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Ex parte Thomas

Supreme Court of Alabama

June 26, 2015

Ex parte Charleston D. Thomas
v.
State of Alabama In re: Charleston D. Thomas

Jefferson Circuit Court, Bessemer Division, CC-05-1292.60; Court of Criminal Appeals, CR-12-0966

PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS

MAIN, JUSTICE.

Charleston D. Thomas, an inmate, filed a petition for postconviction relief under Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P. The Jefferson Circuit Court summarily dismissed the petition. The Court of Criminal Appeals, by unpublished memorandum, affirmed the summary dismissal of Thomas's petition, concluding that Thomas's Rule 32 petition was untimely because, at the time he filed his Rule 32 petition, Thomas had not paid the filing fee or filed a request to proceed in forma pauperis. Thomas v. State (No. CR-12-0966, Jan. 30, 2015), ____So. 3d ____(Ala.Crim.App.2015)(table). Thomas petitioned this Court for certiorari review of the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision, arguing that he had, in fact, filed with his Rule 32 petition a timely request to proceed in forma pauperis. We granted Thomas's petition for a writ of certiorari to review this issue. We reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and remand the case for further proceedings.

I. Facts and Procedural History

On May 15, 2006, Thomas was convicted of first-degree kidnapping and was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. Thomas filed a direct appeal. The Court of Criminal Appeals ultimately affirmed Thomas's conviction and sentence and issued its certificate of judgment on March 5, 2010. Thomas v. State, 43 So.3d 1288, 1291 (Ala.Crim.App.2007). Pursuant to Rule 32.2(c), Ala. R. Crim. P., Thomas had one year from that date in which to file a Rule 32 petition for postconviction relief, i.e., until March 7, 2011.

Thomas, acting pro se, filed a Rule 32 petition using the standard form found in the Appendix to Rule 32. He attached a supplement setting out his detailed claims for relief. Thomas signed and dated the petition on February 18, 2011. The petition was notarized by a prison official on February 18, 2011. Thomas also completed the standard in forma pauperis declaration. Thomas signed and dated the declaration on February 18, 2011. The declaration was notarized by a prison official on February 18, 2011. Thomas claims that on February 18, 2011, he gave both documents to a prison official to be mailed on his behalf.

On March 18, 2011, the Jefferson Circuit clerk's office sent Thomas a form letter indicating that it had received his Rule 32 petition but stating that Thomas had failed to include with his petition the filing fee or an application to proceed in forma pauperis. In response to this letter, on March 23, 2011, Thomas filed a "motion for judicial notice that the movant petitioner did, in fact, file his Rule 32 petition with an in forma pauperis form."[1] In that motion, Thomas stated:

"Comes now, Charleston D. Thomas, pro se, [and] move[s] this Honorable Court to take judicial notice that he did indeed file with his Rule 32 petition a In Forma Pauperis form .... The Clerk's office sent the movant's petition back instructing him to include an In Forma Pauperis form, perhaps it was an oversight on the clerks behalf. I have enclosed another In Forma Pauperis Form [with] this motion for Judicial Notice of this happening."

Thomas included with his motion a new in forma pauperis declaration dated and notarized on March 23, 2011. That declaration is stamped as having been filed with the circuit clerk's office on March 28, 2011. The record on appeal also contains a copy of the declaration form dated February 18, 2011. That document, however, bears no date stamp indicating that it was received by the circuit clerk's office.[2]

On May 11, 2011, the circuit court granted Thomas's request to proceed in forma pauperis. On May 27, 2011, Thomas's Rule 32 petition was stamped "filed" by the circuit clerk's office.[3] On July 12, 2011, the State filed a motion requesting that the court reconsider its order granting Thomas in forma pauperis status, arguing that Thomas was not indigent. On September 14, 2011, the circuit court entered an order rescinding its grant of in forma pauperis status and ordering Thomas to pay the filing fee within 90 days. Thomas paid the filing fee.

On January 6, 2012, the State filed its response and a motion to dismiss Thomas's Rule 32 petition. One of the grounds raised by the State was that the petition was due to be summarily dismissed because it was filed beyond the one-year limitations period provided by Rule 32.2(c), Ala. R. Crim. P. On January 26, 2012, the circuit court entered an order dismissing Thomas's Rule 32 petition, concluding, in part, that the petition was untimely.

On February 6, 2012, Thomas filed a motion asking the circuit court to set aside its order dismissing his Rule 32 petition. In that motion, Thomas argued that, despite the May 27, 2011, date stamp, his petition was not untimely. He asserted that he had given his Rule 32 petition and in forma pauperis declaration to prison officials to mail on February 18, 2011. In support of motion, Thomas submitted an affidavit, in which he testified, in part, as follows:

"2. On February 18, 2011 while I was incarcerated at the Perry County Correctional Center I completed a Rule 32 petition and had it notarized by Amy Green. On the same date I also signed and had notarized a declaration in support of request to proceed in forma pauperis. Amy Green who was in charge of the law library sent both documents together in the mail. I saw her take my package to the administration building where legal documents are mailed.
"3. Sometime in March, I received a letter from the clerk's office in Bessemer telling me that I needed to file an in forma pauperis affidavit. Although I had already filed one with my Rule 32 I filed another one on March 23, 2011 ...

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