Jones v. State, CR-19-0485

CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM.
Decision Date06 August 2021
PartiesJohn Jones v. State of Alabama
Docket NumberCR-19-0485

John Jones

State of Alabama

No. CR-19-0485

Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals

August 6, 2021

Appeal from Dallas Circuit Court (CC-14-193)


The appellant, John Jones, was convicted of murdering Alexis Hunter during the course of a robbery, an offense defined as capital by § 13A-5-40(a)(2), Ala. Code 1975. Jones, who was 17 years of age at the time of the murder, was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. This appeal followed.

The State's evidence tended to show that on December 21, 2013, Alexis Hunter was shot after she refused to give Jones her cellular telephone. The coroner testified that Alexis died instantly after a bullet entered her mouth and lodged in her brain.

Shemeria Johnson testified that she, Malisha Edwards, and Alexis Hunter were walking on the track at Selma High School going back to her house when three men approached them. The men were identified as Larry Hunter, [1] Pharlando Pickett, and John Jones. Johnson testified that the man named John told Alexis "to give it up and [Alexis] said I'm not giving you shit." (R. 243.) Johnson said that Jones shot Alexis after Alexis refused to give Jones her cellular telephone. (R. 244.)[2] After Jones shot Alexis, Johnson said, Johnson ran and Larry followed her and took her cellular telephone. Immediately after the shooting, Johnson and Edwards identified Jones as the man who shot Alexis.

Although Jones was charged and convicted of capital murder, he was not sentenced to death; therefore, we do not apply the plain-error standard of review. See Rule 45A, Ala. R. App. P.

Guilt-Phase Issues


Jones first argues that the circuit court erred in denying his attorney's motion to withdraw. Specifically, Jones argues that the circuit court failed to inquire into "ethical issues" the attorney said he had and that the failure violated Jones's state and federal right to the effective assistance of counsel. (Jones's brief, p. 17.)

The record shows that in September 2019 counsel moved to withdraw from representing Jones. The entire motion stated: "Counsel is required to withdraw pursuant to the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct." (C. 180.) At a pretrial hearing, the following occurred:

"[Defense Counsel]: Well, first, I have a motion to withdraw and the others are, kind of -- ought to be argued at a different date if you grant that. It's based on the Rules of Professional Conduct, several, and I would be happy if the Court wants to, talk to you in camera about it but I think there would be a problem for me to say anything either publicly or in the presence of the prosecution
"THE COURT: Well, I don't know if an in camera conversation is not an ex parte. If you want to be heard on your motion to withdraw, I guess you could say it
"[Defense counsel]: Well, the Court can, as is customary, accept my word that I have an ethical matter that compels that.
"THE COURT: I will deny the motion to withdraw."

(R. 82-83.) A few minutes later, counsel stated: "[T]he issues upon which I sought withdrawal, are complex ...." (R. 86.) The above-quoted exchanges are the extent of the facts surrounding this issue that appear in the record. Counsel made no offer of proof and gave the court no indication of what constituted the "ethical issues" to which Jones refers in his brief on appeal.

" '[T]he decision whether to remove an appointed counsel and appoint another counsel for defendant is within the sound discretion of the trial court.' Crawford v. State, 479 So.2d 1349, 1355 (Ala. Cr. App. 1985). See also, Tudhope v. State, 364 So.2d 708 (Ala. Cr. App. 1978). Moreover, the right to counsel of one's choice is not absolute, as is the right to assistance of counsel. United States v. Gray, 565 F.2d 881, 997 (5th Cir. 1978), cert. denied, 435 U.S. 955, 98 S.Ct. 1587, 55 L.Ed.2d. 807 (1978). The right to choose counsel may not be subverted to obstruct the orderly procedure in the court or to interfere with the fair administration of justice. United States v. Sexton, 473 F.2d 512 (5th Cir. 1973)."

Briggs v. State, 549 So.2d 155, 160 (Ala.Crim.App.1989).

"To warrant a substitution of counsel, there must be an actual conflict of interest or an irreconcilable conflict between counsel and the defendant so great that it resulted in a total lack of communication that prevented an adequate defense." Floyd v. State, 289 So.3d 337, 383 (Ala.Crim.App.2017).

