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Date: 01-13-2020

Case Style:

Romello Wilson a/k/a Romello Curtis Wilson a/k/a Romello C. Wilson v. State of Mississippi

Case Number: 2018-CP-01159-COA

Judge: Sean Tindell

Court: COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

Plaintiff's Attorney: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
BY: DARRELL CLAYTON BAUGHN

Defendant's Attorney:

Description:


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On August 4, 2016, a Madison County grand jury indicted Wilson for armed robbery
and kidnapping stemming from an incident that occurred on or about April 5, 2016. Wilson
pled guilty to both crimes on November 16, 2016, and on December 8, 2016, the circuit court
sentenced him to fifteen years for armed robbery and fifteen years for kidnapping to be
served in the Mississippi Department of Correctionís custody. Wilsonís two sentences were
set to run consecutively, giving him a total of thirty years to serve. Pursuant to Mississippi
Code Annotated section 47-7-3(1)(g)(i) (Rev. 2015), Wilson was ineligible for parole.
∂3. On May 15, 2018, Wilson filed a PCR motion with the circuit court, claiming that he
had not been made aware of his ineligibility for parole at the time of his plea and that he was
wrongfully denied parole. Wilson further argued that he received ineffective assistance of
counsel. On July 20, 2018, the circuit court denied Wilsonís PCR motion, finding his
arguments to be without merit. Aggrieved, Wilson appeals.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
∂4. This Court reviews the dismissal or denial of a PCR motion for abuse of discretion,
and we will only disturb the circuit courtís findings if they are clearly erroneous. West v.
State, 226 So. 3d 1238, 1239 (∂3) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017). The circuit courtís legal
conclusions, however, are reviewed de novo. Id. Furthermore, for PCR motions, the movant
has the burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he is entitled to relief.
Shavers v. State, 215 So. 3d 502, 505 (∂7) (Miss. Ct. App. 2016).
ANALYSIS
∂5. Because the crux of Wilsonís first two arguments involve parole eligibility, we
address the substance of this contention first.
I. Wilsonís Parole Eligibility
∂6. Wilson argues that the circuit court wrongfully denied him the ďrightĒ to parole.
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Wilson states that he is eligible for parole upon serving fifty percent of his sentence under
Mississippi Code Annotated section 97-3-2(2) (Rev. 2014).
∂7. Section 97-3-2(2) states that ď[n]o person convicted of a crime of violence listed in
this section is eligible for parole or for early release from the custody of the Department of
Corrections until that person has served at least fifty percent (50%) of the sentence imposed
by the court.Ē (Emphasis added). While Wilson interprets this statute as granting him parole
eligibility, section 47-7-3(1)(g)(i) contradicts this assertion. Section 47-7-3(1)(g)(i) states
that ď[n]o person who, on or after July 1, 2014, is convicted of a crime of violence pursuant
to Section 97-3-2, a sex crime or an offense that specifically prohibits parole release, shall
be eligible for parole.Ē Under subsections 97-3-2(1)(f) and (j), crimes of violence include
both armed robbery and kidnapping. See Miss. Code Ann. ß 97-3-2(1)(f), -2(1)(j).
∂8. Previously, the contradiction between the plain language of section 97-3-2(2) and
section 47-7-3(1)(g)(i) caused confusion to criminal defendants, attorneys, and trial courts.
The Mississippi Supreme Court recently attempted to harmonize the two parole-related
provisions in Fogleman v. State, No. 2016-CT-01244-SCT, 2019 WL 4071866 (Miss. Aug.
29, 2019). In Fogleman, the supreme court held that ď[s]ection 47-7-3(1)(g)(i) does apply
to the per se crimes of violence listed in subsection (1) of Section 97-3-2 because
[subsection] 97-3-2(1) is silent about parole eligibilityĒ but does not apply to crimes of
violence designated by a circuit court under subsection 97-3-2(2). Fogleman, 2019 WL
4071866, at *5 (∂23).
∂9. In Fogleman, the supreme court held that because the circuit court designated the
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defendantís conviction as a crime of violence under subsection 97-3-2(2), the defendant was
eligible for parole upon completion of fifty percent of his sentence. Id. at (∂24). However,
according to the supreme courtís holding, Wilsonís conviction would not be parole eligible
because it falls within the statutorily defined crimes of violence in listed in section 97-3-2(1).
Contra id. Accordingly, we find that Wilson is not entitled to parole under Mississippi law,
and therefore Wilsonís argument lacks merit.
II. Involuntary Plea ∂10. Wilson also argues that ďthe record clearly show[s] that [he] was not properly notified
in his indictment, sentencing order, or plea hearing that his right to parole was being denied.Ē
For this reason, Wilson seems to suggest that his plea was involuntary. ďA guilty plea is
binding if entered voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently.Ē Woods v. State, 71 So. 3d 1241,
1244 (∂8) (Miss. Ct. App. 2011). A defendantís plea meets this standard if ďthe defendant
is advised concerning the nature of the charge[s] against him and the consequences of his
plea.Ē Mason v. State, 42 So. 3d 629, 632 (∂7) (Miss. Ct. App. 2010) (quoting Alexander v.
State, 605 So. 2d 1170, 1172 (Miss. 1992)). ďThe PCR movant has the burden to show by
a preponderance of the evidence that his plea was involuntary.Ē Woods, 71 So. 3d at 1244
(∂8).
∂11. Wilson fails to meet his burden for several reasons. First, the supreme court has
consistently held that there is no constitutionally recognized right to or interest in parole in
Mississippi. Fogleman, 2019 WL 4071866, at *4 (∂17) (citing Vice v. State, 679 So. 2d 205,
208 (Miss. 1996)). Therefore, Wilson has no right to parole or early release. Id.
