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Washington v. State

Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals

August 16, 2019

Isaac Isahas Washington
v.
State of Alabama

          Appeal from Mobile Circuit Court (CC-07-2951.61 and CC-07-2952.61)

          PER CURIAM

         Isaac Isahas Washington pleaded guilty on February 11, 2008, to second-degree theft of property, see § 13A-8-4, Ala. Code 1975, and to leaving the scene of an accident, see § 32-10-2, Ala. Code 1975. Washington was sentenced as a habitual felony offender to 20 years' imprisonment on each count, the sentences to be served concurrently; under a plea agreement, those sentences were split, and Washington was ordered to serve 1 year in prison followed by 5 years of probation on each count. Washington did not appeal his convictions or sentences.

         In August 2011, Washington was charged with the 2008 kidnapping and murder of Tammy Stokes, a confidential informant for local law enforcement in drug cases. Washington and an accomplice took Stokes from a gasoline service station to a remote wooded location. Washington or the accomplice then shot and killed Stokes. Stokes's body was found based on details Washington provided to one of Washington's family members so that the family member could locate the body and claim a $5, 000 reward.[1] Washington v. State, 214 So.3d 1225 (Ala.Crim.App.2015).

         In January 2012, Washington's probation in case no. CC-07-2951 and case no. CC-07-2952 was revoked. In January 2013, Washington filed a petition for postconviction relief under Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P., in case no. CC-07-2951 and case no. CC-07-2952. In that petition, Washington argued that the split-sentence portion of his sentences had been illegal and that the circuit court should have sentenced him to a minimum split sentence of three years in prison under § 15-18-8, Ala. Code 1975, on each count. Washington argued that because the circuit court had sentenced him in accordance with the plea agreement to a shorter split sentence than was authorized by law, he was entitled to withdraw his guilty plea. That petition was ultimately returned to Washington on February 6, 2018, for failure to pay the filing fee.

         Washington filed the underlying Rule 32 petition on January 13, 2018. The petition, filed almost 10 years after the entry of his guilty plea in case no. CC-07-2951 and case no. CC-07-2952 and almost 9 years after he had completed the split portion of his sentences, reiterated the claim raised in his January 2013 petition, i.e., that the circuit court should have sentenced him to a split sentence of at least three years' imprisonment rather the one-year split under his plea agreement and that he was thus entitled to withdraw his guilty plea in case no. CC-07-2951 and case no. CC-07-2952.

         The State moved to dismiss Washington's petition on April 27, 2018. (C. 23-29.) The State argued that Washington's challenge to his split sentence was not a claim that the circuit court had no jurisdiction to sentence him or to split his sentences. Rather, the State argued, Washington's claim was that the particular manner in which the split sentence was imposed was unauthorized under § 15-18-8, Ala. Code 1975. Thus, the State argued, Washington's challenge to his split sentence was a claim arising under Rule 32.1(c), Ala. R. Crim. P., and was subject to the grounds of preclusion in Rule 32.2(a), Ala. R. Crim. P. The State argued further that Washington's claims were untimely, insufficiently pleaded, and without merit.

         In a detailed written order, the circuit court dismissed Washington's petition. (C. 36.) The circuit court held that Washington's challenge to his split sentence was not a jurisdictional claim challenging an illegal sentence under Rule 32.1(b), Ala. R. Crim. P., but rather was a nonjurisdictional challenge to an unauthorized sentence under Rule 32.1(c), Ala. R. Crim. P. The circuit court held that the petition was precluded, time-barred, and without merit. Washington appeals.

         Citing Williams v. State, 203 So.3d 888 (Ala.Crim.App.2015), Washington argues that he is entitled to the "relief" of being sentenced to a longer imprisonment portion of the split sentences. In Williams, the petitioner, Cornelius Williams, was sentenced in 2003 to 20 years' imprisonment; that sentence was split and he was ordered to serve 2 years under a plea agreement. More than a decade later, Williams challenged the split portion of his sentence in a Rule 32 petition. This Court held that the split portion of the sentence had to be set aside because it did not meet the three-year minimum required under § 15-18-8(a), Ala. Code 1975. Further, because the two-year split had been part of Williams's original plea agreement, this Court held that Williams was entitled to withdraw his guilty plea. 203 So.3d at 897.

