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Houghton v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

June 4, 2015

SUSAN HOUGHTON, APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS, APPELLEE

Editorial Note:

This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the printed official reporter.

APPEAL FROM THE JOHNSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. NO. CR-2011-141. HONORABLE WILLIAM M. PEARSON, JUDGE.

Ernie Witt, for appellant.

Dustin McDaniel, Att'y Gen., by: Rebecca Kane, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

OPINION

KAREN R. BAKER, Associate Justice.

A Johnson County Circuit Court jury found appellant Susan Lynn Houghton guilty of possession of drug paraphernalia with intent to manufacture methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia, for which she was sentenced to a total of 144 months' imprisonment in the Arkansas Department of Correction. Houghton v. State, 2014 Ark.App. 32, at 1. After Houghton's counsel filed a no-merit brief, the court of appeals affirmed her conviction and sentence on January 15, 2014. Id. Subsequently, Houghton filed a petition for postconviction relief under Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37. The circuit court denied her petition without a hearing. This court's jurisdiction over Rule 37 appeals is proper pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37.3. Ark. R. Crim. P. 37.3(b) (" If a petition on which the petitioner was represented by counsel is denied, counsel shall continue to represent the petitioner for an appeal to the Supreme Court, unless relieved as counsel by the circuit court or the Supreme Court." ). On appeal, Houghton contends that the circuit court erred in denying her petition without a hearing. We affirm.

In her petition, Houghton alleged that her trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to five statements--two during the State's opening statement, two during the State's closing argument, and one during sentencing--made by the prosecutor. Houghton challenged the following remarks made by the prosecutor during opening statement:

Now at the root--at the root of this case and frankly the methamphetamine problem up and down the River Valley is the fact--let me back up just a minute and clarify for you what she actually is charged with.
. . . .
Now as I started to say, the root of this case, as well as the root of the entire methamphetamine problem in the River Valley and probably the South, is the fact that methamphetamine, Ladies and Gentlemen, is very, very easy to make. It's very easy to make.

Houghton contended that the prosecutor encouraged the jury to consider irrelevant information by indicating that " the jury should consider the River Valley and the South's problem with methamphetamine during jury deliberation in the guilt phase." Houghton also contended that her trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object when the prosecutor stated, during opening statement, that " I do not expect you all to make a decision based on what I'm telling you. First off, you haven't heard both sides yet." Houghton contended that this statement was " a clear violation of the law and [Houghton]'s right to due process," because she had " no obligation to testify or present any evidence in her own defense."

Likewise, Houghton contended that her trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the following statements made by the prosecutor during closing argument:

Now this morning when I was talking to you I said really the root of the problem in this case, and I say really the root of the problem throughout the River Valley and may even in the South is ...

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