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Rivas v. Lee

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

February 13, 2018


          Assigned on Briefs January 24, 2018

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Johnson County No. CC-17-CR-57 Lisa N. Rice, Judge

         The petitioner, Jose A. Rivas, appeals the summary dismissal of his petition for writ of habeas corpus, which challenged his 2005 Hancock County Criminal Court guilty-pleaded convictions of facilitation of first degree murder. Discerning no error, we affirm.

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

          Jose A. Rivas, Mountain City, Tennessee, pro se.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; and Benjamin A. Ball, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          James Curwood Witt, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., JJ., joined.



         The petitioner, originally charged with six counts of first degree felony murder, pleaded guilty as a career offender on September 16, 2005, to two counts of facilitation of first degree murder in exchange for concurrent 60-year sentences. It appears that the petitioner neither perfected a direct appeal nor sought post-conviction relief. On May 22, 2015, the petitioner filed his first petition for writ of habeas corpus, alleging that the trial court lacked jurisdiction because his crimes were committed in Hancock County but his guilty pleas were entered in Greene County. The habeas corpus court summarily dismissed the petition, concluding that the petitioner had waived venue upon entry of his guilty pleas, thus vesting the trial court with jurisdiction to convict him, and that accordingly the petitioner had failed to state a cognizable ground for habeas corpus relief. This court affirmed the dismissal on appeal. See Jose A. Rivas v. Gerald McAllister, Warden, No. E2015-01506-CCA-R3-HC, slip op. at 1 (Tenn. Crim. App., Knoxville, Mar. 4, 2016), perm. app. denied (Tenn. June 23, 2016).

          On May 9, 2017, the petitioner again sought habeas corpus relief in a nearly identical petition in which he once again challenged the jurisdiction of the trial court. The habeas corpus court again summarily dismissed the petition.

         In this appeal, the petitioner reiterates his claim that the trial court lacked jurisdiction. The State responds that the habeas corpus court's dismissal was appropriate because the petitioner failed to state a cognizable claim for habeas corpus relief.

         "The determination of whether habeas corpus relief should be granted is a question of law." Faulkner v. State, 226 S.W.3d 358, 361 (Tenn. 2007) (citing Hart v. State, 21 S.W.3d 901, 903 (Tenn. 2000)). Our review of the habeas corpus court's decision is, therefore, "de novo with no presumption of correctness afforded to the [habeas corpus] court." Id. (citing Killingsworth v. Ted Russell Ford, Inc., 205 S.W.3d 406, 408 (Tenn. 2006)). The writ of habeas corpus is constitutionally guaranteed, see U.S. Const. art. 1, § 9, cl. 2; Tenn. Const. art. I, § 15, but has been regulated by statute for more than a century, see Ussery v. Avery, 432 S.W.2d 656, 657 (Tenn. 1968). Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-21-101 provides that "[a]ny person imprisoned or restrained of liberty, under any pretense whatsoever, except in cases specified in § 29-21-102, may prosecute a writ of habeas corpus, to inquire into the cause of such imprisonment and restraint." T.C.A. § 29-21-101. Despite the broad wording of the statute, a writ of habeas corpus may be granted only when the petitioner has established a lack of jurisdiction for the order of confinement or that he is otherwise entitled to immediate release because of the expiration of his sentence. See Ussery, 432 S.W.2d at 658; State v. Galloway, 45 Tenn. (5 Cold.) 326 (1868). The purpose of the state habeas corpus petition is to contest a void, not merely a voidable, judgment. State ex rel. Newsom v. Henderson, 424 S.W.2d 186, 189 (Tenn. 1968). A void conviction is one which strikes at the jurisdictional integrity of the trial court. Archer v. State, 851 S.W.2d 157, 164 (Tenn. 1993); see State ex rel. Anglin v. Mitchell, 575 S.W.2d 284, 287 (Tenn. 1979); Passarella v. State, 891 S.W.2d 619, 627 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1994).

         In our view, the petitioner has failed to establish entitlement to habeas corpus relief. Although the petitioner asserts that he is raising the trial court's lack of subject matter jurisdiction for the first time in this petition, a careful reading of his petition reveals that he has simply repackaged his prior arguments regarding venue, which arguments were fully addressed by this court in the petitioner's prior appeal affirming the habeas corpus court's dismissal. See Jose A. Rivas, slip op. at 3-4. As we stated in that appeal, a guilty plea "waives the requirement that the State prove venue by a preponderance of the evidence." Ellis v. Carlton, 986 S.W.2d 600, 602 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1987).

          The crux of the petitioner's argument in this appeal hinges on the State's alleged failure to comply with Tennessee Code Annotated section ...

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