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Stevens v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

January 8, 2020

ARNOLD STEVENS
v.
STATE OF TENNESSEE

          Assigned on Briefs December 11, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Wayne County Nos. 15920, 15594, 15595, 15716 Russell Parkes, Judge

         Petitioner, Arnold Stevens, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief. On appeal, Petitioner argues that his guilty plea was unknowing and involuntary due to the ineffective assistance of counsel. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

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

          Chelsea Nicholson (on appeal), Nashville, Tennessee; and William Joshua Morrow (at hearing), Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, for the appellant, Arnold Mark Stevens, Jr.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Renee W. Turner, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Brent A. Cooper, District Attorney General; and Beverly White, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Timothy L. Easter, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Robert W. Wedemeyer and Robert L. Holloway, Jr., JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          TIMOTHY L. EASTER, JUDGE

         Petitioner was indicted in Case Number 15594 for one count of attempted first degree murder, one count of especially aggravated kidnapping, and one count of aggravated assault. Petitioner was also indicted in Case Number 15595 for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. In Case Number 15716, Petitioner waived his right to an indictment and was charged by criminal information with one count of possession of more than .5 grams of methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance, with intent to sell; one count of possession of drug paraphernalia; one count of possession of Xanax, a Schedule IV controlled substance, with intent to sell; and one count of possession of marijuana, a Schedule VI controlled substance, with intent to sell.[1]

         On September 17, 2015, Petitioner entered a negotiated guilty plea resolving all of his pending charges. In Case Number 15594, the attempted first degree murder charge was dismissed, and Petitioner pled guilty to the amended charge of facilitation of especially aggravated kidnapping, a Class B felony, in exchange for a sentence of 20 years to be served at 35%.[2] Petitioner also pled guilty to aggravated assault, a Class C felony, in exchange for a concurrent sentence of 6 years to be served at 35%. In Case Number 15595, Petitioner pled guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, a Class E felony, in exchange for a sentence of 2 years to be served at 35% concurrent with his sentences in Case Number 15594. In Case Number 15716, Petitioner pled guilty to possession of a Schedule II drug with intent to sell, a Class C felony, in exchange for a sentence of 8 years; possession of a Schedule IV drug with intent to sell, a Class D felony, in exchange for a sentence of 2 years; and possession of a Schedule VI drug with intent to sell, a Class E felony, in exchange for a sentence of 1 year. These sentences were run consecutively to each other and were suspended to probation. The effective 11-year probationary sentence in Case Number 15716 was run consecutively to the effective 20-year prison sentence in Case Numbers 15594 and 15595.

         At the plea hearing, the State gave the following factual summary of the charges in Case Number 15594:[3]

[O]n or about the 6th day of October, 2014, [Petitioner], along with others, did go to Sammy Brewer's house and get him in the car with them, take him up to a hillside, which is called a hunting area. At which point, Mr. Brewer was sliced open quite deeply with a knife. It's alleged at that point, he was put into a barrel, taken to [Petitioner's] house several miles down the road.
While he was at that house, he had a toe cut off, and I think the actual person who actually did the cutting of the toe was Brittany Thompson per her statement. Ms. Thompson was also the one who had actually injected him with some drugs during that time.
He was put in this barrel and had been hit over the head while he was in that barrel. He was then taken out and later put back in it and put in a truck and taken out to a very rural area and tied to a tree. [Petitioner] and Ms. Thompson were both there at that time. When they checked, he got loose. He was retied. And at some time later, [Petitioner] got Mr. Brewer in the car, took him to an individual's house, who then took him to the emergency room.

         The State also gave the following factual summary of the charges in Case Number 15716:

The Wayne County Sheriff's Department, working with a confidential informant, had a buy made of the hashish from [Petitioner]. They executed a search warrant on his residence. Upon the execution of the search warrant on July 7th, 2015, they found him in possession of the schedule VI for resell [sic], the schedule IV for resell [sic], the drug paraphernalia, which, of course, in the plea agreement, it was nolle prosequi, Your Honor, the possession of the schedule II for resell [sic], also found several guns, which were nolle prosequi at the general sessions level. And I think there was another drug that was found that was nolle prosequi at that level also.

         Before accepting Petitioner's guilty plea, the trial court acknowledged that he had "represented [Petitioner] in a completely unrelated matter years ago" but that it did not "r[i]se to the level of recusal," and the parties consented to the trial court presiding over the case and accepting the plea. The trial court asked whether Petitioner "had an adequate opportunity to discuss the indictments, the allegations made against you in the indictments in all of these cases[, ]" and the range of punishment for each charge with counsel, to which Petitioner responded affirmatively. Petitioner denied that his plea was the result of any threats or promises outside the terms of the plea agreement, and he denied that he was under the influence of any drugs or alcohol. The trial court discussed the constitutional rights that Petitioner was waiving by pleading guilty and ensured that he understood them. The trial court ensured that Petitioner understood that he was waiving his rights to a preliminary hearing in general sessions court, to an indictment by the grand jury, and to the rules of discovery on the charges contained in the criminal information. The trial court asked if Petitioner understood that he was foregoing his "absolute right" to appeal "any error that I may have made," to which Petitioner responded affirmatively. The trial court explained that Petitioner was receiving an out-of-range sentence for the facilitation of especially aggravated kidnapping charge. Petitioner expressed some confusion over the sentence length and alignment he was receiving - whether the 20-year prison sentence was composed of concurrent or consecutive sentences - and how that would affect his parole eligibility. The trial court explained that Petitioner was getting a "20-year package" in Case Numbers 15594 and 15595 and that his parole eligibility would be determined by the Board of Probation and Parole. The trial court also explained that the 11-year probationary sentence in Case Number 15716 was required to be served consecutively to Petitioner's sentence in his other cases because he was on bond at the time he committed the drug offenses. The trial court ultimately accepted Petitioner's plea as well as "the State's agreement that there will be no other charges relative to any criminal activity for which [Petitioner] ha[d] been identified as a defendant or a suspect," that "[t]here will be no federal gun charges," and that Petitioner's truck would be released to his daughter's possession after 45 days.

         On September 23, 2016, Petitioner filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief alleging that his guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. The post-conviction court found that the petition stated a colorable claim and appointed counsel. Although the record before this Court contains a motion filed by post-conviction counsel requesting additional time to file an amended petition, which was granted by the post-conviction court, the record does not contain either an amended petition or a written notice that no amended petition would be ...


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