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Linell v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

January 31, 2019

CARL LEE LINELL APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS AND S. KYLE HUNTER, PROSECUTOR APPELLEES

          PRO SE APPEAL FROM THE JEFFERSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 35CR-83-26] HONORABLE JODI RAINES DENNIS, JUDGE

          Carl L. Linell, pro se appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Brooke Jackson Gasaway, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          RHONDAK.WOOD, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE

         Appellant Carl Lee Linell seeks relief from the denial of his writ of mandamus that sought to order the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter to authorize the release of information and evidence from his criminal case from the Arkansas State Crime Lab. As we find the circuit court did not abuse its discretion and that Linell was not entitled to the writ, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural History

         Linell was convicted of two counts of capital murder and one count of attempted murder in 1983, for which he was sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment without parole and twenty years' imprisonment to be served consecutively. Pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 12-12-312 (Supp. 2015), on October 22, 2015, Linell wrote Hunter, and requested authorization for the State Crime Lab to release "information/documents pertaining to [his] 1983 trial[.]" Linell specifically requested "information in regard to testimony given by state witnesses concerning a pistol allegedly belonging to a Mr. James Nelson." The prosecuting attorney denied authorization of the requested information.

         On June 21, 2016, Linell filed a petition for writ of mandamus with the circuit court requesting the court order Hunter to grant authorization to the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory to release the requested information and documents. Linell attached all the above-referenced correspondence to his pleading. The circuit court denied Linell's petition.

         Writ of Mandamus

         The purpose of a writ of mandamus in a civil or criminal case is to enforce an established right or to enforce the performance of a duty. Pritchett v. Spicer, 2017 Ark. 82, 513 S.W.3d 252. When requesting a writ of mandamus, a petitioner must show a clear and certain right to the relief sought and the absence of any other adequate remedy. Id. The standard of review on a denial of a writ of mandamus is whether the circuit court abused its discretion. Dobbins v. Democratic Party of Ark., 374 Ark. 496, 288 S.W.3d 639 (2008). A circuit court abuses its discretion when it makes a decision that is arbitrary and capricious. Pritchett, 2017 Ark. 82, 513 S.W.3d 252.

         On appeal, Linell argues that pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 12-12-312 and Davis v. Deen, 2014 Ark. 313, 437 S.W.3d 694 (per curiam), he is entitled to "full access to the records and information he has sought" and that section 12-12-312 "obligates the prosecuting attorney to release the information by giving [the] Arkansas Crime Laboratory (lab) permission to release the information so requested because it has nothing to do with none other than the appellant himself."

         The State contends that the statutory language in section 12-12-312(a)(1)(B)(ii) no longer dictates mandatory disclosure as it had previously held in Davis and that the change in language adds a "prerequisite to disclosure." Specifically, the State contends that the language requires the prosecuting attorney to first know that the information in the documents retained by the crime lab would negate a defendant's guilt or reduce his punishment before the documents are required to be disclosed. Here, because the information Linell sought had no bearing on Linell's guilt or sentence, the State argues that the prosecuting attorney was not statutorily required to disclose the crime lab documents to Linell.

         Arkansas Code Annotated section 12-12-312(a)(1)(B)(i) states that "[t]his section does not diminish the right of a defendant or his or her attorney to full access to all records pertaining to the case." When it comes to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), codified at Arkansas Code Annotated section 25-19-101 et. seq., this court has liberally interpreted the FOIA to promote access to public information. See Ark. Dep't of Corr. v. Shults, 2017 Ark. 300, 529 S.W.3d 628. Being mindful that section 12-12-312(a)(1)(A)(i) is an exception to the FOIA because the records, file, and information kept, obtained, or retained by the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory are privileged and confidential, the court interprets any exemptions to the FOIA narrowly and in favor of disclosure. Id.

         In Davis, subsection (a)(1)(B)(i) stated that "[n]othing in this section shall be construed to diminish the right of a defendant or his or her attorney to full access to all records pertaining to the case." That language was amended by Act 892 section 1, which went into effect on July 27, 2011, and now states that "[t]his section does not diminish the right of a defendant or his or her attorney to full access to all records pertaining to the case." Ark. Code Ann. ยง 12-12-312(a)(1)(B)(i) (Supp. 2015). The language remains definitive that the ...


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