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Pedraza v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

March 3, 2016

DANIEL PEDRAZA, APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS, APPELLEE

Page 687

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 688

          APPEAL FROM THE DREW COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. NO. 22CR-12-37. HONORABLE SAM POPE, JUDGE.

         Daniel Pedraza, Pro se, appellant.

         Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Brad Newman, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          OPINION

Page 689

          PER CURIAM

         In 2013, appellant Daniel Pedraza entered a plea of guilty to first-degree murder in the death of his two-year-old stepdaughter. He elected to be sentenced by a jury. The jury was instructed that the range of sentencing for the offense was ten to forty years or life, and a sentence of life imprisonment was imposed. Pedraza appealed from the sentence, and this court affirmed. Pedraza v. State, 2014 Ark. 298, 438 S.W.3d 226.

         In 2014, Pedraza timely filed in the trial court a pro se verified petition for postconviction relief pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37.1 (2013) seeking to vacate the judgment on the grounds that he was denied effective assistance of counsel. The petition was dismissed, and Pedraza brings this appeal.

         Our standard of review in Rule 37.1 proceedings is that, on appeal from a trial court's ruling on a petitioner's request for Rule 37 relief, this court will not reverse the trial court's decision granting or denying postconviction relief unless it is clearly erroneous. Wood v. State, 2015 Ark. 477, 478 S.W.3d 194. 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.

         When considering an appeal from a trial court's denial of a Rule 37.1 petition on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel, the question presented is whether, under the standard set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984), the trial court clearly erred in holding that counsel's performance was not ineffective. Wood, 2015 Ark. 477, 478 S.W.3d 194; Anderson v. State, 2011 Ark. 488, 385 S.W.3d 783.

         The rule for evaluating ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims in cases involving guilty pleas appears in Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 106 S.Ct. 366, 88 L.Ed.2d 203 (1985). In Hill, the Supreme Court held that the " cause and prejudice" test of Strickland applied to challenges to guilty pleas based on ineffective assistance of counsel. The Court further held that in order to show prejudice in the context of a guilty plea, the petitioner must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial. Hill, 474 U.S. at 59. An appellant who has entered a guilty plea normally will have considerable difficulty in proving any prejudice, as the plea rests upon an admission in open court that the appellant did the act charged. Wood, 2015 Ark. 477, 478 S.W.3d 194. Further, a petitioner under Rule 37.1 must allege some direct correlation between counsel's deficient behavior and the decision to enter the plea. Scott v. State, 2012 Ark. 199, 406 S.W.3d 1.

          We first note that in his brief on appeal, Pedraza has reworded the claims raised below to construct virtually new claims and has bolstered some of the allegations raised in the Rule 37.1 petition by adding information. On appeal, we review only those specific claims before the trial court. McLaughlin v. State, 2015 Ark. 335, 469 S.W.3d 360 (per curiam). ...


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