Vacating a guilty plea – part 2

The vehicle for asking the court to vacate a guilty plea is a motion for post-conviction relief. M.C.A. Sect. 99-39-1 et seq.  It is filed with the trial court.  That is, it is filed with the same judge who took the plea unless that judge is no longer available. There is a statute of limitations of three years and a limit of one petition.  The catch is that if you wish to later pursue your claims in federal court, the statute of limitations for federal habeas is one year.  That year  is tolled while a state pcr is pending.  The upshot is that if you wish to preserve your right to file in federal court, you need to file your state pcr within a year of the plea.

The statute of limitations and the limit of one petition can be set aside for errors affecting fundamental rights.  The most notable example of this occurred in Rowland v. State, 42 So.3d 503, 507 (2010).

Rowland and his two codefendants were indicted  on four counts for the 1979 (1) armed robbery of Pat Bolton, (2) armed robbery of O .B. Singleton, (3) capital murder of James Campbell while “in the commission of the crime of armed robbery of Pat Bolton and others,” and (4) capital murder of Paul Hughes while “in the commission of the crime of armed robbery of O.B. Singleton and others.” All three pleaded guilty to all four crimes and were sentenced to  life imprisonment for each of the two capital murder charges and twenty-four years for each of the two robbery charges, with the sentences to run consecutively.

Rowland filed a pcr petition in 2007 on the grounds that the convictions for armed robbery violated double jeopardy because those armed robbery charges were the underlying felonies that made the murders capital murders. The Mississippi Supreme Court agreed that this violated double jeopardy holding that “We take this opportunity to hold, unequivocally, that errors affecting fundamental constitutional rights are excepted from the procedural bars of the UPCCRA.”   In so doing, the Court noted that it had excepted from the PCR Act’s procedural bars cases alleging illegal sentences.

Rowland’s case was remanded for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the plea for armed robbery violated double jeopardy.  I assume the answer was yes but that still left Rowland  serving two consecutive life sentences for capital murder.  (That’s what his MDOC page shows, at any rate).

So far, then, we know that claims involving double jeopardy and illegal sentences may be excepted from the Mississippi Post Conviction Relief Act’s three-year statute of limitations.

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