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Sandrelli v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

March 10, 2016

ROBERT LEE SANDRELLI, APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS, APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. NO. CR-2012-1189. HONORABLE J. MICHAEL FITZHUGH, JUDGE.

         Barham Law Office, P.A., by: R. Kevin Barham, for appellant.

         Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Kristen C. Green, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

         RHONDA K. WOOD, Associate Justice. DANIELSON, J., concurs.

          OPINION

Page 693

          RHONDA K. WOOD, Associate Justice

         Robert Sandrelli was convicted of four counts of rape. After our court of appeals affirmed the convictions, see Sandrelli v. State, 2015 Ark.App. 127, Sandrelli filed a Rule 37 petition alleging three instances of ineffective assistance of counsel. The circuit court denied the petition without a hearing by a written order. Sandrelli has appealed and argues that he was entitled to a hearing on his allegations.[1] We affirm in part and reverse and remand in part.

         This criminal case began when Robert Sandrelli's son accused him of rape. A jury trial was held in August 2013. The State presented evidence from the victim and law-enforcement officials. Sandrelli testified in his own defense and denied all the allegations. The defense also presented evidence from five character witnesses who attested to Sandrelli's character for truthfulness. The jury could not reach a unanimous verdict, so the court declared a mistrial. The State refiled the charges, and second jury trial was held in September 2013. The State's case was substantially similar to the one it presented in the first trial. But in the second trial, the defense presented no witnesses. The jury was able to reach a verdict and convicted Sandrelli of four counts of rape.

         After the court of appeals issued its mandate, Sandrelli filed a Rule 37 petition

Page 694

wherein he alleged ineffective assistance of counsel. The petition contained three primary allegations of his attorney's deficient performance during the second jury trial: (1) the attorney had resigned as managing public defender and was under emotional and professional stress; (2) the attorney failed to call any witnesses on Sandrelli's behalf; and (3) the attorney unilaterally decided that Sandrelli should not testify. The circuit court denied the petition without a hearing. It ruled that the first allegation was conclusory and could not form the basis for a claim of ineffective assistance. The court further ruled that the decisions regarding which witnesses to call and whether Sandreilli would testify were matters of trial strategy, which also forms no basis for postconviction relief.

          This court does not reverse a denial of postconviction relief unless the circuit court's findings are clearly erroneous. Polivka v. State, 2010 Ark. 152, 362 S.W.3d 918. " 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." State v. Barrett, 371 Ark. 91, 95, 263 S.W.3d 542, 545 (2007).

          Rule 37.3 of the Arkansas Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that an evidentiary hearing should be held in a postconviction proceeding unless the files and record of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief Wooten v. State, 338 Ark. 691, 1 S.W.3d 8 (1999). If the files and the record show that the petitioner is not entitled to relief, the circuit court is required to make written findings to that effect. Ark. R.Crim. P. 37.3(a). Conclusory allegations that are unsupported by facts do not provide a basis for either an evidentiary hearing or postconviction relief Henington v. State, 2012 Ark. 181, 403 S.W.3d 55.

          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, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). Under this standard, the petitioner must first show that counsel's performance was deficient. Feuget v. State, 2015 Ark. 43, 454 S.W.3d 734. This requires a showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel deprived the petitioner of the counsel guaranteed to the petitioner by the Sixth Amendment. Id. Second, the deficient performance must have resulted in prejudice so pronounced as to have deprived the petitioner of a fair trial whose outcome cannot be relied ...


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