Court Determines Completed Judicial Diversion Not a Conviction Under the Post-Conviction Act

April 4, 2014

In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that a guilty plea expunged after successful completion of judicial diversion is not considered a conviction and would not be subject to review in post-conviction proceedings.

The case involves Jose Rodriguez, a Mexican citizen who in 2007 entered a guilty plea for patronizing a prostitute in the Nashville area and was placed on judicial diversion.  Mr. Rodriguez successfully completed his diversion, and his criminal record was expunged in January 2010.

Later that year, the United States Supreme Court held that the Constitution requires an attorney to inform non-citizen clients of the potential immigration consequences of a guilty plea.  In 2011, Mr. Rodriguez filed a post-conviction petition, alleging he would not have pled guilty had he known that there may be immigration consequences to his plea.

A trial court ruled that Mr. Rodriguez waited more than the one year allowed by law to file his post-conviction petition and, on appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals held that a petitioner whose records have been expunged may not seek post-conviction relief.

The Tennessee Supreme Court recognized that the Post-Conviction Act, which provides an avenue of relief to a defendant whose conviction was obtained in violation of a state or federal constitutional right, does not define the term “conviction.” The Act, however, requires the entry of a “judgment of conviction,” which includes a guilty plea, a formal adjudication by the trial court, and the imposition of a sentence. When a person successfully completes judicial diversion, a judgment of conviction is never entered.  The Court therefore concluded that “a guilty plea expunged following successful completion of judicial diversion is not a conviction within the meaning of the Post-Conviction Act.” Because Mr. Rodriguez did not have a conviction, he is not entitled to post-conviction relief.

Read the opinion in Jose Rodriguez v. Tennessee authored by Justice Janice M. Holder.