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Rayburn v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

February 13, 2019

RODNEY RAYBURN APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE ARKANSAS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, NORTHERN DISTRICT [NO. 01SCR-15-105] HONORABLE DAVID G. HENRY, JUDGE

          Rodney W. Rayburn, pro se appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Jason Michael Johnson, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          Harrison and Murphy, JJ., agree.

          RAYMOND R. ABRAMSON, Judge

         Following appellant Rodney Rayburn's conviction of one count of rape and one count of criminal attempt to commit rape and his unsuccessful appeal of the judgment, [1] he filed a timely petition for postconviction relief under Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37.1 (2017) in the Arkansas County Circuit Court. Rayburn now appeals the denial of the petition by the circuit court, alleging that his trial counsel was ineffective for several reasons. Because none of Rayburn's claims merit postconviction relief under the Rule, we affirm.

         At Rayburn's trial, evidence was presented to the jury that indicated Rayburn had raped his minor daughter, H.R., at least fifteen times over the course of seven years. He was sentenced to twenty-five years of imprisonment on the count of rape and fifteen years on the count of criminal attempt to commit rape with the sentences to run consecutively. On direct appeal, he argued the circuit court abused its discretion when admitting evidence of incidents other than the ones with which he had been charged, and that the circuit court's admission of cumulative testimony of prior bad acts was prejudicial to him and deprived him of a fair trial. In affirming the circuit court, we held that the evidence fell within the pedophile exception of Rule 404(b) of the Arkansas Rules of Evidence and was more probative than prejudicial. Id. The mandate was issued on April 19, 2018.

         Rayburn largely raises the same arguments on appeal that he raised in his Rule 37.1 petition, although he significantly expands on them in his appeal. Rayburn alleges that his trial counsel was ineffective because he (1) failed to call an expert witness to rebut the State's expert; (2) failed to conduct a thorough investigation to support an effective defense and to discover mitigating evidence; (3) failed to properly cross-examine the State's witnesses; and (4) failed to request a change of venue. Without conducting an evidentiary hearing, the circuit court entered its order denying Rayburn's petition on July 2, 2018.[2]

         When reviewing a circuit court's ruling on a Rule 37.1 petition, we will not reverse the circuit 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 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-pronged standard set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984), which requires a petitioner to show that his counsel's representation was deficient, and he suffered prejudice as a result. "Unless a petitioner makes both showings, it cannot be said that the conviction resulted from a breakdown in the adversarial process that renders the result unreliable." State v. Barrett, 371 Ark. 91, 96, 263 S.W.3d 542, 546 (2007).

         Pursuant to Strickland and its two-pronged standard, first a petitioner raising a claim of ineffective assistance must show that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed the petitioner by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Williams v. State, 369 Ark. 104, 251 S.W.3d 290 (2007). A petitioner making an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim must show that his counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, such that counsel committed errors so serious as to not be functioning as counsel at all. Flores v. State, 350 Ark. 198, 205-06, 85 S.W.3d 896, 901 (2002). A court must indulge in a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance. Springs v. State, 2012 Ark. 87, 387 S.W.3d 143. The burden is on the petitioner to overcome this presumption by identifying specific acts or omissions by counsel that could not have been the result of reasoned professional judgment. Bond v. State, 2013 Ark. 298, at 7-8, 429 S.W.3d 185, 191-92.

         Second, the petitioner must show that, considering the totality of the evidence before the fact-finder, counsel's deficient performance so prejudiced petitioner's defense that he was deprived of a fair trial. Springs, supra. The petitioner must show there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, the fact-finder would have had a reasonable doubt respecting guilt, i.e., the decision reached would have been different absent the errors. Howard v. State, 367 Ark. 18, 238 S.W.3d 24 (2006). A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome of the trial. Id. Unless a petitioner makes both showings, it cannot be said that the conviction resulted from a breakdown in the adversarial process that renders the result unreliable. Id.

         A petitioner bears the burden of providing sufficient facts to affirmatively support any claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. See, e.g., Smith v. State, 2010 Ark. 137, at 12, 361 S.W.3d 840, 848 (per curiam). Thus, conclusory statements, without more, cannot form the basis of postconviction relief. Id.; Hooks v. State, 2015 Ark. 258, at 7-8, 465 S.W.3d 416, 421 (per curiam) ("Neither conclusory statements nor allegations without factual substantiation are sufficient to overcome the presumption that counsel is effective and cannot provide a basis for postconviction relief."). Because Rayburn did not present sufficient facts in his petition or in his appellate brief to support his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims, Rayburn's appeal fails under the Strickland standard. E.g., Feuget v. State, 2015 Ark. 43, at 4, 454 S.W.3d 734, 738 (Unless appellant can satisfy both prongs of Strickland, he cannot prevail on an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim).

         Rayburn's first claim is that trial counsel was ineffective because he failed to call an expert witness to rebut the testimony of the State's expert. As he does throughout his subsequent claims, Rayburn greatly expands the scope and nature of the argument presented to the trial court. An appellant in a Rule 37.1 proceeding is limited to the scope and nature of the arguments made to the trial ...


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