Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville
Assigned on Briefs March 25, 2015
Appeal from the Criminal Court for Knox County No. 102947 Bobby R. McGee, Judge
Bailey M. Harned, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Corey Alan Bennett.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Lacy Wilber, Senior Counsel; Charme Allen, District Attorney General; and Eric Counts, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.
John Everett Williams, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and Robert L. Holloway, Jr., JJ., joined.
JOHN EVERETT WILLIAMS, JUDGE
Factual Background and Procedural History
According to the petitioner, he was indicted for "13 counts of especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, 1 count of aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, 4 counts of aggravated stalking, and 1 count of contributing to unruly behavior." In 2012, the petitioner pled guilty to two counts of attempted especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor and four counts of aggravated stalking with the remaining charges being dismissed. The agreement provided for a ten-year sentence as a Range I offender with the manner of service to be determined by the trial court. After reviewing the evidence presented, the court ordered the petitioner to serve his sentence in the Department of Correction on October 12, 2012. No direct appeal was taken.
Although the record is not clear when, at some point the petitioner timely filed for post-conviction relief and was represented by counsel. It appears that at the hearing on the matter, the petitioner voluntarily moved for dismissal of the petition. The petition did raise issues of ineffective assistance of counsel and an involuntary guilty plea.
Subsequently, on January 9, 2014, the petitioner filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief alleging an involuntary guilty plea due to the ineffective assistance of counsel. On March 6, the post-conviction court appointed counsel to the indigent petitioner. A second pro se petition for post-conviction relief was filed on April 3, 2014. In the petition, the petitioner alleged that his former counsel had dismissed his initial petition for relief without his consent. The ground for relief checked on the form petition was ineffective assistance of counsel. In addition, the petitioner also asserted that his plea was not knowingly and voluntarily entered and that the convictions were based on evidence obtained pursuant to an unconstitutional search and seizure.
On May 6, 2014, the petitioner filed a Motion for Dismissal of Counsel asserting a fatal conflict of interest based on post-conviction counsel's failure to correspond with the petitioner in preparation for the case, failure to represent the petitioner in a sufficient manner to guarantee him due process, and the cumulative effect of these errors. On the same day, the petitioner also filed multiple motions with the court including, among others, motions for discovery, suppression, to receive pre-trial disposition of motions filed, and to dismiss any further prosecution of the case.
On June 13, 2014, an amended petition for post-conviction relief was filed by post-conviction counsel on the petitioner's behalf. The petition asserted an involuntary and unknowing guilty plea, stating that the petitioner did not understand the nature and consequences of the plea agreement because: (1) he was led to believe he would receive a sentence of probation; and (2) he would have been denied effective assistance of counsel had he chosen to proceed to trial, a conclusion made by the petitioner based upon trial counsel's actions and preparation prior to trial. As a separate ground for relief, the petition asserted that one of the stalking victims in the case had changed the substance of what would have been her testimony if he had proceeded to trial.
The following statement was also included in the petition in regard to the original timely-filed petition for relief:
Petitioner has filed a prior petition for post-conviction relief (in addition to his pro-se petition in this case) and has previously properly presented these claims to a court. The Petitioner contends that the statute of limitations for his post-conviction claim should be tolled and this petition be regarded as timely ...