Assigned on Briefs April 1, 2014
Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 03-07591 James C. Beasley, Jr., Judge
Lance Randall Chism, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Robert Lewis Webb.
Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Rachel E. Willis, Senior Counsel; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Alana Dwyer, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.
Jerry L. Smith, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., JJ., joined.
JERRY L. SMITH, JUDGE
On November 4, 2003, Petitioner was indicted by the Shelby County Grand Jury for first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree felony murder, aggravated rape, aggravated burglary, and aggravated robbery. On November 30, 2005, Petitioner agreed to plead guilty to felony murder, aggravated rape, aggravated burglary, and aggravated robbery. Pursuant to the negotiated plea agreement, Petitioner was sentenced to an effective life sentence without the possibility of parole.
On November 14, 2011, Petitioner filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief alleging that his guilty plea was involuntary, that his confession was coerced, that his trial counsel was ineffective, and that he possessed newly discovered evidence. On November 22, 2011, counsel was appointed to represent Petitioner. Counsel filed an amended petition for post-conviction relief, claiming that the ruling in Coleman v. State, 341 S.W.3d 221 (Tenn. 2011), constituted a new rule of constitutional law that should be applied retroactively to Petitioner's case. The State responded that the decision in Coleman did not establish a new rule of law that would entitle Petitioner to toll the statute of limitations. The State also asserted that Coleman only applied to death penalty cases.
On March 8, 2013, Petitioner filed an additional pleading in response to the State's motion to dismiss, asserting that the post-conviction statute of limitations should be tolled because he was mentally incompetent during the time that the petition should have been filed. Petitioner supported these claims with numerous affidavits and documents from medical professionals showing that Petitioner was borderline intellectually functioning, had paranoid schizophrenia, was unable to read and write, and had an overall lack of understanding of the law and the legal system.
On April 5, 2013, Petitioner filed a "Notice of Supplemental Authority, " arguing that Whitehead v. State, 402 S.W.3d 615 (Tenn. 2013), should be applied to his case to toll the statute of limitations. Specifically, Petitioner alleged that trial counsel improperly advised him that he "may be able to get back into court because there may be a change in the law" and failed to advise him about his right to seek post-conviction relief.
On April 19, 2013, the post-conviction court dismissed the petition without an evidentiary hearing. The post-conviction court ruled that Coleman did not establish a new rule of constitutional law and was not applicable to Petitioner's case because it "only addressed issues of intellectual disability that arise in the penalty phase of a death penalty case." Additionally, the court held Petitioner's "obvious" mental health disabilities did not render him incompetent for due process purposes. Finally, the post-conviction court ruled that Petitioner was not entitled to due process tolling pursuant to Whitehead because "there was a negotiated guilty plea, no false or improper information provided to [P]etitioner by trial counsel and there is nothing to indicate a valid due process violation of his rights." Petitioner timely filed a notice of appeal.
I. Coleman v. State