Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals Says that Post-Conviction Petitions Must Contain Specific Facts, Defendants Can’t Simply Check Boxes

Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals Says that Post-Conviction Petitions Must Contain Specific Facts, Defendants Can’t Simply Check Boxes



Seal of Tennessee Judiciary
The Petitioner in this case, Michael Deshay Peoples, Jr., was indicted for first-degree felony murder, especially aggravated robbery and one count of aggravated kidnapping. A jury found Peoples guilty as charged and sentenced him to life in prison for felony murder. Other charges were given varying sentences determined at a sentencing hearing. Petitioner filed for post-conviction relief. 

Post conviction is little known outside of criminal law circles, this is the process by which a defendant challenges a conviction.  A defendant may challenge the validity of a conviction on constitutional or the effectiveness of his trial counsel--two common challenges. Post conviction challenges are made after exhausting the well known direct appeals process and may be made sometimes several years after the original conviction. Here the Court of Criminal Appeals found no error and affirmed the dismissal of Peoples’ petition. The discussion below concerns Peoples' post conviction challenge.

Peoples filed his petition for post-conviction relief and alleged, merely by checking boxes on a form--not by specifically detailing facts--that his convictions were based on evidence gained by an unconstitutional search and seizure and that he was denied effective assistance of counsel. The form required that he attach a separate sheet of paper containing facts support his petition, Peoples failed to attach such a document and gave no facts in support of the grounds he alleged.  It is not uncommon for individuals to start with this form an the courts allow it as many petitioners are incarcerated and are proceeding without counsel (pro se) at this late stage in their case.

This petition for post-conviction relief was dismissed because it failed to present a full disclosure of factual grounds in which relief would be appropriate. Tennessee law allows for the dismissal of such complaints when the necessary facts have not been specifically alleged. That’s precisely what took place in this case.

People’s claims he should have been allowed to amend his petition to bring it into compliance. The Court of Criminal Appeals said that Peoples made no attempt to comply with the statutory requirements for his post-conviction relief petition. Merely checking the boxes contained on the form does not comply with the requirement that specific facts be alleged in support of a petitioner’s claims. The Court of Appeals concluded that while lower courts should be more lenient in construing pro se filings, no courts should be required to ignore a failure to provide factual support for claims raised. 

To read the full opinion, click here.
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