APPEAL FROM THE JEFFERSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO.
35CV-19-179] HONORABLE JODI RAINES DENNIS, JUDGE.
L. Jefferson, pro se appellant.
Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Jason Michael Johnson,
Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.
K. Wood, Associate Justice.
Jefferson appeals the circuit court's denial of his pro
se petition for writ of audita querela and for relief
pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 60(k) (2018).
Because the circuit court did not abuse its discretion, we
pleaded guilty in 2004 to one count of first-degree domestic
battery and two counts of second-degree domestic battery. He
was sentenced to an aggregate term of twenty-five years'
imprisonment. In 2019, Jefferson filed his petition for writ
of audita querela, contending that the writ was permitted by
Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 60(k). In the petition,
he sought modification of his sentence on the grounds that
the circuit court did not adhere to Arkansas Rule of Criminal
Procedure 24.4 when it accepted his guilty plea because it
failed to inform him of the percentage of time he would need
to serve before becoming eligible for parole. In addition, he
further alleged that (1) the circuit court lacked
jurisdiction; (2) the judgment was invalid because there was
no contra pacem clause in the charging instrument
for each of the three charges and for the declaration that he
was charged as a habitual offender; and (3) the Arkansas
Department of Correction (ADC) has miscalculated his
circuit court treated the petition as a petition for writ of
error coram nobis. Jefferson argues on appeal that the
circuit court did not enter specific findings with respect to
his petition and erroneously considered his petition as a
petition for writ of error coram nobis petition rather than a
petition for writ of audita querela, which is permitted by
Rule 60(k). He contends that if the petition had been treated
as a petition for writ of audita querela, he would have been
entitled to an evidentiary hearing and relief from the
Petition for Writ of Audita Querela
held that a writ of audita querela is indistinguishable from
a writ of error coram nobis, and a court properly treats a
request for permission to pursue audita querela relief as a
petition for writ of error coram nobis. Alexander v.
State, 2019 Ark. 171, 575 S.W.3d 401. Accordingly, it
was not error for the circuit court to consider
Jefferson's petition as a coram nobis petition. Although
Jefferson contended Rule 60(k) authorized him to file this
specific petition, it specifically abolished coram vobis and
audita querela actions as a procedure for obtaining relief
from a judgment. Therefore, any petition for a writ of error
challenging a criminal judgment of conviction in this state
is clearly a petition for a writ of error coram nobis as it
applies in modern law. Gonder v. State, 2019 Ark.
156 (citing Whitney v. State, 2018 Ark. 138).
Petition for Writ of Error Coram Nobis
review a denial of a petition for writ of error coram nobis
for abuse of discretion. 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 are groundless. Osburn v.
State, 2018 Ark. 341, 560 S.W.3d 774. The circuit court
is not required to hold a hearing on a coram nobis petition
if the petition clearly has no merit. Griffin v.
State, 2018 Ark. 10, 535 S.W.3d 261.
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 when there existed some fact that would have
prevented it if it had been known to the circuit 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. 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.
of error coram nobis is available to address errors that are
found in certain categories: insanity at the time of trial; a
coerced guilty plea; material evidence withheld by the
prosecutor; or 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. The ADC's