APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 60CR-12-622] HONORABLE LEON JOHNSON, JUDGE
Benca & Benca, by: Patrick J. Benca, for appellant.
Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Ashley Argo Priest, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.
Appellant Ivor Gordon was found guilty by a Pulaski County jury of one count of capital murder and one count of criminal attempt-capital murder, and he was sentenced to concurrent sentences of life without parole and life, respectively. Gordon was found guilty of committing a crime in the presence of a child and committing a crime with a firearm and was sentenced to concurrent ten- and fifteen-year sentences to run consecutive to his life sentences. Pursuant to Rule 4-3(k) of the Rules of the Arkansas Supreme Court and Court of Appeals and Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967), Gordon's attorney filed a motion to withdraw as counsel and a no-merit brief. Additionally, Gordon filed pro se points on appeal, and the State filed a brief in response. On May 29, 2014, we issued an opinion remanding the case to the circuit court to settle and supplement the record and ordering Gordon's counsel to file a substituted brief. See Gordon v. State, 2014 Ark. 255 (per curiam). The record has been settled and supplemented, and counsel has filed a substituted brief that is now before this court. Because we conclude that counsel's substituted brief fails to comply with Rule 4-3(k)(1), we order rebriefing.
A brief accompanying an attorney's request to withdraw from appellate representation of a criminal defendant on the ground that the appeal is wholly without merit shall contain an argument section that consists of a list of all rulings adverse to the defendant made by the circuit court on all objections, motions, and requests made by either party with an explanation as to why each adverse ruling is not a meritorious ground for reversal. Ark. Sup. Ct. R. 4-3(k)(1).
Here, counsel lists a number of rulings adverse to Gordon and purports to explain why none of the rulings provide a meritorious ground for reversal. For example, counsel lists eight adverse rulings that occurred during trial, and then states,
Counsel for Gordon agrees that some of the objections made by the State and sustained by the circuit court were appropriate. Some of the objections did not harm Gordon, especially those involving "leading, " and others made primarily as "form" over substance. Of the remaining, it does not appear to Counsel that any of the adverse rulings amounted to an "abuse of discretion, " the standard of review for this Court. James v. State, 2010 Ark. 486, 372 S.W.3d 800 (2010). In any event, all would be harmless in light [of] Gordon's explicitly detailed confession (R. 587–628, Add. 16–56), and the State's corroboration of the confession via introduction of evidence during its case-in-chief. Wells v. State, 2013 Ark. 389, ___S.W.3d ___.
Because counsel makes vague references to "some" of the rulings and "the remaining" rulings, we are left to wonder which rulings counsel believes were appropriate and which rulings counsel believes did not amount to an abuse of discretion. Moreover, although counsel concludes that all of the adverse rulings would be harmless "in light [of] Gordon's explicitly detailed confession and the State's corroboration of the confession via introduction of evidence during its case-in-chief, " counsel fails to discuss the details of the confession, and he fails to discuss the evidence introduced by the State that corroborated the confession. It is clear from a partial reproduction of the no-merit argument that counsel has failed to include for each adverse ruling a discussion citing relevant law and facts to explain why each ruling does not provide a meritorious ground for reversal.
Because the brief in this case is deficient, we order counsel to file a substituted brief within fifteen days from the date of this opinion. See Ark. Sup. Ct. R. 4-2. In ordering rebriefing, we express no opinion as to whether the substituted brief should be filed pursuant to Rule 4-3(k) and Anders or should be filed asserting meritorious grounds for reversal. If a no-merit brief is filed, counsel's motion and brief will be forwarded by the clerk of this court to Gordon so that he again will have the opportunity to raise any points that he chooses. See Ark. Sup. Ct. R. 4-3(k)(2). In either instance, the State shall be afforded the opportunity to file a responsive brief. Finally, we strongly encourage counsel, before filing the substituted brief, to review our rules and the substituted brief to ensure that no additional deficiencies are present, as any subsequent rebriefing order in this criminal matter may result in a referral to the Committee on Professional Conduct. See, e.g., Lee v. State, 375 Ark. 421, 291 S.W.3d 188 (2009) (per curiam).
Baker, Goodson, and Wood, JJ., dissent.
Courtney Hudson Goodson, Justice, dissenting.
I disagree with the majority's conclusion that Gordon's counsel has failed to comply with Arkansas Supreme Court Rule 4-3(k). That rule requires an attorney seeking to withdraw from appellate representation of a criminal defendant on the ground that the appeal is wholly without merit to file a brief that includes a list of all rulings adverse to the defendant and an explanation as to why each ruling is not a meritorious ground for reversal. Ark. Sup. Ct. R. 4-3(k)(1) (2014). In this case, counsel's brief complies with the rule because it lists each adverse ruling and includes an explanation as to why none are meritorious grounds for reversal. Specifically, as the majority notes, counsel concludes that all of the evidentiary rulings were harmless in light of Gordon's detailed confession and the State's corroboration evidence introduced at trial. It is clear from reading counsel's brief that this explanation applies to all adverse rulings during the course of the trial. Our rule is not so strict as to necessitate that counsel repeat this explanation separately for each ruling. Additionally, counsel is not required to provide a detailed explanation of ...