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Pugh v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

November 7, 2019

EDDIE L. PUGH APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

          PRO SE APPEAL FROM THE POINSETT COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 56CR-16-273] HONORABLE DAN RITCHEY, JUDGE

          Eddie L. Pugh, pro se appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Joseph Karl Luebke, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          SHAWN A. WOMACK, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE

         Appellant Eddie L. Pugh brings this appeal from the denial and dismissal by the circuit court of his pro se petition for writ of error coram nobis and his pro se motion to correct a mistake in the sentencing order. In his brief, Pugh refers to his claim that there was a mistake in the sentencing order, but he does not include the motion in the addendum to his brief. Accordingly, we address this appeal solely as an appeal from the decision of the circuit court to decline to issue the writ. As Pugh has failed to demonstrate that the circuit court abused its discretion in declining to issue the writ, the order is affirmed.

         I. History

         Pugh entered a plea of guilty in 2016 to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 240 months' imprisonment. Imposition of an additional sentence of 120 months' imprisonment was suspended. In 2018, Pugh filed in the trial court both the motion to correct the sentencing order and the coram nobis petition. The motion and petition were denied and dismissed in one order entered September 14, 2018. As stated, Pugh contends on appeal that the trial court was wrong not to issue the writ.

         II. Standard of Review

         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. Newman v. State, 2014 Ark. 7. An abuse of discretion occurs when the court acts arbitrarily or groundlessly. Nelson v. State, 2014 Ark. 91, 431 S.W.3d 852. There is no abuse of discretion in the denial of error coram nobis relief when the claims in the petition were groundless. Osburn v. State, 2018 Ark. 341, 560 S.W.3d 774.

         III. Nature of the Writ

         A writ of error coram nobis is an extraordinarily rare remedy. State v. Larimore, 341 Ark. 397, 17 S.W.3d 87 (2000). 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 that, through no negligence or fault of the defendant, was not brought forward before rendition of the judgment. Newman v. State, 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.

         The writ is allowed only under compelling circumstances to achieve justice and to address errors of the most fundamental nature. Dednam v. State, 2019 Ark. 8, 564 S.W.3d 259. A writ of error coram nobis is available to address 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. Error coram nobis proceedings are attended by a "strong presumption" that the judgment of conviction is valid. Nelson, 2014 Ark. 91, at 3, 431 S.W.3d at 854.

         IV. Fraud or Mistake

         Pugh first argues that issuance of the writ was warranted because his attorney induced him to plead guilty by practicing "fraud or mistake" in that counsel advised him to answer the trial court questions at his plea hearing in the affirmative or run the risk of the plea not being accepted. He contends that he was further informed by counsel that if the plea was not ...


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