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Ledford v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

March 3, 2017


          Session November 15, 2016

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Monroe County No. 14-332 Sandra Donaghy, Judge

         Petitioner, Charles Edgar Ledford, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, claiming that his guilty pleas for various child sex offenses were involuntary and unintelligent as a result of the ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Defendant also claims that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance at his sentencing hearing. Additionally, Petitioner argues that the post-conviction court erred by precluding evidence on an issue it deemed previously determined and that he is entitled to a new evidentiary hearing because post-conviction counsel failed to comply with Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 28. After reviewing the record, we affirm the post-conviction court's denial of relief.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal Court Affirmed

          Megan A. Swain (on appeal), Knoxville, Tennessee, and Jeffrey Miller (at evidentiary hearing), Cleveland, Tennessee, for the appellant, Charles Edgar Ledford.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Lacy Wilber, Senior Counsel; Stephen D. Crump, District Attorney General; and Paul D. Rush, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Timothy L. Easter, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., JJ., joined.



         Procedural History and Factual Summary

         Nearly four and a half years ago, Petitioner was convicted of a number of sexual crimes committed against children, one as young as eighteen months old, during a period from 1993 through 2002. These crimes were preserved on video by Petitioner, which were discovered inside his house by government officials during the enforcement of a valid condemnation order. The trial court denied a motion to suppress evidence obtained from the search of Petitioner's home. Petitioner then pled guilty to two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, a Class D felony; one count of child neglect, a Class E felony; two counts of aggravated sexual battery, a Class B felony; and two counts of rape of a child, a Class A felony. Petitioner received an effective sentence of fifty-six years and appealed three certified questions of law regarding the search of his house and the search of materials found therein. On appeal, this Court determined that the search of the house was lawful because Petitioner had abandoned the property and, therefore, relinquished a reasonable expectation of privacy in the house's contents. See generally State v. Ledford, 438 S.W.3d 543 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2014).

         Petitioner timely filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief, alleging among other things that his house was illegally searched, that his guilty plea was unknowing and involuntary due to the ineffective assistance of trial counsel, and that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance at the sentencing hearing. The post-conviction court appointed counsel and eventually entered a scheduling order requiring Petitioner to file an amended petition or a notice that no such petition would be filed. Petitioner did neither. The State filed a response and a motion to dismiss the petition.

         At the December 8, 2015 evidentiary hearing, Petitioner testified that he wanted to take his case to trial and did not want to plead guilty. Maintaining that he wanted to enter a plea of not guilty, Petitioner explained:

I remember that [trial counsel] really wanted me to plead. He was really talking me into it. He was really trying hard to make me do it. He said it was the best thing and I'd get less time. He knew that I wanted to go to trial, but he forced me into doing it.

         Petitioner claimed that trial counsel would not discuss the case with Petitioner. Trial counsel only visited Petitioner "maybe once" to discuss the case, but Petitioner could not remember if they ever met at the courthouse. Petitioner also claimed that trial counsel never explained what kind of sentencing exposure there would be with a trial compared to with a guilty plea. Trial counsel also did not explain the difference between concurrent and consecutive sentencing.

         Additionally, Petitioner testified that trial counsel "would look at [Petitioner] with hatred." Petitioner felt that trial counsel was "biased" and "disgusted" by Petitioner's charges. Trial counsel told Petitioner that, "if anybody knew anything about the case, they would hate [Petitioner], " which Petitioner understood to mean that trial counsel "didn't want to go to trial because he hated [Petitioner]." Petitioner believed that trial counsel wanted Petitioner to go to jail because he was "an evil monster." Petitioner asserted that he "needed somebody that had a little bit of compassion or gave a care for somebody with a certain kind of charge."

         Petitioner testified that he "had a lot of mental blackouts for a long time, before court, " which caused him to forget things. At the time of the evidentiary hearing, he was taking medication which helped him refrain from shaking. Petitioner claimed that he ...

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