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Williams v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

May 30, 2019

FRED L. WILLIAMS PETITIONER
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS RESPONDENT

          PRO SE SECOND PETITION AND AMENDED PETITIONS TO REINVEST JURISDICTION IN THE TRIAL COURT TO CONSIDER A PETITION FOR WRIT OF ERROR CORAM NOBIS [DREW COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, NO. 22CR-13-43]

          JOSEPHINE LINKER HART, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE

         Petitioner Fred L. Williams brings this petition and amended petitions to reinvest jurisdiction in the trial court so that he may proceed with a petition for writ of error coram nobis in his criminal case. It is the second such petition filed by Williams. The first petition was brought before this court in 2017 and denied. Williams v. State, 2017 Ark. 145, 516 S.W.3d 722 (per curiam).

         In the petition and amended petitions now before us, Williams argues that the writ should issue because there were flaws in his trial and in his direct appeal, including prosecutorial misconduct, trial error, due-process violations, and appellate counsel's failure to raise all pertinent issues on direct appeal. Because none of Williams's claims are based upon information outside of the record or otherwise unknown to petitioner, error coram nobis is not available to address his claims, and we accordingly deny the petition.

         I. Nature of the Writ

         The petition for leave to proceed in the trial court is necessary because the trial court can entertain a petition for writ of error coram nobis after a judgment has been affirmed on appeal only after we grant permission. Newman v. State, 2009 Ark. 539, 354 S.W.3d 61. A writ of error coram nobis is an extraordinarily rare remedy. State v. Larimore, 341 Ark. 397, 17 S.W.3d 87 (2000). Coram nobis proceedings are attended by a strong presumption that the judgment of conviction is valid. Green v. State, 2016 Ark. 386, 502 S.W.3d 524. The 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. Newman, 2009 Ark. 539, 354 S.W.3d 61. The petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a fundamental error of fact extrinsic to the record. Roberts v. State, 2013 Ark. 56, 425 S.W.3d 771.

         II. Grounds for the Writ

         The writ is allowed only under compelling circumstances to achieve justice and to address errors of the most fundamental nature. Id. 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. Howard v. State, 2012 Ark. 177, 403 S.W.3d 38.

         III. Background

         In 2014, Williams was found guilty of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse for which he was sentenced as a habitual offender to an aggregate term of life imprisonment. Williams also entered a plea of guilty in 2014 to the offense of felon in possession of a firearm and later filed a coram nobis petition in the trial court in the case. In the petition, he raised allegations that overlapped significantly with claims pertaining to his conviction by a jury of murder in the first degree and abuse of a corpse. Williams appealed the denial of his petition, and this court affirmed the trial court's order. Williams v. State, 2017 Ark. 313, 530 S.W.3d 844.

         IV. Prosecutorial Misconduct

         Williams contends that a writ of coram nobis should issue because the prosecutor bolstered the evidence in his remarks in favor of the State, insinuated that Williams had engaged in conduct that was not established by the evidence, made false and contradictory statements, assassinated Williams's character to inflame the jury's passion and prejudice, suggested to the jury that he (the prosecutor) was more credible than Williams, implied that Williams had stolen the victim's property, and made improper statements in the State's closing arguments. Williams argues that the prosecutor's conduct, when viewed cumulatively, denied him a fair trial.

         This court has held that allegations of prosecutorial misconduct that could have been raised at trial fail as a ground for the writ. See Howard, 2012 Ark. 177, 403 S.W.3d 38 (noting that a writ of error coram nobis is only appropriate when an issue was not addressed or could not have been addressed at trial because it was somehow hidden or unknown). A coram nobis action does not ...


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