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∂12. Second, the voluntariness of Wilsonís plea does not hinge upon his understanding of
his parole eligibility. As this Court has previously explained:
Because parole is a matter of legislative grace, parole eligibility or noneligibility is not considered a Ďconsequenceí of a guilty plea. It is not a prerequisite to a voluntary plea that the defendant understand the nature of parole, his eligibility for parole, and the circumstances under which it may be granted. But a plea may be rendered involuntary only if the defendant is affirmatively misinformed regarding the possibility of parole and pleads guilty in reliance on the misinformation.
Moore v. State, 248 So. 3d 845, 852 (∂17) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017) (quotation marks, brackets,
and emphasis omitted). Here, Wilson does not allege that he was misinformed about his
parole eligibility but rather that he was not notified of his ineligibility. Still, there is no
evidence in the record to suggest that the circuit court or Wilsonís attorney affirmatively
misinformed Wilson about his parole eligibility or that he pled guilty in reliance on any such
misinformation. Moore, 248 So. 3d at 852 (∂17).
∂13. Third, upon review of the record, we find that the circuit court advised Wilson as to
his parole-eligibility status during his plea hearing. In fact, the circuit court explained to
Wilson the likelihood of his parole ineligibility for both armed robbery and kidnapping as
follows:
Court: [Y]ouíre not eligible for parole under an armed robbery conviction. You may not be eligible for kidnapping. Under the new statutes, . . . I know youíve got to serve at least 50 percent of the time before you could have any kind of early release. So nobody can make you any promises about whether or not you will get any early release.
At this point, the time that you would serve for armed robbery, more likely than not, will be day-per-day time. The time that you would serve for kidnapping may be day-per-day time.
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But, in any event, youíd have to serve at least 50 percent before [you] could have any early release, but it wouldnít be parole as I understand the statutes right now.
. . . .
But, as best [as] I can understand, the armed-robbery time at this point would probably be 100 percent time and the kidnapping would be at least 50 percent time, but for neither of them are you eligible for parole.
∂14. In addition, the circuit court asked Wilson multiple times on the record if he had any
further questions. The circuit court also advised Wilson that he could withdraw his plea
motion and proceed to trial at any time during the hearing prior to the courtís acceptance of
his guilty plea. Wilson consistently affirmed on the record that he understood everything the
court explained and that he voluntarily wished to plead guilty. We give great weight to a
defendantís statements made under oath and in open court. Vandergriff v. State, 920 So. 2d
486, 490 (∂7) (Miss. Ct. App. 2006). For each of the foregoing reasons, we find Wilsonís
argument lacks merit and that the circuit court rightfully denied Wilsonís PCR motion on this
issue.
III. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
∂15. Wilson also claims that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. To prove his
claim, Wilson must show that (1) his counselís performance was deficient, and (2) there is
a reasonable probability that but for his counselís errors, the result of the proceeding would
have been different. Lovett v. State, 270 So. 3d 133, 135 (∂5) (Miss. Ct. App. 2018).
∂16. To support his claim for ineffective assistance of counsel under prong two, Wilson
only states that his defense counsel ďanswered for himĒ at the plea hearing and pled guilty
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to his charges for him. Wilsonís assertion is based upon the following exchange among the
circuit court, Wilson, and Wilsonís counsel during the plea hearing:
Court: And you understand that Iím not bound by the recommendation the State may make as to sentence and instead I could impose the maximum sentence authorized by law for each of these offenses and order that they run consecutively to each other?
Wilson: Yes, sir.
Court: And knowing that, do you still want to go forward with your plea?
Wilson: I mean, Iím trying to see what the plea is, your Honor.
Court: Well, the plea is what we just finished going through. Iím [about] to get to the point where [the State] make[s] a recommendation, but I havenít got[ten] there yet.
Wilson: Yes, sir.
Court: Iím saying Ė I donít know what Iím saying.
Counsel: Heís pleading guilty because he is, in fact, guilty.
(Emphasis added).
∂17. On appeal, Wilson now ignores the multiple times during the plea hearing in which
he affirmed his desire to plead guilty to the circuit court. This includes the following
exchange:
Court: After discussions with your attorney, are you the one that decided to plead guilty?
Wilson: Yes, sir.
Court: Are you telling me then that youíre freely and voluntarily admitting your guilt to these crimes?
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Wilson: Yes, sir.
(Emphasis added). Wilson then assured the circuit court that he had no complaints with his
counselís representations.
∂18. It is clear from the record that Wilsonís argument is directly contradicted by his own
testimony during the plea hearing. Wilson offers no further evidence to support the claims
against his counsel, and therefore he fails to meet his burden of proving ineffective assistance
of counsel.
∂19. We also find nothing in the record indicating that Wilsonís counsel performed
deficiently. Therefore, this issue also lacks merit.

Outcome: Because we find no error in the circuit courtís denial of Wilsonís PCR motion, we
affirm the circuit courtís judgment.

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