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Malone v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

October 10, 2019

Ralph MALONE, Appellant
v.
STATE of Arkansas, Appellee

Page 677

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 678

         PRO SE APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, SEVENTH DIVISION [NO. 60CR-07-4847], HONORABLE BARRY SIMS, JUDGE

          Ralph Malone, pro se appellant.

         Leslie Rutledge, Att’y Gen., by: Rebecca Kane, Ass’t Att’y Gen., for appellee.

         OPINION

         SHAWN A. WOMACK, Associate Justice

          Appellant Ralph Malone appeals from the trial court’s denial of his pro se petition for a writ of error coram nobis. Because the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying coram nobis relief, we affirm.

          In 2009, Malone pleaded guilty to one count of rape and was sentenced to 180 months’ imprisonment. In his petition, Malone alleged that his guilty plea was the result of fraud and coercion, in that the terms of the plea agreement were changed after Malone had signed it. Specifically, Malone contended below and argues on appeal that the plea agreement that he attached to his petition shows that the charge to which he was pleading guilty had been changed from first-degree sexual assault to rape. Malone further asserted that his trial counsel coerced him into "answering loudly and affirmatively" during the plea hearing. Malone insists he did not understand that the charge had been altered.

          The trial court denied the petition as failing to state a cognizable claim for the issuance of the writ of coram nobis and noted that a review of the plea-hearing transcript demonstrated that the prosecutor amended the charge to rape in open court and provided the range of punishment for the offense.[1] The court further noted that Malone unequivocally pleaded guilty to the charge of rape and did so knowingly and intelligently.

          The standard of review of an order entered by the trial court on a petition for writ of error coram nobis is whether the trial court abused its discretion in granting or denying the writ. Osburn v. State, 2018 Ark. 341, 560 S.W.3d 774. An abuse of discretion occurs 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 those findings are clearly erroneous or clearly against the preponderance of the evidence. Id.

          A writ of error coram nobis is an extraordinarily rare remedy, and proceedings for the writ are attended by a strong presumption that the judgment of conviction is valid. Jackson v. State, 2018 Ark. 227, 549 S.W.3d 356. 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. Id. The petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a fundamental error of fact extrinsic to the record. Id. It is the petitioner’s burden to show that a writ of error coram nobis is warranted. This burden is a heavy one because a writ of error coram nobis is allowed only under compelling circumstances to achieve justice and to address errors of the most fundamental nature.

Page 679

Rayford v. State, 2018 Ark. 183, 546 S.W.3d 475. 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 ...


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