RAFEAL BENNETT A/K/A RAFEAL DEMOND BENNETT A/K/A RAPHAEL BENNETT APPELLANT
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE
OF JUDGMENT: 03/26/2018
COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT, HON. TOMIE T.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: CYNTHIA ANN STEWART
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
BILLY L. GORE.
Rafeal Bennett pled guilty to two counts of armed robbery. He
later filed a motion for post-conviction relief (PCR). He
alleges that (1) he received ineffective assistance of
counsel because a lawyer who was briefly appointed to
represent him long before he pled guilty had a conflict of
interest and (2) the county court judge who accepted his plea
and sentenced him lacked jurisdiction and authority. The
circuit court denied Bennett's PCR motion. We affirm.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
In December 2011, Bennett and two codefendants were indicted
on two counts of bank robbery. Bennett was released on bond,
but in June 2013 a bench warrant was issued for his arrest
because he failed to maintain contact with the court. It
appears that Bennett was taken into custody on October 30,
2013. On November 7, 2013, the court appointed Ray Charles
Carter, an attorney with the Hinds County Public Defender
(HCPD), to represent Bennett. On November 12, 2013, Bennett
waived arraignment and pled not guilty.
On November 14, 2013, Carter moved to withdraw as counsel for
Bennett. In his motion, Carter explained that HCPD already
represented one of Bennett's co-defendants, Courtney
Jones. Carter advised the court that there was a clear
conflict of interest because Jones already had "a deal
on the table to testify against" Bennett,  while
"Bennett [was] also seeking any deals or favors he
[could] get." By order signed on November 18, 2013, the
court granted Carter's motion to withdraw and appointed
Damon Stevenson to represent Bennett. Stevenson represented
Bennett for the remainder of the case.
On February 26, 2015, Bennett pled guilty to two counts of
armed robbery. Hinds County Court Judge Melvin Priester
conducted the plea hearing and accepted Bennett's plea.
On March 3, 2015, Judge Priester sentenced Bennett to
concurrent terms of thirty years in the custody of the
Department of Corrections, with five years suspended and
twenty-five years to serve. On March 19, 2015, Bennett filed
a motion requesting reconsideration of his sentence. On July
7, 2015, Judge Priester denied the motion.
On May 2, 2017, Bennett filed a PCR motion that asserted two
claims for relief. First, Bennett alleged that his plea and
conviction should be set aside because of Carter's
conflict of interest. Second, Bennett alleged that Judge
Priester lacked jurisdiction and authority to accept his plea
and impose his sentence because there was "no specific
prior order assigning . . . Bennett's case to [Judge
On March 26, 2018, the circuit court denied Bennett's PCR
motion. The court found that Bennett "voluntarily and
knowingly pled guilty . . ., thereby waiving any of his
asserted claims." The court also found that
Bennett's claim of a conflict of interest was without
merit because Carter and HCPD "promptly withdrew"
once they recognized their conflict and private counsel was
appointed to represent Bennett. Bennett appealed.
In PCR cases, we review the circuit court's conclusions
of law de novo. Worth v.State, 223 So.3d
844, 849 (¶15) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017), cert.
denied, 233 So.3d 819 (Miss. 2018). We review the