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Lawson v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

April 13, 2017

CASEY J. LAWSON
v.
STATE OF TENNESSEE

          Assigned on Briefs January 12, 2017

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Smith County Nos. 2012-CR-168, 2012-CR-214 Brody Kane, Judge

         The Petitioner, Casey J. Lawson, pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a weapon by a convicted felon and theft of property valued at $1, 000 or more but less than $10, 000. He timely filed a petition for post-conviction relief; following a hearing on the petition, the post-conviction court denied relief. On appeal, the Petitioner alleges that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because trial counsel's advice to plead guilty was deficient and because trial counsel failed to argue several pending motions before the Petitioner pled guilty. He also argues that his pleas were unknowing and involuntary because the State coerced him into pleading guilty by moving to revoke his bail and because trial counsel moved to withdraw from the representation. After a thorough review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

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

          Tillman W. Payne, III, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Casey J. Lawson.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Ruth Anne Thompson, Senior Counsel; Tom P. Thompson, Jr., District Attorney General; and Howard Chambers, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Robert L. Holloway, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., joined.

          OPINION

          ROBERT L. HOLLOWAY, JR., JUDGE.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On May 2, 2012, the Petitioner was arrested for disclosure of an indictment before arrest, and he posted bail in the amount of $1, 000. On June 13, 2012, the Petitioner was indicted in case number 2012-CR-168 for two counts of accessory after the fact, one count of unlawful possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, and one count of unlawful possession of a weapon. The Petitioner was arrested on a capias/bench warrant in case number 2012-CR-168 on June 14, 2012, and he posted bail the same day. On August 3, 2012, the Petitioner was indicted in case number 2012-CR-214 for theft of property valued at more than $1, 000 but less than $10, 000, which he was alleged to have committed on June 14, 2012. On August 6, 2012, the Petitioner was indicted in case number 2012-CR-186 for disclosure of an indictment before arrest.

         On August 16, 2012, the State filed a Motion to Revoke Bond in case number 2012-CR-168 and case number 2012-CR-186, alleging that the theft offense in case number 2012-CR-214 occurred while he was released on bond. On November 21, 2012, the State filed a "Notice of Enhanced Punishment" listing two Class D felonies and four Class C felonies and claiming that the Petitioner was a career offender. Thereafter, on April 2, 2013, the Petitioner was indicted in case number 2013-CR-116 for possession of weapon by a convicted felon and was released on a recognizance bond. On April 12, 2013, the State filed a second Motion to Revoke Bond in case numbers 12-CR-166, 12-CR-168 and 12-CR-186, alleging that the Petitioner had been charged with Domestic Assault in Davidson County. On September 6, 2013, he was indicted in case number 2013-CR-199 for hindering a secured creditor. The Petitioner retained trial counsel to represent him on all cases except case number 2013-CR-199.

         Plea Submission Hearing

         The Petitioner's plea submission hearing was held on December 9, 2013. The State announced that the Petitioner would plead guilty to theft of property valued at more than $1, 000 but less than $10, 000 in case number 2012-CR-214 and unlawful possession of a weapon by a convicted felon in case number 2012-CR-168. After the State explained the terms of the plea agreement, the trial court asked the Petitioner a series of questions. In response, the Petitioner stated that he understood the terms of the plea agreement, including the fact that he was pleading guilty as a Range III persistent offender, and agreed that he had sufficient prior convictions to be a persistent offender. The Petitioner stated that he understood the amount of restitution he was agreeing to pay and the possible ramifications for failing to pay restitution. Trial counsel advised the trial court that he did not represent the Petitioner in case number 2013-CR-199, which was dismissed upon payment of restitution.

