In Tennessee, a person who has pled guilty to a crime may seek post-conviction relief from that judgment of conviction, within one year of the judgment becoming final. In the recent case of Rodriguez v. State, M2011-01485-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn.Crim.App. 1-7-2013), the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals considered whether the guilty plea must result in an actual conviction before post-conviction relief is available. The majority of the panel concluded that where no conviction exists, there is no claim for post-conviction relief.
In the Rodriguez case, the Defendant had pled guilty to the crime of patronizing prostitution. By agreement, he received judicial diversion, which allowed him to avoid an actual conviction if he complied with the terms of diversion. The Defendant successfully completed the diversion and the charge was dismissed. However, because the Defendant was not a citizen of the United States, he learned that his guilty plea to a crime involving moral turpitude could still result in his deportation from the United States. He filed a PCR petition to vacate the plea, alleging that his original counsel was ineffective in advising him to plead guilty without informing him of the immigration consequences of the plea.
In addition to challenging the timeliness of the petition (which was filed outside the statute of limitations), the State argued that post-conviction relief from the guilty plea was not available because there was no conviction from which to seek relief. The majority of the Court of Criminal Appeals panel (the panel in this case was Judge Williams, Judge Woodall, and Judge Tipton) agreed with that, finding that the unambiguous language of the Tennessee Post-Conviction Procedure Act only provides for a cause of action seeking relief from a conviction.
Notably, Judge Tipton dissented from this conclusion. He concurred in the result (which was dismissal of the claim), due to his conclusion that the claim was barred by the statute of limitations.
For more information on challenging a guilty plea, or on the consequences of a guilty plea to a particular crime, contact Hindman & Associates.