This Court in Scott v. State, 937 So.2d 1065 (Ala.Crim.App.2005), addressed a similar issue and stated:

"[The appellant] contends that an actual conflict of interest existed. Defense counsel presented no evidence to support this assertion when they filed the motion to withdraw, and they did not present any evidence in support of this claim during the hearing on the motion for a new trial. In fact, when defense counsel raised the issue in the motion for a new trial, they stated that they had moved to withdraw 'because of the conflict that was created, not by -- not by anyone other than the defendant, himself. He created a conflict, not by -- it wasn't created by the Court, it wasn't created by the State, but it was created by the defendant and some potential witnesses.' (R. 1152-53.)
"As the State has argued, Scott failed to demonstrate either that a conflict of interest existed or that the alleged conflict adversely affected counsel's performance. Without such proof, Scott has failed to establish a constitutional violation. Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U.S. 335, 348, 100 S.Ct. 1708, 64 L.Ed.2d 333 (1980).
"Furthermore, the motion to withdraw was made on the morning of trial, after nearly three years had passed from the date of the crimes; without question, the witnesses who had appeared for trial would have been inconvenienced if the motion had been granted. Finally, because Scott failed even to allege any facts regarding the nature of the controversy, it was possible, if not probable, that new counsel would be confronted with the same conflict. These factors, too, supported the trial court's denial of the motion to withdraw."

Scott v. State, 937 So.2d at 1081-82.

Jones presented no evidence to support the motion to withdraw even after the circuit court gave counsel an opportunity to provide an explanation. Without more, we cannot say that the circuit court abused its considerable discretion in denying counsel's motion to withdraw. See Scott, supra. Accordingly, Jones is due no relief on this claim.


Jones also contends that the circuit court erred in finding that he was mentally competent to stand trial. Specifically, Jones argues that the court ignored the medical testimony and additional evidence allegedly showing that Jones was incompetent.

"A defendant is mentally incompetent to stand trial or to be sentenced for an offense if that defendant lacks sufficient present ability to assist in his or her defense by consulting with counsel with a reasonable degree of rational understanding of the facts and the legal proceedings against the defendant." Rule 11.1, Ala. R. Crim. P.

The record shows that in August 2015 Jones's counsel moved that he be mentally evaluated to determine his mental state at the time of the murder and his competency to stand trial. (C. 84-85.) In this motion, Jones alleged that he had been diagnosed with a mental deficiency and with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder ("ADHD") and that counsel questioned whether he could meaningfully assist in his defense at trial. (C. 85.) An affidavit, executed by Jones's mother, Bessie Jones, stated that at the age of six Jones was diagnosed with borderline intellectual functioning and that he had been in special-education classes. In response to this motion, the court ordered that Jones be sent to Taylor Hardin Secure Medical Facility ("Taylor Hardin") so that he could be evaluated.

In November 2015, a report prepared by Dr. Robert L. Bare, a psychologist, was submitted to the circuit court. Dr. Bare found that Jones did not appear to understand the charges against him. (C. 537-47.)[3]However, Dr. Bare cautioned: "I believe Mr. Jones may have attempted to exaggerate intellectual and psychiatric disabilities that he may experience and that he may not have been providing information in an entirely forthright manner." (C. 542-43.) Dr. Bare's findings were based on a test that he administered to Jones called the Inventory of Legal Knowledge. (C. 545.) Dr. Bare further stated:

"During the current evaluation, Mr. Jones's presentation was suggestive of an individual with severe cognitive limitations who reported active auditory and visual hallucinations, but this does not appear consistent with previous records. Testing conducted during the current evaluation suggested that Mr. Jones was intentionally answering questions related to issues of his competency in an incorrect manner. I believe that if Mr. Jones attempted to answer questions in an appropriate manner, he might demonstrate the skills necessary to assist in his defense."

(R. 546.) Dr. Bare wrote that Jones's answers showed that he did not understand the charges against him, that he could not explain the role of court personnel, and that he was unaware of whether defendants were required to testify. Based on the severity of the charges against Jones, Dr. Bare recommended that Jones be admitted to Taylor Hardin to undergo treatment and observation. (C. 546.) Dr. Bare deferred making a recommendation concerning Jones's mental state at the time of the offense until "the court determines whether Mr. Jones is capable of proceeding with his defense." (R. 546.)

In December 2015, the parties stipulated that Jones was not competent to stand trial, and the circuit court ordered that Jones be committed to Taylor Hardin. The criminal proceedings against Jones were continued pending a finding that he was competent to...

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