         The State then provided a factual basis for the pleas. Concerning the unlawful possession of a weapon by a convicted felon count in case number 2012-CR-168, the State explained that a search warrant was executed at the Petitioner's residence where firearms were found and that the Petitioner was a convicted felon and disqualified from possessing weapons even though his voting rights had been restored. Concerning the offense of theft of property valued at more than $1, 000 but less than $10, 000 in case number 2012-CR-214, the State asserted that the Petitioner offered a Mustang for sale on the internet, the victim agreed to purchase the Mustang, $8, 500 was wired to the Petitioner's bank account, the victim never received the Mustang, and the vehicle was no longer in the Petitioner's possession. Concerning the hindering a secured creditor offense in case number 2013-CR-199, the State announced that the Petitioner obtained a loan to purchase a boat, no payments were made, and by the time the lender filed suit to repossess the boat, the Petitioner had disposed of it. The State noted that the charges in case number 2013-CR-199 would be dismissed and that payment of restitution would be a condition of probation in case number2012-CR-214.[1]

         The trial court then conducted a thorough Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(b) colloquy with the Petitioner, explaining the Petitioner's rights in detail. The trial court questioned the Petitioner about those rights. When asked whether "anybody promised [him] anything or threatened [him] to get [him] to plead guilty, " the Petitioner responded "No, sir." The trial court then stated: "Mr. Lawson, I do believe there's a factual basis for each of your pleas. I think you understand the proceedings. I think you know what you're doing. I think your pleas are voluntary. I believe you're intelligent, so I'm going to accept them."

         Pursuant to the terms of a plea agreement, the Petitioner received a ten-year suspended sentence as a Range III persistent offender for theft of property valued at more than $1, 000 but less than $10, 000 in case number 2012-CR-214 and a concurrent five-year suspended sentence as a Range III persistent offender for unlawful possession of a weapon by a convicted felon in case number 2012-CR-168. The Petitioner was required to pay restitution of $8, 500 to Classic Car Liquidation by March 1, 2014, in case number 2012-CR-214. He was also ordered to pay restitution of $11, 418.03 to Town & Country Finance in case number 2013-CR-199 as a condition of his probation. Case number 2013-CR-199 and the remaining counts in all cases were dismissed.

         Post-Plea Motion

         On January 7, 2014, the Petitioner filed a pro se Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea, claiming his attorney and the State's attorney "forced him into the plea deal" and that his attorney failed to satisfactorily defend him. On March 13, 2014, an Agreed Order which was approved by the State, a new attorney for the Petitioner, and the Petitioner was entered. The Agreed Order modified the "time of the payment of the $8, 500" restitution and dismissed with prejudice the Petitioner's Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea.

         Post-Conviction Proceedings

         The Petitioner timely filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief in which he raised grounds of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel. He claimed that he was "forced into a plea deal" because he was coerced and because trial counsel failed to satisfactorily defend him. Following the appointment of counsel, the Petitioner filed an amended petition, claiming that his guilty pleas "were involuntarily entered due to the threats and coercion by [trial counsel]" and due to the deficient performance of trial counsel and requesting that the post-conviction court "set aside [the Petitioner's] guilty pleas and allow him to have a jury trial."

         At the post-conviction hearing, the Petitioner testified that he hired trial counsel to represent him and that over a period of time they developed a type of strategy to defend the case that included filing several motions. The Petitioner said they were "good motions, " but "they were never heard so I never really got my day in court because the due process was, to me, violated." The Petitioner claimed that he wanted the motions ruled on before he entered his plea because "[he] had an absolute defense for one charge" and "the other charge [he] felt was a civil matter." The Petitioner claimed that trial counsel told him that, if he did not take the plea offer, trial counsel would move to withdraw, that the State would go forward with its Motion to Revoke Bond, and that he would have to stay in jail without an attorney. The Petitioner identified a Motion to Revoke Bond based on new charges of domestic assault and another Motion to Revoke Bond that had been filed on August 16, 2012, approximately a year before he entered his plea. He explained that those motions were never argued. He said that the State insisted on taking the theft case to trial first because they felt that it was their strongest case. The Petitioner explained that he hired trial counsel to represent him on all cases except case number 2013-CR-199 in which he was charged with hindering a secured creditor because he could not afford to hire trial counsel on that charge. Regarding that offense, the Petitioner said that he borrowed money on a boat and that the creditor had a civil judgment for possession.

         Concerning his claim that trial counsel coerced him into pleading guilty, the Petitioner stated:

I felt that he would not give me my money back if I asked him for it back because I couldn't hire another attorney. He had already filed the motion to withdraw. You know, that put fear in me. What am I going to do, because ...

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