         In denying Washington's petition in this case, the circuit court noted Washington's reliance on the Williams decision. The circuit court denied relief, however, based on this Court's subsequent decision in Hall v. State, 223 So.3d 977 (Ala.Crim.App.2016), [2] and also on certain principles set forth in Judge Joiner's special writing in Hall.[3]

         On appeal, Washington argues that his sentence is "illegal" because, he says, the circuit court failed to sentence him to a minimum split sentence of at least 3 years' imprisonment as required for a 20-year sentence under the Split Sentence Act, see § 15-18-18(a)(1), Ala. Code 1975. (Washington's brief, pp. 2-3.) Washington argues that he is entitled to the postconviction "relief" of now being resentenced to receive a longer split sentence than he originally received. (Washington's brief, pp. 2-3.) He argues further that, upon being resentenced, he is entitled to withdraw his guilty plea because, he says, a longer split portion of his sentence would render his guilty plea involuntary. Although we recognize that under § 15-18-8 the original split portion of Washington's sentence should have been three years rather than one year, we disagree that Washington is entitled to the "relief" of being resentenced.

         When the circuit court sentenced Washington to 20-year base sentences and then split those sentences and ordered Washington to serve 1 year in prison, the base portion of the sentences was legal, but the manner in which the split portion of the sentences was executed was not. See § 15-18-8, Ala. Code 1975; McGowan v. State, [Ms. CR-18-0173, July 12, 2019] _____ So.3d ____, _____ (Ala.Crim.App.2019) ("'The circuit court's order illegally splitting Enfinger's sentence does not, however, render Enfinger's 20-year sentence illegal. Instead, the circuit court's order rendered illegal only the manner in which the lawful sentence was to be executed.'" (quoting with approval Enfinger v. State, 123 So.3d 535, 540 (Ala.Crim.App.2012) (Windom, P.J., dissenting)). Washington served the one-year split and then, while serving the probationary portion of his sentences, kidnapped and killed Stokes. Washington's probation was revoked in January 2012. The revocation of Washington's probation rendered moot any illegality regarding the circuit court's imposition of the one-year split. McGowan, ____ So.3d at ____ ("In circumstances such as those presented in this case and in Enfinger, the circuit court's authority to revoke the defendant's probation or a split sentence is not affected by the illegal manner of execution of the initial sentence. By revoking McGowan's split sentences and removing the illegal splits, the circuit court remedied the illegality of the manner in which McGowan's sentences were being executed, and McGowan is now properly serving legal 15-year sentences. Consequently, the circuit court's error in splitting his sentences is moot.").

         Washington's reliance on Williams v. State, 203 So.3d 888 (Ala.Crim.App.2015), is unavailing. In Williams, unlike in this case, any error in the illegal portion of the split sentence does not appear to have been rendered moot.[4] Thus, Williams is distinguishable.

         Washington's claim that he is entitled to be resentenced to a longer split sentence is without merit, and the circuit court did not err in dismissing that claim.

         Washington also is not entitled to relief on his claim that he is entitled to withdraw his guilty plea. As McGowan makes clear, any illegality in Washington's split sentences was rendered moot when his probation was revoked in January 2012. Thus, a claim that Washington's guilty plea was involuntary accrued, at the latest, in January 2012.[5] A postconviction claim that a guilty plea was involuntary is subject to the time-bar in Rule 32.2(c), Ala. R. Crim. P. See, e.g., Cantu v. State, 660 So.2d 1026, 1029 (Ala. 1994) ("We hold that even though a defendant could file a motion under the provisions of Rule 14 to withdraw a plea of guilty and could appeal a trial court's ruling on that motion, the defendant would not be precluded from raising, in a timely filed post-conviction proceeding, ...


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