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Buckner v. Barrow

Supreme Court of Georgia

May 11, 2015

BUCKNER
v.
BARROW

Habeas corpus. Washington Superior Court. Before Judge Reeves.

Christopher M. Buckner, pro se.

Samuel S. Olens, Attorney General, Patricia B. Attaway Burton, Deputy Attorney General, Paula K. Smith, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Matthew B. Crowder, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

OPINION

Blackwell, Justice.

Christopher M. Buckner was convicted of violations of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act,[1]

Page 704

he appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions. See Buckner v. State, 321 Ga.App. 715 (742 S.E.2d 528) (2013). In his appeal, Buckner asserted several claims of error, but the Court of Appeals rejected them all. It rejected one on the ground that Buckner had abandoned it by his failure to make any [297 Ga. 69] meaningful legal argument in his appellate brief in support of that claim. See id. at 718 (3). Buckner then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel on appeal when his appellate counsel failed to make a legal argument sufficient to preserve a claim of error. The habeas court denied his petition, finding that the appellate brief " clearly reflects that appellate counsel provided a legal argument," and for that reason, appellate counsel was not ineffective. Representing himself, Buckner appeals from the denial of his habeas petition,[2] the Warden confesses error, and we vacate and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

As the Warden concedes, the habeas court was not permitted to find that appellate counsel made legal arguments sufficient to preserve a claim of error on appeal when the Court of Appeals already had found otherwise. Under the law of the case doctrine, if an issue is raised and resolved on direct appeal from a criminal conviction, the habeas court is bound by the appellate ruling and cannot reexamine it, even if it appears erroneous, and even if the erroneous ruling was that a claim of error had not been preserved for review.[3] Roulain v. Martin, 266 Ga. 353, 353-354 (1) (466 S.E.2d 837) (1996). See also Foster v. State, 290 Ga. 599, 601 (3) (723 S.E.2d 663) (2012). The habeas court erred with respect to the particular ground upon which it rejected Buckner's contention that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel on appeal when his appellate lawyer failed to make legal argument sufficient to preserve a claim of error, and we vacate the decision of the habeas court. We do not now decide whether that contention of ineffective assistance has merit. Instead, we remand for the habeas court to reconsider it in a way that is consistent with the earlier determination by the Court of Appeals that appellate counsel did, in fact, fail to make legal argument sufficient to preserve the claim of error. See Crowder v. State, 288 Ga. 739, 740 (707 S.E.2d 78) (2011); Johnson v. Roberts, 287 Ga. 112, 114 (694 S.E.2d 661) (2010); Harden v. Johnson, 280 Ga. 464, 465 (629 S.E.2d 259) (2006).

Judgment vacated and case remanded.

All the Justices concur.


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