Many people assume a criminal case ends upon conviction and sentencing. This is an erroneous assumption because in addition to an appeal, defendants have a number of post-conviction relief options under Rule 32 of Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure. Rule 32 deals with post-conviction remedies.
Although in some ways similar to an appeal, a petition for post-conviction relief is a separate filing, and may in some cases run concurrently with an appeal. The most common issues raised in post-conviction relief petitions are the competency of a defendant's trial lawyer, whether defendant understood the terms of the plea bargain (or voluntarily agreed to them) and alleged illegality of the procedures leading up to conviction.
In order to prevail in a post-conviction relief petition, the convicted person needs to show the trial was inherently unfair due to a constitutional violation (such as the right to due process or counsel), that the error couldn't have been raised on appeal and that the error was likely to have affected the outcome.
Defendants should seek an experienced Birmingham criminal defense lawyer to assist with a post-conviction petition, as there are specific criteria that must be met. Bear in mind, rule 32.2 was amended in 2002, shortening the time a petitioner has to file such a claim from two years down to just one year. That means it's important to act quickly.
A recent example of a Rule 32 petition was seen in the case of Alabama v. Baker, wherein the state appealed a successful post-conviction relief request.
According to court records, defendant was originally indicted for five counts of first-degree sodomy, four counts of sexual abuse of a child under 12 and four counts of first-degree sexual abuse. These are extremely serious charges which could have resulted in a sentence of life imprisonment. Ultimately, defendant struck a plea deal, pleading guilty to one of the most serious charges in exchange for the state dropping the other 12. As part of the plea bargain, he agreed to a 10-year prison term and a chance to apply for probation. Prior to conviction, however, prosecutors opposed probation and stated it was “almost certain” he would go to prison for an extended period of time. Knowing this, defendant still chose to plead guilty.
After receiving his sentence, defendant applied for probation, and that request was denied after a conduct hearing. Defendant never filed a direct appeal challenging either the conviction or sentence. He did file several pro se (without an attorney) requests to “modify” or “reconsider” his sentence, but the court denied those motions. Seeing that his own efforts were unsuccessful, he hired an attorney and thereafter formally filed a Rule 32 petition, arguing his trial lawyer failed to inform him of a number of things prior to his pleading guilty and that, as a result of the ineffectiveness, the guilty plea into which he entered was not made intelligently, knowingly or voluntarily.
A circuit court held another hearing on the matter, and denied his Rule 32 petition, finding the claims without merit and further time-barred under the new time limit. Defendant appealed the decision, and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed.
After that, defendant filed a motion for sentence reduction or reversal based on lack of evidence to support the original charge and misunderstanding of plea to indictment. Again, defendant challenged the conviction because he stated his counsel misinformed him, and he believed he would be serving 3.5 years.
The state responded that, although defense's “motion” wasn't styled as such, it was actually another Rule 32 petition that failed to conform to the requirements of such. The state asked the circuit court to require defendant to comply with Rule 32 requirements. State granted that request. Defendant complied, reasserting all the same claims.
State responded all claims were time-barred and further addressed in the previous proceeding.
Another hearing was held, and the circuit court granted the Rule 32 petition in favor of defendant, finding his counsel had been ineffective when it failed to advise him of the direct consequences of his conviction prior to entering a guilty plea. The court further allowed that although the petition as untimely, the doctrine of equitable tolling was appropriate for the case.
However, the state appealed this decision and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed.
The court held that even if this case was appropriate for equitable tolling, defendant failed to overcome the bar against successive claims.
Rule 32 can be an effective means to obtain post-conviction relief. Ultimately, there were procedural issues with this claim, and that is again why we always recommend consulting with an experienced legal team before filing.
Alabama v. Baker, Feb. 6, 2015, Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals