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Arnold v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

May 15, 2019

SARA ELIZABETH ARNOLD
v.
STATE OF TENNESSEE

          Assigned on Briefs February 12, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Rutherford County No. F-77299 Royce Taylor, Judge

         In 2017, the Petitioner, Sara Elizabeth Arnold, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in exchange for an agreed eight-year sentence and the dismissal of an attempted first degree murder charge she also faced. The Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief, alleging that her guilty plea was not knowingly and voluntarily entered because she was mentally incompetent and her trial counsel was ineffective for failing to have her mental condition evaluated. The post-conviction court denied the petition, finding that she had undergone two mental evaluations that concluded she was competent prior to entering her plea. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that the mental evaluations conducted on her were not proper assessments of her mental state and asks this court to obtain a copy of her institutional record. After review, we reverse the post-conviction court's judgment.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Reversed

          Sara E. Arnold, Henning, Tennessee, Pro Se.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Benjamin A. Ball, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Jennings H. Jones, District Attorney General; and Allyson S. Abbott, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, J., joined. Timothy L. Easter, J., concurred in the results only.

          OPINION

          ROBERT W. WEDEMEYER, JUDGE

         I. Facts

         In April 2017, the Petitioner was indicted for the attempted first degree murder and aggravated assault of her roommate with a knife. On September 22, 2017, the Petitioner waived her right to a trial and pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in exchange for an eight-year sentence to be served in confinement as a Range I offender, with a 30% release eligibility date. The State also agreed to dismiss the attempted first degree murder charge.

         On March 1, 2018, the Petitioner filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief, alleging that she was, at the time of her guilty plea, mentally incompetent. She alleged in her petition that the mental evaluation that was conducted upon her was not a proper assessment of her mental state. She also asserted that she has a history of hearing voices, suicidal and homicidal thoughts, and she did not have the ability to know right from wrong. She asserted that she did not have the ability to enter into a contract, much less a plea agreement. She further contended that her counsel was ineffective because he "did not attempt to have [her] evaluated as to her state of mind." She asserted she had been previously in an intermediate care mental health housing facility designed to serve the needs of women who may be unable to live and function effectively in the general population of the prison. Finally, she asserted that, due to her documented mental issues, she should not have been allowed to enter any type of plea agreement.

         The trial court summarily dismissed the Petitioner's petition. It found:

         I. Petitioner's Competence to Enter Guilty Plea

The [P]etitioner's first claim is she did not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily enter into to the negotiated plea agreement in Case F-77299 on September 22, 2017. The [P]etitioner claims that she was mentally incompetent, and therefore lacked ...

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