APPEAL FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 66CR-2012-421] HONORABLE STEPHEN TABOR, JUDGE
John Wesley Hall, Jr., and Sarah M. Pourhosseini, for appellant.
Dustin McDaniel, Att'y Gen., by: Ashley Argo Priest, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.
RHONDA K. WOOD, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE
Scott Riddle appeals the denial of his petition for postconviction relief under Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37. Riddle alleges that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because he contends that his attorney misinformed him of the time he would be required to serve before becoming eligible for parole. After conducting a hearing, the circuit court denied Riddle's petition. We find no error and affirm the circuit court's ruling.
I. Relevant Facts
Riddle, then thirty years old, confessed in writing to three instances of intercourse and one instance of oral sex with a thirteen-year-old girl. He accepted a plea agreement in which he pled guilty to a single count of rape. He was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison plus a suspended imposition of sentence of fifteen years. The minimum sentence that Riddle could have received was twenty-five years. Ark. Code. Ann. § 5-14-103(c)(2) (Repl. 2013). Riddle was also required to serve at least seventy percent of this sentence before he would be eligible for parole. Ark. Code Ann. § 16-93-611(a)(1)(D) (Repl. 2006).
Riddle subsequently filed a petition pursuant to Rule 37 of the Arkansas Rules of Criminal Procedure asserting that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorney had advised him that he would be eligible for parole in five years and would serve no more than eight years. According to Riddle, had he known that he would be required to serve at least seventy percent of his sentence before becoming parole eligible, he would have refused to plead guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.
The circuit court conducted a hearing on Riddle's petition, in which Riddle testified and presented additional testimony from his father, his mother, his girlfriend, and his cousin-in-law. Each witness testified that Riddle's attorney had told them that Riddle would be eligible for parole sometime between five and eight years after pleading guilty. Riddle's former attorney also testified. He stated that he had told Riddle that the prosecutor was threatening to add another rape charge if Riddle did not accept the plea agreement. He also testified that he had explained the seventy-percent rule to Riddle, and they specifically discussed the fact that Riddle would have to serve seventeen and a half years of his sentence before he would be eligible for parole. The attorney further testified that he had told Riddle and his family that Riddle might be eligible to petition for clemency or commutation in eight years, but that it might be as few as five years. The circuit court denied Riddle's petition, finding that the attorney's testimony was more credible and concluding that Riddle had been correctly advised about his eligibility for parole.
II. Standard of Review
We do not reverse the grant or denial of postconviction relief unless the circuit court's findings are clearly erroneous. Sales v. State, 2014 Ark. 384, 441 S.W.3d 883. A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, the appellate court, after reviewing the entire evidence, is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. Id.
Where a defendant pleads guilty, the only claims cognizable in a proceeding pursuant to Rule 37.1 are those that allege that the plea was not made voluntarily and intelligently or that it was entered without effective assistance of counsel. Cummings v. State, 2011 Ark. 410 (per curiam). On review, we assess the effectiveness of counsel under the two-prong standard set forth by the Supreme Court of the United States in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Id. Under this standard, the petitioner must show that counsel's performance was deficient. Id. Second, the deficient performance must have resulted in prejudice so pronounced as to have deprived the petitioner a fair trial whose outcome cannot be relied on as just. Wainwright v. State, 307 Ark. 569, 823 S.W.2d 449 (1992).
We have held that this two-prong test applies to challenges to guilty pleas based on ineffective assistance of counsel. Cranford v. State, 303 Ark. 393, 797 S.W.2d 442 (1990). When a guilty plea is challenged, the defendant must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's ...