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Watson v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

March 7, 2018

AARON DEWAYNE WATSON APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE WOODRUFF COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 74CR-13-44] HONORABLE RICHARD L. PROCTOR, JUDGE

          Robert M. "Robby" Golden, for appellant.

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

          RITA W. GRUBER, CHIEF JUDGE.

         A Woodruff County jury found appellant Aaron Dewayne Watson guilty of theft of property in excess of $25, 000 and commercial burglary. He was sentenced by the jury to six years in prison for each offense with the sentences to run consecutively. On appeal, appellant argues that the circuit court erred by failing to suspend court proceedings and order a mental evaluation to determine his fitness to proceed at trial. We reverse and remand.

         On May 31, 2013, the State charged appellant with theft of property in violation of Ark. Code Ann. § 5-36-193 and commercial burglary in violation of Ark. Code Ann. § 5-39-201, both of which were alleged to have occurred on April 22, 2013. Appellant's first trial resulted in a mistrial. The second trial was held in March 2016. The sentencing order was filed on March 2, 2016, and appellant filed a timely notice of appeal on April 1, 2016.

         Appellant's arguments on appeal relate only to his requests for a mental evaluation and the circuit court's denial of the requests. The circuit court entered two orders denying his motion for mental evaluation. In the first order entered January 22, 2015, the court denied the motion and found that appellant was competent to proceed to trial. The second order entered on July 17, 2015, denied the motion and also stated that appellant was competent to proceed to trial. Both orders indicate that appellant was represented by counsel; however, the second order was prepared by Teresa Bloodman, who was permitted to withdraw as indicated by an order entered on January 22, 2015, and was entered at a time when appellant represented himself.

         After the record on appeal was lodged, appellant's subsequent counsel filed a motion to be relieved and Robert Golden was appointed by this court to represent appellant. Golden filed a motion to remand to settle the record "with regard to the requests and denials of appellant's motion for a mental evaluation." The motion provided that the record contained two orders denying appellant's motions for mental evaluations; the record did not contain any written motions for mental evaluations or a transcript of any hearing where a motion was made orally; the circuit clerk searched for any written filings that may have been left out of the record on appeal, and none were found; and Golden contacted Alvin Simes, previous counsel for appellant, along with Teresa Bloodman, who informed him that his memory was that the request for mental evaluation was made during a telephone conference with the court and it was not on the record. We granted appellant's motion to remand to settle the record.

         Upon remand, the trial court held a hearing on August 29, 2017. Appellant, Golden, and the prosecutor John Bell were present at the hearing. Golden stated that when the second trial was set to begin on December 15, 2014, appellant was represented by Bloodman and Simes. Golden indicated that he spoke to Simes, who provided a copy of a motion filed December 11, 2014. This motion, entitled "Notice Pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 5-2-304 and Motion for Evaluation, " was introduced at the hearing. Golden stated that he assumed this was the motion the court denied when it signed the order January 3, 2015. The order was filed on January 22, 2015. The court permitted Bloodman and Simes to be relieved as counsel on January 3, 2015, as indicated by the order entered January 22, 2015.[1]

         At the remand hearing, the circuit court recalled a telephone conversation with appellant. Appellant was sworn under oath and the following colloquy took place:

The Court: Sorry to have to put you under oath, but since we're going to be, and you're not the attorney, we need to talk to you.
That's the way I recall it, that Mr. Simes filed something and this was, I was in my office and I received a telephone call, as I recall.
Defendant Watson: Sir, I sir ---
The Court: And you did not want a mental evaluation, at ...

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