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Higgs v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

April 30, 2018

ISAIAH HIGGS
v.
STATE OF TENNESSEE

          Session: February 6, 2018

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 96-04184 Glenn I. Wright, Judge

         The Petitioner, Isaiah Higgs, appeals as of right from the Shelby County Criminal Court's order denying his petition for writ of error coram nobis. We affirm the coram nobis court's judgment pursuant to Rule 20 of the Rules of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal Court Affirmed Pursuant to Rule 20

          Seth M. Segraves and Michael R. Working, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Isaiah Higgs.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Zachary T. Hinkle, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Muriel Malone, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Camille R. McMullen, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which John Everett Williams and J. Ross Dyer, JJ., joined.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CAMILLE R. McMULLEN, JUDGE

         On April 18, 1996, the Shelby County Grand Jury indicted the Petitioner and his co-defendants, Darell Moy, Bob Partee, and Darron Johnson, for one count of felony murder during the attempt to perpetrate a robbery and one count of first degree premeditated murder. In addition, the Petitioner was separately indicted for attempted especially aggravated robbery and four counts of attempted first degree murder. Isaiah Higgs v. State, No. 02C01-9801-CR-00021, 1998 WL 910189, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App, at Jackson, Dec. 31, 1998).

         On May 1, 1996, after the State presented testimony from eight of its witnesses at trial, [1] the Petitioner and the State negotiated a plea agreement, whereby the Petitioner agreed to enter guilty pleas to first degree premeditated murder, attempted especially aggravated robbery, and two counts of attempted first degree murder, and the State recommended concurrent sentences of life imprisonment, eight years, and fifteen years, respectively. Id. Pursuant to this plea agreement, the State withdrew its demand for the death penalty. Id. The Petitioner entered an Alford[2] plea to these charges, and the trial court imposed the agreed-upon sentences. The court entered the judgments of conviction on May 1, 1996.

         On April 9, 1997, the Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief, alleging that trial counsel was ineffective and that his guilty pleas were not knowing and voluntary. Id. He specifically claimed that he was forced to enter his guilty pleas because two of his co-defendants made threats against him and his family. Id. The post-conviction court denied relief, and this court affirmed. Id. at *1-2.

         More than eighteen years after his judgments of conviction became final, the Petitioner filed a pro se petition for writ of error coram nobis. In this petition and his amended petition filed with the assistance of counsel, the Petitioner claimed that he was entitled to error coram nobis relief from his guilty pleas, pursuant to State v. Wlodarz, 361 S.W.3d 490 (Tenn. 2012), based on two pieces of newly discovered evidence: (1) a transcribed telephone conversation of eyewitness Booker Matthews, who identified "Darrell" as the individual who fired shots from an AK-47, which the State allegedly failed to disclose to him in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), and (2) an affidavit of co-defendant Darell Moy acknowledging that he was the individual who fatally shot the victim and that he coerced the Petitioner into confessing to this crime. The Petitioner sought due process tolling of the statute of limitations, asserting that he filed his petition for writ of error coram nobis within one year of uncovering this newly discovered evidence. See Burford v. State, 845 S.W.2d 204, 208 (Tenn. 1992); Workman v. State, 41 S.W.3d 100, 103 (Tenn. 2001).

         The coram nobis court bifurcated the evidentiary hearing on the petition, hearing evidence on May 25, 2016, and September 22, 2016. After the May 25, 2016 hearing but prior to the September 22, 2016 hearing, the Tennessee Supreme Court decided Frazier, 495 S.W.3d at 253, wherein it overturned Wlodarz, 361 S.W.3d at 503-04, and held that "the coram nobis statute is not available as a procedural mechanism for collaterally attacking a guilty plea."

         On March 2, 2017, the trial court entered its order denying relief, finding that the Petitioner's claim that his plea was coerced had been previously determined on post-conviction and that while the transcribed telephone conversation of Booker Matthews was exculpatory, material, and had not been provided by the State, the Petitioner was not entitled to relief because a writ of error coram nobis is not available to defendants who enter guilty pleas, pursuant to Frazier. The ...


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