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Wedgeworth v. State

Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals

March 8, 2019

Zackery Wedgeworth
v.
State of Alabama

          Appeal from Tuscaloosa Circuit Court (CC-89-1382)

          McCOOL, Judge.

         Zackery Wedgeworth appeals the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court's summary dismissal of his pro se petition for postconviction relief. The petition was a standard form styled as a "Petition for Relief From Conviction or Sentence (pursuant to Temporary Rule 20, Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure)."[1]The petition challenged Wedgeworth's 1991 convictions for capital murder and his resulting sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. This Court affirmed Wedgeworth's convictions and sentence on direct appeal. Wedgeworth v. State, 610 So.2d 1244 (Ala.Crim.App.1992). The certificate of judgment was issued on December 11, 1992.

         The instant petition was filed in May 2018. On the form, Wedgeworth marked the general allegation that the trial court was without jurisdiction to render the judgment or to impose sentence. In an attached supplement, Wedgeworth made the specific argument that "the trial court record revealed that the victim's death was caused in a separate and different act by Mr. Frye when he ran over her with his pickup truck which occurred on Friday the next day after petitioner kidnapped, robbed, and left her alive." Thus, Wedgeworth appeared to argue that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he killed the victim. Without receiving a response from the State, the circuit court summarily dismissed Wedgeworth's petition on July 31, 2018. However, the circuit court's order shows that the court treated Wedgeworth's petition as a motion for a judgment of acquittal under Rule 20, Ala. R. Crim. P., rather than a petition for postconviction relief under Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P.:

"Petitioner was sentenced on August 28, 1991. '[The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals] and the Alabama Supreme Court have consistently held that a trial court retains jurisdiction to modify a sentence for 30 days after the sentence is pronounced.' Moore v. State, 814 So.2d 308, 309 (Ala.Crim.App.2001). Beyond the 30th day, the trial court only retains jurisdiction upon the timely filing of certain post-judgement motions. See Moore at 309 (listing motion for a new trial and requests to amend sentence as such motions). Motions for judgment of acquittal may be made post-conviction 'but no later than thirty (30) days after the pronouncement of sentence.' Ala. R. Crim. P. 20.3 (b)(1). A Rule 20 motion in this case must have been filed before September 27, 1991, for the Court to have retained jurisdiction over the sentence. As such, this petition is due to be and is hereby DISMISSED."

         (C. 71; Capitalization in original.)

         "[T]he substance of a motion and not its style determines what kind of motion it is." Ex parte Deramus, 882 So.2d 875, 876 (Ala. 2002). "A proceeding under [Rule 32] displaces all post-trial remedies except post-trial motions under Rule 24 and appeal. Any other post-conviction petition seeking relief from a conviction or sentence shall be treated as a proceeding under this rule." Rule 32.4, Ala. R. Crim. P. Our Supreme Court stated long ago: "[P]etitions for post-conviction remedies, presently governed by Temporary Rule 20, will be governed by Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P., beginning January 1, 1991, the effective date of the new Rules." Ex parte Rice, 565 So.2d 606 n.1 (Ala. 1990).

         In the present case, we conclude that Wedgeworth's petition should have been treated as a Rule 32 petition and that the appropriate course of action is for this Court to reverse the circuit court's judgment and remand the case for that court to treat the petition according to its substance rather than its form. See, e.g., Shapley v. State, 260 So.3d 69 (Ala.Crim.App.2018)(reversing the circuit court's order improperly treating the defendant's motion as a motion to correct a clerical error pursuant to Rule 29, Ala. R. Crim. P., rather than a Rule 32 petition).

         Based on the foregoing, we direct the circuit court to set aside its earlier ruling and to treat Wedgeworth's petition as a petition for postconviction relief under Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P. Accordingly, we reverse the circuit court's judgment and remand the case for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         REVERSED AND REMANDED.

          Windom, P.J., and Kellum and Cole, JJ., concur.

          MINOR, Judge, dissenting.

         This Court reverses the circuit court's summary dismissal of Zackery Wedgeworth's petition for postconviction relief and remands the case for the circuit court to treat his petition as one filed under Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P. Wedgeworth filed his petition on a form entitled "Petition for Relief from Conviction or Sentence (Pursuant to Temporary Rule 20, Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure)." The petition challenged Wedgeworth's 1991 convictions for capital murder and his sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

         As this Court recognizes, the claim presented in Wedgeworth's petition--a nonjurisdictional claim challenging the sufficiency of the evidence--is a claim cognizable under Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P. Wedgeworth's use of the "Temporary Rule 20" form indicates that he understood that his claim was a postconviction claim for relief, a procedural mechanism that Wedgeworth has used on many occasions.[2] The Temporary Rule 20 form Wedgeworth used is identical in several respects to the standard form that accompanies Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P., and Temporary Rule 20, Ala. R. Crim. P., was replaced by Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P., ...


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