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Kain v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

April 18, 2019

BILLY JACK KAIN, JR. APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE CRAIGHEAD COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, WESTERN DISTRICT [NO. 16JCR-94-347] HONORABLE CINDY THYER, JUDGE

          Billy Jack Kain, Jr., pro se appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Brad Newman, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          JOSEPHINE LINKER HART, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE

         Billy Jack Kain Jr. filed a petition for writ of error coram nobis in the Craighead County Circuit Court, where he previously pled guilty to one count of rape in 1995. His petition alleged, inter alia, that the 1995 guilty plea was coerced. The circuit court denied Kain's petition without a hearing, and Kain appealed. On appeal, the State argues that the allegations Kain raised in his petition to the circuit court below have already been addressed in previous cases, that Kain has included additional documents in his brief that were not included in his petition to the circuit court or otherwise contained in the record, and that Kain has failed to establish a ground upon which the writ may issue. We affirm.

         I. Writ of Error Coram Nobis

         The function of the writ of error coram nobis 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 circuit court and which, through no negligence or fault of the defendant, was not brought forward before rendition of the judgment. Henington v. State, 2017 Ark. 111, at 2, 515 S.W.3d 577, 579. This court has held that 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. Id.

         Normally, an appellant must first seek permission in this court to proceed in the circuit court with a petition for writ of error coram nobis. See, e.g., McJames v. State, 2010 Ark. 74. However, where the judgment of conviction was entered on a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, the petition for writ of error coram nobis is first filed directly with the circuit court. Id.

         II. Kain's Error Coram Nobis Petition

         On appeal, Kain asserts several arguments to warrant issuance of the writ of error coram nobis, but the only issue that was raised in his petition to the circuit court and preserved for our review is his coerced guilty plea argument.[1] Kain's allegation is that, while he was innocent of the 1995 rape conviction, he pled guilty pursuant to advice of counsel after the prosecution spoke with Kain's attorneys on the morning set for trial. Kain asserts that the prosecution showed Kain's attorneys a "Suspended Imposition of Sentence Order" relating to a kidnapping charge from a 1984 prosecution against Kain in which he had also been charged with rape. It is undisputed that Kain pled nolo contendere to the 1984 rape charge, after which he entered custody of the Arkansas Department of Correction (the ADC) and was later released on parole, but as will be explained in greater detail later in this opinion, the disposition of the 1984 kidnapping charge is disputed.

         According to Kain, at the meeting with his attorneys on the morning of trial in 1995, the prosecution threatened that if Kain elected to proceed to trial, the prosecution would pursue a revocation of the suspended sentence on the previously filed kidnapping charge and would then seek a life sentence on that charge. Presented with an offer of forty years on the 1995 rape charge that his counsel advised him to accept, Kain pled guilty in exchange for the prosecution declining to pursue the revocation of the suspended sentence on the 1984 kidnapping charge. Kain's allegation here is that in 2015, he learned that the 1984 kidnapping charge had already been nolle prossed when he pled nolo contendere to the accompanying 1984 rape charge. Therefore, Kain argues, his guilty plea on the 1995 rape charge was coerced, as he pled guilty only under duress of the prosecution's threat to pursue a revocation on the prior kidnapping charge when the prosecution had no legitimate legal basis on which to pursue such an action.

         III. Procedural Arguments

         The State raises a number of procedural arguments as to why this court should not consider Kain's claim. We first address the State's argument that Kain's allegation has already been addressed in previous cases.

         First, the State points to Kain's Rule 37 proceedings. Shortly after Kain pled guilty to rape in 1995, on March 23, 1995, Kain filed a Rule 37 petition alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. Kain was appointed counsel for the Rule 37 proceedings, and the circuit court held a hearing on November 3, 1995. Kain's appointed counsel's argument focused on whether the previous kidnapping charge, for which sentencing was purportedly suspended in 1984, was of the Class Y variety (which would tend to legitimize the advice of Kain's trial counsel that he would receive a life sentence on the parole revocation for the 1984 kidnapping charge if he went to trial on the 1995 rape charge) or whether the kidnapping charge was of the Class B variety (which would tend to delegitimize the advice of Kain's trial counsel's because there was not the same threat of a life sentence on the parole revocation). Ultimately, the circuit court denied ...


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