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Beverage v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

February 9, 2017

CHRISTOPHER BEVERAGE APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE JEFFERSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 35CR-10-83, 35CR-10-602, 35CR-11-423, 35CR-12-346] HONORABLE JODI RAINES DENNIS, JUDGE.

         AFFIRMED.

          James Law Firm, by: William O. "Bill" James, Jr., and Michael Kiel Kaiser, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Rebecca Kane, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          SHAWN A. WOMACK, Associate Justice.

         Charles Beverage appeals from the Jefferson County Circuit Court's order denying his petition for postconviction relief due to ineffective assistance of counsel under Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37.1 (2015). He filed his petition for relief after pleading guilty to charges from several different cases including first-degree murder, aggravated robbery, first-degree escape, second-degree battery, and theft of property. Beverage argues that, because his counsel's failure to request a competency hearing was both deficient and prejudicial, the circuit court erred in denying his petition. For the reasons set out below, we affirm the circuit court's denial of Beverage's petition.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         Beverage and two other inmates escaped from a juvenile detention center in January 2010. During the escape, Beverage assaulted a guard and caused the officer's fatal heart attack. Beverage also assaulted additional employees and stole a vehicle in connection with the escape. The remainder of the charges stem from attacks on corrections officers while Beverage was in custody.

         Beverage's trial counsel filed an initial motion for mental evaluation after Beverage had been charged. The circuit court granted the motion. Dr. William Cochran evaluated Beverage and determined that he was competent to stand trial. Upon receiving that report, Beverage's counsel filed a motion for a supplementary forensic evaluation. The circuit court granted that motion as well. Ron Faupel, a psychologist, also concluded that Beverage was fit to stand trial. Two months later, Dr. Jill Brush-Strode reached the same determination; Beverage failed Dr. Brush-Strode's competency test, but she concluded this was due to his feigning a lack of understanding. Beverage's counsel retained Dr. Albert Kittrell to testify about Beverage's chances for rehabilitation. Dr. Kittrell did not conduct his own evaluation of Beverage's fitness for trial, but he stated that he agreed with the prior evaluators' reports.

         Beverage pleaded guilty on September 7, 2012, and was sentenced to 600 months' imprisonment. He filed his motion for postconviction relief on several grounds, including the instant claim of ineffective assistance of counsel due to his counsel's failure to request a competency hearing. The circuit court denied the petition, and this court reversed and remanded to the circuit court to conduct an evidentiary hearing in light of a gap in the record. In addition to resolving that issue on remand, the circuit court heard testimony from Beverage's mother, who asserted that she had given trial counsel a cache of medical documents that he did not review.

         The circuit court again denied relief on Beverage's petition. It explained that, in light of the independent judgment of three medical professionals and the agreement of Beverage's own witness that he was competent to stand trial, his trial counsel made a reasonable decision not to pursue the competency question further, and that decision did not prejudice Beverage.

         II. Analysis

         We review circuit court decisions on Rule 37 petitions for clear error. Adkins v. State, 2015 Ark. 336, at 1, 469 S.W.3d 790, 794 (per curiam). A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, the appellate court, after reviewing the entirety of the evidence, is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. Id. This court has adopted the United States Supreme Court's test from Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), to determine whether or not counsel was ineffective. Taylor v. State, 2013 Ark. 146, at 5, 427 S.W.3d 29, 32. The Strickland test requires both (1) that the petitioner's counsel's performance was deficient and (2) that the petitioner was prejudiced by that deficient performance. Strain v. State, 2012 Ark. 42, at 2, 394 S.W.3d 294, 297 (per curiam).

         Beverage's arguments on appeal all concern his trial counsel's failure to request a competency hearing. In order to show that trial counsel's failure to request a competency hearing was deficient, Beverage must point to errors that are outside "the wide range of reasonable professional assistance." See, e.g., Russell v. State, 2016 Ark. 190, at 2, 490 S.W.3d 654, 658. In order to satisfy the second prong of Strickland, that he was prejudiced, Beverage must demonstrate that there was a reasonable probability he would have been found incompetent to plead ...


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