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Jones v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

September 15, 2016



          Jeff Rosenzweig, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Kathryn Henry, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          KAREN R. BAKER, Associate Justice

         On August 7, 2012, appellant, Quenton Vernard Jones, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, criminal attempt to commit first-degree murder, a firearm enhancement, and an enhancement because the crime was committed in the presence of a child. Jones appeals from the circuit court's denial of his petition for post-conviction relief. We affirm.

         On August 28, 2012, Jones filed a pro se motion for ineffective assistance of counsel asserting that he did not voluntarily plead guilty, which the circuit court treated as a plea-withdrawal motion. On October 30, 2012, without conducting a hearing, the circuit court denied the motion. On November 9, 2012, through counsel, Jones filed a motion to set aside the circuit court's order, and on November 19, 2012, without a hearing, the circuit court denied Jones's motion. On November 30, 2012, Jones filed a motion for reconsideration and on December 6, 2012, the circuit court denied the motion. On June 5, 2013, Jones was sentenced to 55 years' imprisonment, and on July 12, 2013, the circuit court entered an order to that effect.

         On October 4, 2013, Jones filed a Rule 37 petition. The petition asserted that, prior to the entry of the plea, Jones's counsel, Ron Davis, had limited conversations with Jones concerning facts and legal issues in the case and that Davis had refused to provide him with discovery materials. Further, Jones alleged that when Davis approached Jones about the plea, he gave Jones the impression that Jones would receive a suspended sentence because of counsel's close relationship with the judge, whom he referred to as his fraternity brother. Additionally, the petition asserted that Davis never informed him about the sentencing enhancements and that he learned that he would face a substantial amount of prison time only after he entered his guilty pleas. The petition also asserted that, but for his counsel's ineffective assistance, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have gone to trial. The circuit court denied Jones's petition without a hearing. Jones appealed and we reversed and remanded the matter to the circuit court for an evidentiary hearing and held that the circuit court had applied the wrong standard to Jones's petition. Jones v. State, 2015 Ark. 119, at 6.[1]

         On August 28, 2015, the circuit court conducted a hearing. At the hearing, Jones testified that he would not have entered his plea if he had proper information and proper representation from his counsel, Ron Davis. Jones testified that Davis told Jones that there was "no defense, " that the judge was a fraternity brother of Davis's, and that the judge would give Jones the minimum sentence due to Davis's relationship with the judge. Jones further testified that Davis visited him in jail two or three times for short visits. Jones testified that Davis stated that Davis was due a favor from the court, that Jones could get the minimum sentence, and that Davis would work on getting a "couple of years" suspended from his sentence. Jones also testified that the enhancements had not been explained to him and that he believed he would be sentenced to ten years. Jones further testified that Davis failed to investigate witnesses, Ivor Gordon and Edwina Martin. On cross-examination, Jones testified that, in addition to the jail visits, he visited with Davis six times prior to entering his plea and also talked with Davis at the Little Rock Police Department. Jones also testified on cross-examination that although the enhancements were listed on his plea agreement, he consented to the agreement, and he did not ask questions, but he testified that the enhancements were not explained to him. Jones also testified that he was threatened by Ivor Gordon, which was a factor in entering the plea.

         Anthony Brown, Jones's stepfather, testified that he had encouraged Jones to take the plea. He further testified that Davis met with the family, and Davis told Brown that he had influence with the judge and that he had additional influence with the judge because Davis's wife was an employee with the police department. On cross-examination, Brown testified that at times it was difficult to reach Davis, that he did not have specific complaints, but rather that Davis did not put on a good defense and did not give Jones information.

         Penny Brown, Jones's mother, testified that Davis did not meet with Jones other than for a few scarce visits and testified that Davis was not honest with Jones and his family because the family believed he was not guilty. Brown also testified that Davis opined that there was not a defense for Jones.

         Lupion Vernard Jones, Jones's father, testified that he had encouraged Jones to enter the plea agreement. Lupion also testified that he met with Davis at the Joneses' home, and Davis stated that if Jones took the plea, he would probably be out of prison in five to ten years and also stated that he and the judge were fraternity brothers and that the judge was going to go easy on sentences.

         Davis, testified that he had been hired by Jones's mother and his stepfather to represent Jones. Davis testified that, prior to Jones entering his plea, he met with Jones approximately seven times, including three occasions where he discussed the specifics of his case, and that he met with Jones's family two or three times. Davis further testified that he explained to Jones and his family that he knew the particular judge, how he knew the judge, and that the judge would be fair and reasonable. Davis further testified that he never indicated that Jones would receive special consideration or a favor because Davis knew the judge. Davis testified that because of the egregious facts in the case-a child witnessing a murder-Davis advised that it was best for Jones to be sentenced by a judge and not a jury. Davis testified that he did not have a special relationship with the judge. Davis further testified that he did not interview Edwina Martin because she did not want to speak with him, and that because codefendant Ivor Gordon was represented by counsel, the Rules of Professional Conduct did not allow him to visit with Gordon.

         On cross-examination, Davis testified that he and the judge had been in the same fraternity which is a national organization, and that the two did not attend the same institution. Davis further testified that when he mentioned the specific judge and how he thought the judge would handle the case, he also discussed all of the sitting criminal circuit judges and told the Jones family what the different judges were likely to do in a situation such as Jones's case. Davis testified that, of those circuit court judges, he opined that the judge in Jones's case had demonstrated to him in the past that he was fair in sentencing and explained his opinion to the Jones family. Finally, the record demonstrates that when Jones entered his plea, he stated that he was aware of the terms in the agreement, understood it, and voluntarily entered into the plea agreement.

         On October 8, 2015, the circuit court denied Jones's petition. Jones timely appealed and presents one issue on appeal: the circuit court should have granted relief and vacated Jones's convictions.

         "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. Kemp v. State, 347 Ark. 52, 55, 60 S.W.3d 404, 406 (2001). 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 ...

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