APPEAL FROM THE JEFFERSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. NOS. CR-2010-83-2-5; CR-10-602-2-5; CR-11-423-2-5; CR-12-346-2-5. HONORABLE JODI RAINES DENNIS, JUDGE.
AFFIRMED IN PART; REVERSED AND REMANDED IN PART.
James Law Firm, by: Lee D. Short, for appellant.
Dustin McDaniel, Att'y Gen., by: Lauren Elizabeth Heil, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.
PAUL E. DANIELSON, Associate Justice. BAKER and HART, JJ., dissent in part and concur in part. GOODSON, J., dissents. KAREN R. BAKER, Justice, dissenting in part and concurring in part. HART, J., joins. COURTNEY HUDSON GOODSON, Justice, dissenting.
PAUL E. DANIELSON, Associate Justice
Appellant Christopher Beverage appeals from the order of the Jefferson County Circuit Court denying his petition for postconviction relief pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37.1 (2012). His sole point on appeal is that the circuit court erred in denying him a hearing on his petition. We affirm the circuit court's order in part, and reverse and remand in part.
In 2012, Beverage entered a negotiated plea of guilty to murder in the first degree; aggravated robbery; theft of property greater than $25,000; first-degree escape; four counts of second-degree battery; and theft of property $500 or less. The charges stemmed from Beverage's 2010 escape, along with two others, from the Jack Jones Juvenile Detention Center in Pine Bluff after his attack on a correctional officer and his subsequent attacks on correctional officers at another facility in 2010, 2011, and 2012. He was sentenced consecutively to 480 months' imprisonment on the first-degree-murder charge plus 120 months on the aggravated-robbery charge, for a total time of imprisonment of 600 months.
On December 4, 2012, Beverage filed his petition for postconviction relief pursuant to Rule 37.1. In his petition, he alleged that his defense counsel was ineffective in failing to (1) seek a change of venue, in light of the prejudicial publicity the escape received; (2) challenge determinations as to his competency to stand trial by seeking a hearing and engaging an expert opinion; (3) object to the sentence he received on the bases that it amounted to a sentence of life imprisonment and there was no evidence that he intended or attempted to kill; (4) adequately investigate the facts and proof so as to pursue a change in venue or speedy-trial motion; (5) adequately investigate so as to subject the State's evidence to meaningful adversarial testing, including the failure to challenge the autopsy of the murder victim; and (6) take the matter to trial.
As already noted, the circuit court denied Beverage's petition without a hearing. In its order, the circuit court found that because Beverage pleaded guilty and did not have a jury trial, he could not argue that he was prejudiced by a tainted jury. With respect to Beverage's claims regarding his competency, the circuit court observed that Beverage's record revealed two forensic examinations and that Beverage had failed to provide any evidence that a third evaluation would have resulted in a different finding from the other two. It further noted its review of the plea-hearing transcript, which the circuit court found to contradict Beverage's allegation that he was not competent when he entered his negotiated plea of guilty. In
addition, the circuit court found that Beverage's right to speedy trial was not denied in light of an excludable period; therefore, the circuit court concluded, any failure by defense counsel to make a meritless speedy-trial motion did not constitute ineffective assistance of counsel. Finally, the circuit court ruled, Beverage's claim that his defense counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the results of the murder-victim's autopsy was a challenge to ...