In two recent cases the Arkansas Supreme Court has reversed the trial court for not conducting hearings on Rule 37 petitions alleging ineffective assistance of counsel.
In Robert Lee Sandrelli v. State, 2016 Ark. 103, the appellant raised three arguments for ineffective assistance of counsel. First, the attorney had resigned as managing public defender and was under emotional and professional stress. Second, the attorney failed to call any witnesses on Sandrelli’s behalf. Third, the attorney unilaterally decided that Sandrelli should not testify.
On the first issue, the Court affirmed the trial court because Sandrelli did not argue how the attorney’s stress caused him to under perform at trial. However, the Court agreed that a hearing was necessary on the last two issues. The Court noted that calling witnesses is generally a matter of trial strategy; however, even trial strategy must be reasonable. Here, there was no testimony to support the notion that the failure to call witnesses was reasonable trial strategy. On point three, the Court failed to address why it was granting a hearing, but presumably did so for the same reasons as point two.
In Trozzie Lavelle Turner v. State, 2016 Ark 96, the appellate argued that trial counsel failed to argue that a speedy-trial violation should have resulted in a bar to prosecution. The trial court failed to hold a hearing; instead, simply stating that the time to try the case was chargeable to the defense, not the State. The Arkansas Supreme Court held that the record was insufficient to demonstrate that the argument had no merit and remanded for a hearing on the matter.