Released for Publication September 15, 2015.
Appeal from Jackson Circuit Court. (CC-09-26.61). John H. Graham, Trial Judge.
For Appellant: Luther Strange, atty. gen., and Jack W. Willis, asst. atty. gen.
For Appellee: Jacob Edward Bergman, Scottsboro.
The State of Alabama appeals the circuit court's decision to grant John Edward Baker's Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P., petition for postconviction relief. See Rule 32.10, Ala. R. Crim. P. We reverse and remand.
Facts and Procedural History
On August 18, 2010, Baker pleaded guilty to one count of sexual abuse of a child less than 12 years old, see § 13A-6-69.1, Ala. Code 1975, and was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. Baker applied
for probation, which the circuit court denied after conducting a hearing. Baker did not file a direct appeal challenging either his conviction or sentence.
Thereafter, Baker filed several pro se motions with the circuit court requesting that the circuit court either " reconsider" or " modify" his sentence; the circuit court denied those motions.
On November 11, 2011, Baker, with the assistance of counsel, filed his first Rule 32 petition, alleging that his trial counsel was ineffective because, he said, his trial counsel failed to inform him of numerous things before he pleaded guilty and that, as a result of his trial counsel's ineffectiveness, his guilty plea was not knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently made. The circuit court, after conducting an evidentiary hearing on Baker's claims, denied Baker's Rule 32 petition, holding that Baker's claims were without merit, were precluded under Rule 32.2(a)(3) and (5), Ala. R. Crim. P., and were time-barred under Rule 32.2(c), Ala. R. Crim. P. Baker appealed the circuit court's decision, and this Court affirmed the circuit court's decision in an unpublished memorandum issued on December 7, 2012. See Baker v. State (No. CR-11-1376, Dec. 7, 2012), 155 So.3d 1127 (Ala.Crim.App. 2013) (table).
Thereafter, on October 18, 2013, Baker filed a motion he styled as a " Motion for a Sentence Reduction or Reverse Sentence for a Jurisdictional Defective Misunderstanding of the Plea to the Indictment; Lack of Evidence to Support the Charge," in which Baker again challenged his guilty-plea conviction for sexual abuse of a child less than 12 years old, alleging that " his plea was illegally accepted because he did not understand his plea" because, he said, his " understanding of the plea was that he would get a 10 year sentence with good time" and his trial counsel told him that he " would be pleading to a sentence of 3 years, 4 months, 17 days." (C. 5.) Baker also alleged that his " conviction and sentence [were] wrongfully and unlawfully imposed because it appears that there is no evidence to support his charge(s) nor his conviction." (C. 6.)
On November 8, 2013, the State filed a response to Baker's motion, arguing that, although not styled as such, Baker's motion was truly a Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P., petition for postconviction relief,
see, e.g., Hiett v. State, 642 So.2d 492, 493 (Ala.Crim.App. 1993) (" [A] petition for writ of habeas corpus contesting the validity of a conviction should [be] treated as a petition for post-conviction relief." ). Further, the State argued that Baker's filing " fail[ed] to conform to the requirements of ... Rule 32.6(a)[, Ala. R. Crim. P.]" (C. 11), which provides, in part:
" A proceeding under this rule is commenced by filing a petition, verified by the petitioner or the petitioner's attorney, with the clerk of the court. A petition may be filed at any time after entry of judgment and sentence (subject to the provisions of Rule 32.2(c)). The petition should be filed by using or following
the form accompanying this rule. If that form is not used or followed, the court shall return the petition to the petitioner to be amended to comply with the form. The petition shall be accompanied by two copies thereof. It shall also be accompanied by the filing fee prescribed by law or rule in civil cases in the circuit court unless the petitioner applies for and is given leave to prosecute the petition in forma pauperis. If the petitioner desires to prosecute the petition in forma pauperis, he or she shall file the 'In Forma Pauperis Declaration' at the end of the form."
Thus, the State requested that the circuit court return the petition to Baker and instruct Baker " to comply with the form requirements and that it be re-filed appropriately, and as part of that re-filing, that it be accompanied by the filing fee or the application to proceed in forma pauperis." (C. 11.)
On November 12, 2013, the circuit court granted the State's motion and returned Baker's motion to him to be refiled in the appropriate form. The circuit court also appointed counsel " to represent [Baker] ... for the limited purpose of helping the court determine [Baker's] indigency." (C. 13.) Baker, through his appointed counsel, filed an " Affidavit for Substantial Hardship," a request to proceed in forma pauperis, and a corrected Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P., petition for postconviction relief.
The corrected petition, Baker's second, was deemed filed on February 6, 2014. Baker filed the standard Rule 32 form found in the appendix to Rule 32 and attached a supplement setting out his detailed claims. In his supplement to the petition, Baker alleged that his trial counsel was ineffective because, he said, his trial counsel " fail[ed] to advise [him] of the direct consequences of his conviction prior to entering a plea of guilty" and that his guilty plea was " invalid because it was not 'a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent act done with sufficient awareness of the relevant circumstances and likely consequences.'" Baker further alleged that although his petition was, on its face, untimely, see Rule 32.2(c), Ala. R. Crim. P., his petition should not be summarily dismissed because, he said, he was entitled to have the doctrine of equitable tolling applied.
On March 3, 2014, the State filed a response to Baker's Rule 32 petition, alleging that, because the circuit court had already entered an order granting Baker
an evidentiary hearing, it " reserves all possible claims, defenses and preclusions and the right to claim the same at the scheduled hearing." (C. 44.) The State further alleged that it denied " all factual and ...