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Williams v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

October 24, 2019

FRED L. WILLIAMS APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

          PRO SE APPEAL FROM THE DREW COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT; MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT AND FOR EXPEDIENT REVIEW OF APPEAL AND RELIEF OF CUSTODY; AMENDMENT TO DEFAULT JUDGMENT MOTION AND MOTION FOR EXPEDIENT REVIEW, DOUBLE JEOPARDY HELD; MOTION FOR SUBMISSION OF APPELLANT'S BELATED REPLY BRIEF [NO. 22CR-13-43] HONORABLE SAM POPE, JUDGE

          Fred L. Williams, pro se appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Kent Holt, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          JOHN DAN KEMP, CHIEF JUSTICE

         Appellant Fred L. Williams brings this pro se appeal from the denial by the trial court of his claims for postconviction relief that were raised pursuant to Rule 37.1 (2016) of the Arkansas Rules of Criminal Procedure. Also pending before this court are Williams's motion for default judgment, for expedient review of appeal and relief of custody; "amendment to default judgment motion and motion for expedient review, double jeopardy held"; and his motion for submission of a belated reply brief. Because Williams raised claims that are not cognizable in Rule 37.1 proceedings and also failed to establish prejudice as a basis to support his multiple ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims, we affirm the trial court's order, which renders Williams's motions moot.

         Williams was found guilty of murder in the first degree and abuse of a corpse for which an aggregate sentence of life imprisonment was imposed. Williams was sentenced as a habitual offender. We affirmed the conviction and the sentence. Williams v. State, 2015 Ark. 316, 468 S.W.3d 776.

         Williams subsequently filed a timely petition for Rule 37.1 relief, contending that his right to due process was violated as a result of juror misconduct, prosecutorial misconduct, and an illegal search. Williams also raised multiple ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims. Two hearings were held on Williams's Rule 37.1 petition. The trial court denied relief on the basis that Williams had failed to provide sufficient supporting evidence to establish he had been prejudiced under the standard set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), for a determination of effective assistance of counsel.

         In this appeal, we consider only those claims that were raised in Williams's Rule 37.1 petition and ruled on by the trial court. Gordon v. State, 2018 Ark. 73, 539 S.W.3d 586; State v. Grisby, 370 Ark. 66, 257 S.W.3d 104 (2007). Those claims are in two categories-trial error and allegations that trial counsel was ineffective. The claims of trial error are (1) that the evidence presented at trial was the result of an illegal search and seizure; (2) that juror misconduct occurred at the trial; and (3) that the prosecutor made improper comments to the jury. The claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are (1) that trial counsel failed to investigate the affidavit supporting the search warrant; (2) that trial counsel failed to thoroughly investigate the AT&T phone records; (3) that trial counsel failed to rebut the testimony of the medical examiner, Dr. Adam Craig; (4) that trial counsel failed to object to the prosecutor's conduct; and (5) that trial counsel failed to preserve or raise issues on appeal.

         I. Trial-Error Claims

         Rule 37 was not intended to provide a method for the review of mere error in the conduct of the trial or to serve as a substitute for a direct appeal of the judgment. Lane v. State, 2019 Ark. 5, 564 S.W.3d 524; Hulsey v. State, 268 Ark. 312, 595 S.W.2d 934 (1980). Claims of an illegal search, juror misconduct, and prosecutorial misconduct cannot be raised in a Rule 37 proceeding. Howard v. State, 367 Ark. 18, 238 S.W.3d 24 (2006); Cigainero v. State, 321 Ark. 533, 906 S.W.2d 282 (1995). Therefore, the only cognizable claims are the ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims that Williams raised below and reasserted on appeal.

         II. Strickland Standard

         Our standard for ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims is the two-prong analysis set forth in Strickland, 466 U.S. 668. McClinton v. State, 2018 Ark. 116, 542 S.W.3d 859. The benchmark for judging a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel must be "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." Id. at 3-4, 542 S.W.3d at 862 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 686). To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, the petitioner must show that (1) counsel's performance was deficient and (2) the deficient performance prejudiced his defense. Id. Unless a petitioner makes both showings, the allegations do not meet the benchmark on review for granting relief on a claim of ineffective assistance. Id. A court need not address both components of the inquiry if the petitioner makes an insufficient showing on one. Carter v. State, 2015 Ark. 166, 460 S.W.3d 781. In order to demonstrate prejudice, 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. Douglas v. State, 2018 Ark. 89, 540 S.W.3d 685. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome of the trial. Id. Conclusory statements that counsel was ineffective cannot be the basis for postconviction relief. Id.

         III. Standard of Review

         This court reviews the trial court's decision on a Rule 37.1 petition for clear error. Russell v. State, 2017 Ark. 174, 518 S.W.3d 674. A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, the appellate court, after reviewing the totality of the evidence, is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. Polivka v. State, 2010 Ark. 152, 362 S.W.3d 918. When considering an appeal from a trial court's denial of a Rule 37.1 petition based on ineffective assistance of counsel, the sole question presented is whether, based on a totality of the evidence under the standard set forth by the ...


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