Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville
Assigned on Briefs January 22, 2015
Appeal from the Criminal Court for Hamilton County No. 235395 Don W. Poole, Judge.
Robert B. Ledford, Clinton Tennessee, Pro Se.
Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; and Tracy L. Alcock, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.
D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which James Curwood Witt, Jr., and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., JJ., joined.
D. KELLY THOMAS, JR., JUDGE.
On September 12, 2002, the Appellant entered best interest guilty pleas pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970), to second degree murder, aggravated robbery, theft of property valued at $10, 000 or more, and especially aggravated kidnapping. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-13-202, -402, -305, -14-103. For the second degree murder conviction, the Appellant was sentenced as a Range II, multiple offender to forty years to be served at 100%. For the remaining convictions, the Appellant pled as a Range I, standard offender and received an effective sentence of twenty-five years, to be served concurrently to the second-degree murder sentence.
The Appellant filed a timely petition for post-conviction relief, alleging that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel and that his guilty pleas were, therefore, not voluntarily and knowingly entered. Robert Ledford v. State, No. E2004-01744-CCA-R3-PC, 2005 WL 675204, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 24, 2005), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Aug. 22, 2005). In particular, and as is pertinent to our current review, the Appellant alleged that counsel was ineffective for failing to request a mental evaluation. Id. The post-conviction court denied relief, and this court affirmed that decision on appeal, concluding that the Appellant had failed to establish a factual basis to support a mental evaluation. Id. at *2.
On May 28, 2010, the Appellant filed a petition for writ of error coram nobis, and this court affirmed the coram nobis court's summary denial after concluding that coram nobis relief was not available for a guilty-pleaded conviction. Robert B. Ledford v. State, No. E2010-01773-CCA-R3-PC, 2011 WL 1678069, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. May 4, 2011). The Appellant applied for permission to appeal that decision to the Tennessee Supreme Court, and on March 8, 2012, the supreme court granted the application "for the purpose of remanding the case to this court for reconsideration in light of . . . Wlodarz v. State, [361 S.W.3d 490 (2012)]." Robert B. Ledford v. State, No. E2012-00731-CCA-RM-PC, 2012 WL 1696613, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. May 15, 2012). On remand, this court again denied the Appellant relief, concluding that "the alleged 'newly discovered evidence' [did] not qualify as new within the meaning of the coram nobis statute." Id. at *2.
On April 22, 2014, the Appellant filed the instant Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1 motion to correct an illegal sentence. In his motion, the Appellant argued that (1) he was illegally sentenced to serve forty years at 100% as a Range II offender for the second degree murder conviction,  even though he did not have the requisite number of convictions to be classified as a Range II offender; and (2) because of "learning and comprehension disabilities" the Appellant did not understand that he was agreeing to an illegal sentence. On April 24, 2014, the trial court entered an order summarily denying the Appellant's motion.
The Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal. On appeal, the Appellant contends that the trial court erred in summarily denying his motion because the issues raised in the motion stated a colorable claim for relief pursuant to Rule 36.1. In particular, the Appellant presents two, closely-related issues for our review. First, the Appellant contends that his mental deficiencies rendered him unable to understand that he was agreeing to an "illegal" out-of-range sentence. Next, the Petitioner concedes that agreeing to an out-of-range sentence does not ordinarily render a sentence illegal but argues that he should not have been allowed to agree to an out-of-range sentence without first undergoing a mental evaluation. The State responds that the Appellant has failed to state a colorable claim for relief under Rule 36.1 and that the trial court did not err in summarily denying the motion.
We must first determine whether the Appellant received an illegal sentence. Rule 36.1 provides as follows:
(a) Either the defendant or the state may, at any time, seek the correction of an illegal sentence by filing a motion to correct an illegal sentence in the trial court in which the judgment of conviction was entered. For purposes of this rule, an illegal sentence is one that is not authorized by the applicable statutes or that directly contravenes an applicable statute.
(b) Notice of any motion filed pursuant to this rule shall be promptly provided to the adverse party. If the motion states a colorable claim that the sentence is illegal, and if the defendant is indigent and is not already represented by counsel, the trial court shall appoint counsel to represent the defendant. The adverse party shall have thirty days within which to file a written response to the ...