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Thompson v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

October 31, 2019



          Edward Lee Thompson, pro se appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Adam Jackson, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.


         Edward Thompson sought postconviction relief based on allegations of ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). The circuit court was not persuaded by his claims and denied the petition. Thompson appeals that decision. We affirm.


         Tyler and Keye Ratley were leaving a Little Rock nightclub when they were attacked by Thompson and an accomplice. Tyler was walking behind his brother when Thompson attempted to rob him. The assailants fled when Keye ran to his brother's aid. As Keye chased after them, one of the men fatally shot him in the stomach. A witness observed the men drive away in a red P.T. Cruiser that had been reported as stolen the day before. After police recovered the stolen vehicle, they discovered Thompson's DNA inside. Thompson was later arrested after Tyler identified him in a photographic lineup.

         A jury convicted Thompson of first-degree felony murder, aggravated robbery, felony theft, and misdemeanor theft. He was sentenced to life imprisonment plus an aggregate ninety years. We were not persuaded by Thompson's arguments on direct appeal. Thompson v. State, 2015 Ark. 271, 548 S.W.3d 129. Our independent review of the record, however, revealed a reversible error. Id.; see Ark. Sup. Ct. R. 4-3(i) (2016). Thompson had been charged with capital felony murder predicated on aggravated robbery. But he was convicted of first-degree felony murder predicated on robbery. We accordingly reversed the aggravated robbery conviction and remanded with instructions for resentencing. Id. The remaining convictions and sentences were affirmed. Id.

         After resentencing, Thompson timely petitioned for Rule 37 postconviction relief. His claims were premised on allegations of constitutionally deficient counsel both at trial and on direct appeal. The circuit court determined that Thompson failed to make the requisite showings under Strickland. His petition was denied, and this appeal followed.


         The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees criminal defendants the right to the effective assistance of counsel. See Lee v. State, 2009 Ark. 255, at 3, 308 S.W.3d 596, 600. The benchmark for judging any claim of ineffectiveness 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." Id. (quoting Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984)). The standard governing Thompson's ineffective assistance of counsel claims is the familiar two-prong test established in Strickland. See Liggins v. State, 2016 Ark. 432, at 2-3, 505 S.W.3d 191, 193-94. To prevail under Strickland, Thompson must show both that his attorney's performance was constitutionally deficient and that he was prejudiced as a result. Id.

         To establish deficient performance, Thompson must show that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. Id. But judicial scrutiny of counsel's performance is highly deferential: The Strickland analysis begins with "a strong presumption that counsel's conduct fell within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance." Id. This presumption may be overcome only by showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. See Luper v. State, 2016 Ark. 371, at 3, 501 S.W.3d 812, 815-16. Thompson must identify specific acts and omissions which, when viewed from counsel's perspective at the time of trial, could not have been the result of reasonable professional judgment. Id.

         With respect to prejudice, Thompson must show "a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. (internal quotations omitted). A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome of the trial. Id. It is not enough to show that the errors had some conceivable effect on the outcome of the proceeding. State v. Fudge, 361 Ark. 412, 415, 206 S.W.3d 850, 853 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 693). Indeed, the likelihood of a different outcome must be "substantial, not just conceivable." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 112 (2011). Counsel's errors must be so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687.

         Unless Thompson satisfies both prongs, it cannot be said that his conviction resulted from a breakdown in the adversarial process that rendered the result unreliable. See Gordon v. State, 2018 Ark. 73, at 5, 539 S.W.3d 586, 591. Accordingly, there is no reason for a court "to address both components of the inquiry if the ...

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