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Dennis v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

June 25, 2019

DARIUS DENNIS A/K/A DARRIUS DENNIS APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 11/16/2017

          WASHINGTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. W. ASHLEY HINES JUDGE.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: DARIUS DENNIS (PRO SE).

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: ALICIA MARIE AINSWORTH.

          BEFORE BARNES, C.J., McDONALD AND C. WILSON, JJ.

          BARNES, C.J.

         ¶1. Darius Dennis, appearing pro se, appeals the judgment of the Washington County Circuit Court, which denied his motion for post-conviction relief (PCR). Finding no error, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. In May 2004, a Washington County grand jury returned a five-count indictment against Dennis and a co-defendant for one count of armed robbery, one count of conspiracy, and three counts of aggravated assault in connection with the December 2003 armed robbery of the McCormick Book Inn in Greenville, Mississippi. According to the owner of the bookstore, who was one of the aggravated-assault victims, during the robbery, Dennis put his firearm to the head of two elderly patrons in the bookstore but did not shoot them. After robbing the store, Dennis then fired at the owner of the bookstore, without provocation, missing the owner's head by a short distance. When leaving the scene, Dennis also shot at a vehicle driven by a bystander who was trying to block the robbers.

         ¶3. On October 1, 2004, Dennis pleaded guilty to armed robbery, one count of aggravated assault, and manslaughter.[1] At the plea hearing, the prosecutor explained that after robbing the bookstore, the robbers went to the home of Dennis's co-defendant, where several individuals were present. Dennis got into an altercation with one of their friends, who thought the robbers owed him money. Dennis claimed another individual shot and killed the friend but pleaded guilty to the charge anyway because it was in his best interest-if he were convicted of the charge at trial, he could possibly receive life in prison for the crime.

         ¶4. At the plea hearing, Dennis was represented by counsel and had already signed the plea petition. However, because Dennis had just been made aware of a new offer that morning, the trial judge determined it would be best to continue the hearing, especially given Dennis had a learning disability, was only twenty years old, and had a seventh-grade education. The continuance would give Dennis time to consider fully the plea offer and discuss it with family members.

         ¶5. On October 6, 2004, Dennis came back before the court, and the court accepted his guilty plea. The trial court sentenced Dennis to twenty-five years for the armed-robbery charge, twenty years for the aggravated-assault charge, and twenty years for the manslaughter charge-all in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections with the sentences running concurrently.

         ¶6. Over twelve years later, on April 18, 2017, Dennis filed a PCR motion claiming ineffective assistance of counsel and judicial misconduct because the trial court and Dennis's attorney refused to require him to undergo a competency examination. Dennis claims he did not understand the plea proceedings and was coerced to plead guilty. A letter from the Director of Special Education dating from November 2016, which was attached to the PCR motion, stated that Dennis was a special education student in the Leflore County School District at some point in time.

         ¶7. In a detailed order, the trial court denied his PCR motion. The trial court found his motion was excepted from the three-year time limit under Rowland v. State, 42 So.3d 503, 507 (ΒΆ12) (Miss. 2010), because Dennis claimed his due process rights were violated at sentencing. However, on the merits, the trial court found Dennis failed to present substantial evidence that he was mentally incompetent at the time he entered his guilty plea, and there was no evidence of his incompetency in the record. Accordingly, the trial court found Dennis's counsel was not ineffective for failing to request a competency ...


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