. Stephenson filed in the circuit court in the county where he was incarcerated a pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated sections 16-112-101 to -123 (Repl. 2016), alleging that he was entitled to release from custody because the trial court in his criminal case committed error in the conduct of the trial, the evidence was not sufficient to sustain the judgment, and he is innocent of the offenses of which he was convicted. He further argued that the court in a habeas proceeding should look beyond the face of the judgment to determine whether the writ should issue. Stephenson did not contend that any of the sentences imposed on him were outside the statutory range for the offenses of which he was convicted or that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to enter the judgment. The circuit court dismissed Stephenson's petition on the grounds that he failed to establish, as required by the statute, that the trial court lacked jurisdiction or that the commitment was invalid on its face. Stephenson brings this appeal.[1] We find no error and affirm the circuit court's order.

         I. Background

         In 2007, Stephenson was found guilty by a Pulaski County jury of two counts of capital murder and sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment without parole. He was also found guilty of one count of committing a terroristic act for which 480 months' imprisonment was imposed. The sentences were enhanced pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 16-90-120 (Repl. 2006) for use of a firearm in the commission of the offenses. We affirmed. Stephenson v. State, 373 Ark. 134, 282 S.W.3d 772 (2008).

         II. Standard of Review

         A circuit court's decision in a habeas proceeding will be upheld unless it is clearly erroneous. Clay v. Kelley, 2017 Ark. 294, 528 S.W.3d 836. A decision 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. Id.

         III. Grounds for the Writ

         A writ of habeas corpus is proper when a judgment of conviction is invalid on its face or when the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the cause. Williams v. Kelley, 2017 Ark. 200, 521 S.W.3d 104; Philyaw v. Kelley, 2015 Ark. 465, 477 S.W.3d 503. Under our statute, a petitioner for the writ who does not allege his actual innocence and proceed under Act 1780 of 2001 Acts of Arkansas must plead either the facial invalidity of the judgment or the lack of jurisdiction by the trial court and make a showing by affidavit or other evidence of probable cause to believe that he is being illegally detained. Ark. Code Ann. § 16-112-103(a)(1) (Repl. 2016). Unless the petitioner in proceedings for a writ of habeas corpus can show that the trial court lacked jurisdiction or that the commitment was invalid on its face, there is no basis for a finding that a writ of habeas corpus should issue. Fields v. Hobbs, 2013 Ark. 416. Stephenson did not invoke Act 1780.

         With respect to Stephenson's argument that the court in a habeas proceeding should not be limited to examining the face of the judgment to determine if the writ should issue, the legislature has declined opportunities to amend the statute to express its disagreement with this court's interpretation, and thus, this court's interpretation remains the law.

         It appears that Stephenson's contention that the habeas statute should be viewed more broadly was essentially an attempt to broaden the scope of a habeas action to include claims of trial error and the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain the judgment. If so, we have held that a habeas corpus proceeding does not afford a prisoner an opportunity to retry his case, and a writ of habeas corpus will not be issued to correct errors or irregularities that occurred at trial. The remedy in such a case is a direct appeal. Birchett v. State, 303 Ark. 220, 795 S.W.2d 53 (1990).

         IV. Act ...


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