Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
Assigned on Briefs September 16, 2014
Direct Appeal from the Circuit Court for Maury County No. 18968 Stella Hargrove, Judge
Ricardo Davidson, Clifton, Tennessee, pro se.
Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; and Ahmed A. Safeeullah, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.
Norma McGee Ogle, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Roger A. Page and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., JJ., joined.
NORMA McGEE OGLE, JUDGE
I. Factual Background
The petitioner was convicted by a jury in the Maury County Circuit Court of possession of more than 300 grams of cocaine with the intent to sell or deliver within a drug free school zone, possession of over ten pounds of marijuana with the intent to sell or deliver within a drug free school zone, conspiracy to possess over 300 grams of cocaine with the intent to sell or deliver within a drug free school zone, and conspiracy to possess and deliver over ten pounds of marijuana with the intent to sell or deliver in a drug free school zone. The court sentenced him to a total effective sentence of fifteen years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On direct appeal, this court affirmed his convictions and sentences, and his application for permission to appeal to the supreme court was subsequently denied. See State v. Ricardo Davidson, No. M2010-02002-CCA-R3-CD, 2012 Tenn. Crim. App. LEXIS 333 (Nashville, May 17, 2012).
Thereafter, the petitioner filed for post-conviction relief, arguing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. The petition was denied, and on appeal, this court upheld the denial. See Ricardo Davidson v. State, No. M2013-01645-CCA-R3-PC, 2014 Tenn. Crim. App. LEXIS 761 (Nashville, July 31, 2014), perm. to appeal denied, (Tenn. 2014).
On November 18, 2013, the petitioner filed in the Maury County Circuit Court a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The petitioner, who was incarcerated in Clifton, Tennessee, contended that the petition was properly filed in Maury County because it "is the convicting court which possesses the relevant records and has the potential authority to correct petitioner's sentence at any time." The petitioner alleged that the indictments against him were duplicitous and that the verdicts against him were not unanimous because he was charged with the "'sale or delivery' of controlled substances." The State responded that the petition should be dismissed for failure to file in the court closest to the petitioner, which would have been in Wayne County. Additionally, the State contended that the petitioner's claims did not merit habeas corpus relief. The habeas corpus court agreed with the State, noting that "[e]ven if the [c]ourt were to hear his claim he would not be entitled to relief because the trial court's jury instructions were sufficient to support his convictions, and his convictions do not violate the double jeopardy clauses of the United States and Tennessee Constitutions." Accordingly, the habeas corpus court dismissed the petition. On appeal, the petitioner challenges this ruling.
Initially, we note that the determination of whether to grant habeas corpus relief is a question of law. Summers v. State, 212 S.W.3d 251, 255 (Tenn. 2007). As such, we will review the trial court's findings de novo without a presumption of correctness. Id. Moreover, it is the petitioner's burden to demonstrate, by a preponderance of the evidence, "that the sentence is void or that the confinement is illegal." Wyatt v. State, 24 S.W.3d 319, 322 (Tenn. 2000).
Article I, section 15 of the Tennessee Constitution guarantees an accused the right to seek habeas corpus relief. See Taylor v. State, 995 S.W.2d 78, 83 (Tenn. 1999). However, "[s]uch relief is available only when it appears from the face of the judgment or the record of the proceedings that a trial court was without jurisdiction to sentence a defendant or that a defendant's sentence of imprisonment or other restraint has expired." Wyatt, 24 S.W.3d at 322; see also Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-21-101. In other words, habeas corpus relief may be sought only when the judgment is void, not merely voidable. Taylor, 995 S.W.2d at 83. "A void judgment 'is one in which the judgment is facially invalid because the court lacked jurisdiction or authority to render the judgment or because the defendant's sentence has expired.' We have recognized that a sentence imposed in direct contravention of a statute, for example, is void and illegal." Stephenson v. Carlton, 28 S.W.3d 910, 911 (Tenn. 2000) (quoting Taylor, 995 S.W.2d at 83).
The procedural requirements for a petition for habeas corpus relief are contained in Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-21-107. "Without question, the procedural provisions of the habeas corpus statutes are mandatory and must be followed scrupulously." Archer v. State, 851 S.W.2d 157, 165 (Tenn. 1993). One such provision is that "[t]he application should be made to the court or judge most convenient in point of distance to the applicant, unless a sufficient reason be given in the petition for not applying to such court or judge." Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-21-105. Our supreme court has held that the most convenient court "generally mean[s] within the county" in which the petitioner is incarcerated. State ex rel. Leach v. Avery, 387 ...