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Beavers v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

June 23, 2016

CLINT BEAVERS, APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS, APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE GARLAND COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [26CR-12-65] HONORABLE JOHN HOMER WRIGHT, JUDGE

          Benca & Benca, by: Patrick J. Benca, for appellant.

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

          JOSEPHINE LINKER HART, Associate Justice

         Clint Beavers filed in the circuit court a timely petition seeking postconviction relief under Rule 37.1 of the Arkansas Rules of Criminal Procedure. The circuit court denied the petition, and Beavers appeals. On appeal, Beavers contends that his trial counsel made erroneous statements to him regarding his parole eligibility under a plea offer, which caused him to reject the plea offer and instead stand for trial, where he suffered a less favorable outcome. Because the circuit court's findings were clearly erroneous, we reverse and remand.

         In Lafler v. Cooper, ___U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 1376, 1384 (2012), the United States Supreme Court has stated as follows:

Defendants have a Sixth Amendment right to counsel, a right that extends to the plea-bargaining process. Frye, ante, at 1386-1387, 132 S.Ct. 1399; see also Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. ___, ___, 130 S.Ct. 1473, 1486, 176 L.Ed.2d 284 (2010); Hill, supra, at 57, 106 S.Ct. 366. During plea negotiations defendants are "entitled to the effective assistance of competent counsel." McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 771, 90 S.Ct. 1441, 25 L.Ed.2d 763 (1970).

Lafler squarely holds that defendants have a Sixth Amendment right to counsel, made applicable to this state by the Fourteenth Amendment, which extends to the plea-bargaining process.

         The two-part Strickland v. Washington[, 466 U.S. 668 (1984)] test applies here for claims based on ineffective assistance of counsel. Lafler, ___ U.S. at ___, 132 S.Ct. at 1384. Under the performance prong of Strickland, a defendant must show that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. Id. at ___, 132 S.Ct. at 1384. To establish prejudice, a defendant must show that but for the ineffective advice of counsel there is a reasonable probability that the plea offer would have been presented to the court, that the court would have accepted its terms, and that the conviction or sentence, or both, under the offer's terms would have been less severe than under the judgment and sentence that in fact were imposed. Id. at ___, 132 S.Ct. at 1385.

         We do not reverse the denial of postconviction relief unless the circuit court's findings are clearly erroneous. Montgomery v. State, 2014 Ark. 122, at 2. 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 made. Id. In making a determination on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, this court considers the totality of the evidence. Id.

         The minimum sentence for the rape charge that Beavers faced at trial was 25 years, and 70 percent of the term of imprisonment would have to be served to be eligible for parole. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-14-103(a)(3)(A), (c)(2) (Repl. 2013); Ark. Code Ann. § 16-93-618(a)(1)(D) (Supp. 2015). The case was originally set for trial on August 14, 2013. On that day, Beavers's defense counsel, Mark Fraiser, informed the circuit court that the State had offered to reduce the rape charge to second-degree sexual assault and recommend a sentence of 20 years. We note that under our parole statutes, Beavers would have been eligible for parole for this offense after having served one-third of the sentence with credit for meritorious good time, which would translate into serving one-sixth of the time imposed if he earned maximum good time. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-14-125(b)(1) (Supp. 2015); Ark. Code Ann. § 5-4-401(a)(3); Ark. Code Ann. § 16-93-614(c)(3)(A); Code Ark. R. 154.00.1-1-4. Under the guidelines set forth by the Arkansas Sentencing Commission on the determination of the seriousness of the offense, this offense falls "below" the line, resulting in a sentence of one-third to one-sixth of the time imposed, while an offense that is "above" the line requires serving one-half to one-quarter of the time imposed. Ark. Code Ann. § 16-93-614(c)(3)(A).

         Before the scheduled trial, Fraiser stated to the court that he had conveyed the plea offer to Beavers and his father and that they had rejected the offer. When asked by the court, Fraiser agreed that second-degree sexual assault was not a "70 percent offense." Fraiser stated, "It's a half to a fourth, and it was explained to them regarding that." The State asked, "Are you sure it's half and a quarter? I think it might be a third and a sixth." Fraiser noted that the crime was a Class B felony and stated, "I think this is above the line." The court stated, I think it's more likely it's above the line." Fraiser then stated, "But even if it was a third and a sixth-, " and the court interjected, stating, "Is this correct, Mr. Beavers, you were-did discuss this with Mr. Fraiser-and your father, and rejected the State's offer, is that correct?" Beavers responded affirmatively.

         The trial was rescheduled for November 14, 2013. Prior to trial, Fraiser informed the court that the State had previously made an "offer of 20 years on a reduced charge." Fraiser further stated that the offer and the parole-eligibility applications had been discussed, and the offer was rejected. The jury convicted Beavers, and he was sentenced to 25 years, of which he would have to serve 70 percent of the term of imprisonment to be eligible for parole.

         Beavers filed a petition for postconviction relief claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. At the hearing on the petition, Beavers's father, Joel Beavers, testified that Fraiser had discussed with him that his son would have to serve 70 percent of a sentence on the rape charge and that the minimum sentence was 25 years. Joel Beavers testified that when Fraiser spoke to him about the plea offer, Fraiser told him that the sentence would be 20 years. Joel Beavers further testified that he understood that to mean that the plea offer was also a 70 percent offense and that Fraiser did not explain 70 percent offenses, "above" the line offenses, or "below" the line offenses. Joel Beavers agreed that he thought there was little difference between serving 70 percent of a 25-year sentence and serving 70 percent of a 20-year sentence.

         Beavers also testified at the hearing. He testified that it was his understanding that the offer of 20 years differed only by five years from the 25-year offer. Beavers further testified that he did not know what was meant by an "above" the line offense or a "below" the line offense. He also testified that he did not know what was meant by one-quarter or one-half. He further ...


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