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Harris v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

June 21, 2017

LESLIE JOHN HARRIS APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE CLARK COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 10CR-2011-54] HONORABLE ROBERT E. MCCALLUM, JUDGE

          Craig Lambert, for appellant.

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

          RAYMOND R. ABRAMSON, Judge

         Appellant Leslie John Harris appeals the order of the Clark County Circuit Court denying his petition for postconviction relief pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37.1. We assumed jurisdiction of this appeal pursuant to footnote 1 in Barnes v. State, 2017 Ark. 76, 511 S.W.3d 845 (per curiam). Harris contends that the circuit court erred in denying his petition because his trial counsel was ineffective for (1) failing to seek posttrial relief based on juror misconduct and (2) failing to ensure that his plea to the charge of possession of a firearm by certain persons was knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently entered. He also argues that, regardless of his trial counsel's performance, the circuit court erred by refusing to set aside his conviction for possession of a firearm by certain persons because he did not enter a knowing, intelligent, or voluntary plea to that charge. We affirm in part and dismiss in part.

         Harris was convicted by a Clark County jury of criminal use of a prohibited weapon, two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and simultaneous possession of drugs and firearms. This case began on March 6, 2011, when Jasmine Owens alerted a 911 dispatcher that Harris had attempted to sexually assault her at his home. Sheriff's deputies were notified that Harris was driving a black pickup truck and that Owens's purse, shoes, and jacket were inside. Harris was pulled over a short time later. After he was taken into custody, officers searched his vehicle and found brass knuckles and Owens's purse and shoes. Officers also later found drugs in the backseat of the patrol car in which Harris was transported. The police obtained a search warrant for Harris's home and found a .22-caliber rifle in a bedroom, a 9mm handgun in an air vent in the living room, ecstasy pills in the pocket of a jacket lying on a bed, digital scales, and a red jacket that Owens later identified as hers.

         Harris was charged with criminal use of a prohibited weapon, two counts of possessing a controlled substance with intent to deliver, criminal attempt to commit sexual assault, possession of a firearm by certain persons, and simultaneous possession of drugs and firearms. Before the trial, Harris's counsel, Tim Beckham, moved to sever the felon-in-possession charge from the other charges; the circuit court granted the motion. On January 19, 2012, after a jury trial on the remaining counts, a Clark County jury convicted Harris of criminal use of a prohibited weapon, two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and simultaneous possession of drugs and firearms. Harris was acquitted on the sexual-assault charge. He was sentenced to six years' imprisonment for criminal use of a prohibited weapon and forty years each on his other three convictions.

         At a hearing on January 25, 2012, at which the court was to decide the issue of consecutive versus concurrent sentences, the parties notified the court that they had reached an agreement whereby Harris pleaded no contest to the felon-in-possession charge. He was sentenced to six years for that crime, to run concurrently with the six-year sentence for criminal use of a prohibited weapon. The circuit court ran Harris's three 40-year sentences concurrently with each other but consecutively to the six-year sentences. This court affirmed Harris's conviction in Harris v. State, 2012 Ark.App. 674, and the mandate was entered on December 18, 2012.

         Harris filed a petition for relief under Rule 37 on February 19, 2013; the petition contained a proper verification. Harris petitioned the circuit court pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37 for relief from his convictions for criminal use of a prohibited weapon, possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver (two counts), possession of a firearm by certain persons, and simultaneous possession of drugs and firearms, and his sentence of forty-six years in prison, on the ground that he was convicted and sentenced in violation of his Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights to effective assistance of counsel.[1]

         In his petition, Harris alleged that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to file a motion for a new trial based on jury misconduct; that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to ensure that his plea to the charge of possession of a firearm by certain persons was knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently made; and that regardless of his trial counsel's performance, his conviction for possession of a firearm by certain persons should be set aside because he did not enter a knowing, intelligent, or voluntary plea to that charge. After a hearing on December 10, 2015, the circuit court entered an order denying the petition on February 3, 2016.[2] On appeal, Harris contends that the circuit court clearly erred by rejecting his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims and by refusing to set aside his plea.

         We do not reverse a denial of postconviction relief unless the circuit court's findings are clearly erroneous. Reed v. State, 2011 Ark. 115 (per curiam). 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.

         The benchmark question to be resolved in judging a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is whether counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just result. Norris v. State, 2013 Ark. 205, 427 S.W.3d 626 (per curiam). A Rule 37 petitioner's ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims are analyzed under the two-prong standard as set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). See Lowe v. State, 2012 Ark. 185, 423 S.W.3d 6 (per curiam). Under the Strickland test, a claimant must show that counsel's performance was deficient, and the claimant must also show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense to the extent that the appellant was deprived of a fair trial. Id. A claimant must satisfy both prongs of the test, and it is unnecessary to examine both components of the inquiry if the petitioner fails to satisfy either requirement. See Pennington v. State, 2013 Ark. 39 (per curiam).

         A petitioner claiming ineffective assistance must first show that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed to the petitioner by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Walton v. State, 2013 Ark. 254 (per curiam). There is a strong presumption that trial counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance, and an appellant has the burden of overcoming this presumption by identifying specific acts or omissions of trial counsel that when viewed from counsel's perspective at the time of the trial could not have been the result of reasonable professional judgment. Id.

         In order to meet the second prong of the test, a claimant must show that there is a reasonable probability that the fact-finder's decision would have been different absent counsel's errors. Delamar v. State, 2011 Ark. 87 (per curiam). A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome of the trial. Id. Here, Harris's ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims fail under the Strickland standard. He cannot overcome the second prong of the standard--the petitioner must show that, considering the totality of the evidence before the fact-finder, counsel's performance prejudiced his defense. Prejudice is demonstrated by showing that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's ...


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