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Joiner v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

October 17, 2019




         Petitioner Shequita L. Joiner was convicted by a Columbia County Circuit Court jury of aggravated robbery and theft of property for which she was sentenced to an aggregate term of 480 months' imprisonment. The Arkansas Court of Appeals affirmed. Joiner v. State, CACR-08-151 (Ark. App. June 18, 2008) (unpublished). Petitioner now brings this pro se petition to reinvest jurisdiction in the trial court so that she may file a petition for writ of error coram in her criminal case. Joiner contends that she was represented by a public defender who was the brother-in-law of the prosecutor in her case, which resulted in a conflict of interest; that the lead investigator in the case, who "is part of the prosecutor team[, ]" withheld material evidence from the jury; and the prosecutor misrepresented the testimony of a witness who should have been charged as an accomplice. Because we find that Joiner's claims do not establish a ground for the writ, the petition is denied.

         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. We are not required to accept the allegations in a petition for writ of error coram nobis at face value. Jackson v. State, 2017 Ark. 195, 520 S.W.3d 242.

         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. Claims for Issuance of the Writ

         A. Conflict of Interest

         Joiner contends there was a conflict of interest between her trial counsel and the prosecutor because they were related, as brothers-in-law, in violation of Rule 1.8(1) of the Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct.[1] The claim is not one that falls within the recognized categories for coram nobis relief and does not otherwise provide a basis for issuance of this extraordinary writ. See generally Smith v. State, 2018 Ark. 396, 562 S.W.3d 211. With regard to claims involving counsel operating under a conflict of interest, we have held that those are ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims, which are outside the purview of a coram nobis proceeding. Nelson v. State, 2014 Ark. 91, 431 S.W.3d 852.

         B. Claims Involving Lead Investigator

         Joiner further contends that the lead investigator, Truman Young, withheld material evidence from the jury. Specifically, Joiner argues that (1) Young failed to let the jury know that Rachel Cole, an accomplice, had threatened Darlene Mask, another witness, because she had told the police about the robbery; (2) that he failed to tell the jury that Cole admitted committing the robbery and that was her reason for threatening Mask; (3) that he failed to tell the jury that the State's witnesses' testimony was contradicted by the physical evidence and the evidence was purely circumstantial; and (4) that he failed to the tell the jury he knew Joiner did not possess a sawed-off shotgun, did not know the location of the Lakeside Water Association, and could not have be able to plan and carry out the robbery. Joiner's claims fail to establish a Brady v. Maryland violation. 373 U.S. 83 (1963).

         It is a violation of Brady, and a ground for the writ, if the defense was prejudiced because the State wrongfully withheld evidence from the defense prior to trial. Mosley v. State, 2018 Ark. 152, 544 S.W.3d 55. The Court held in Brady that "the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the evidence is material to guilt or punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution." 373 U.S. at 87. There are three elements of a Brady violation: (1) the evidence at issue must be favorable to the accused, either because it is exculpatory or because it is impeaching; (2) the evidence must have been suppressed by the State, either willfully or inadvertently; and (3) prejudice must have ensued. Strickler v. Greene, 527 U.S. 263 (1999). When determining whether a Brady violation has occurred, it must first be established by the petitioner that the material was available to the State prior to trial and the defense did not have it. Mosley, 2018 Ark. 152, 544 S.W.3d 55.

         The claims as raised by Joiner regarding evidence withheld by Young are ones in which she contends that evidence was withheld from the jury-not the defense-which do not establish a Brady violation. Joiner has failed to demonstrate that the State withheld evidence, that the defense ...

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