Williams v. State

Decision Date16 June 1987
Docket NumberNo. 1284S475,1284S475
Citation508 N.E.2d 1264
PartiesRodney WILLIAMS, Appellant (Defendant Below), v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff Below).
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Clifford M. Davenport, Indianapolis, for appellant.

Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen., Jody Cusson-Cobb, Deputy Atty. Gen., Indianapolis, for appellee.

SHEPARD, Chief Justice.

The attorney who represented appellant Rodney Williams at trial sought to withdraw just ten days before trial. Although the court denied the motion, counsel did nothing to prepare for trial during the following five days and did not present evidence on behalf of his client. Williams claims that he received ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment. He is correct.

Williams was convicted of robbery, a class A felony, Ind.Code Sec. 35-42-5-1 (Burns 1979). He was sentenced to an enhanced term of forty years in prison. His conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. Williams v. State (1981), 275 Ind. 603, 419 N.E.2d 134.

This appeal arises from the trial court's denial of a petition for post-conviction relief in which Williams alleged that he was denied the effective representation of counsel at trial and on direct appeal. The post-conviction court found that claim unpersuasive and denied his petition. Williams, as petitioner, had the burden of establishing his grounds for relief by a preponderance of the evidence. Rule PC 1, Sec. 5, Ind. Rules of Procedure for Post-Conviction Remedies. To prevail on appeal from denial of post-conviction relief, Williams must satisfy this Court that the evidence as a whole leads unerringly and unmistakingly to a conclusion opposite to that reached by the trial court. Lowe v. State (1983), Ind., 455 N.E.2d 1126.

Williams was accused of forcibly taking a purse from a woman in her parked car on February 21, 1978. He was arrested five days later. Williams was unemployed and without funds, so on March 8 the court appointed a public defender to represent him. Williams' mother, Dora Williams, subsequently sought the services of a private attorney to represent him. Mrs. Williams, a domestic worker, gave the attorney $100 and agreed to give him an additional $50 per week until the remainder of his fee was paid. It is undisputed that she failed to make any of the promised payments. In a letter to Williams dated May 17, 1978, counsel stated that he could no longer represent Williams: "I simply cannot afford to spend the time to defend those kind of charges for $100.00."

Mrs. Williams testified at the post-conviction hearing that she stopped making payments at her son's request because he said that counsel no longer was on the case. At the time, counsel had not entered an appearance on Williams' behalf, and the public defender had been appearing with Williams in court.

Trial counsel testified at the post-conviction hearing that he "must have" received additional money or further assurances of payment from the Williams family sometime between May 17 and June 1, 1978. Those actions prompted him to file an appearance on behalf of Williams on June 1, 1978. Thereafter, the public defender ceased representing Williams. Williams and his mother testified at the post-conviction hearing that they believed private counsel was not representing Williams in June 1978 and that they did not authorize him to make an appearance.

Counsel failed to attend a June 23rd hearing on the State's motion to amend the information by interlineation. However, he filed a notice of alibi on July 11th. He also attended a pre-trial conference on July 13th at which he assured the trial court that he would remain in the case if the court granted his motion for continuance of the July 20th trial date. The continuance was granted. Counsel made several court appearances with Williams over the next three months and filed a motion for change of judge on September 1.

Counsel never received any payment other than the original $100 from the Williams family, despite their fee agreement. On November 3rd, he filed a motion to withdraw for failure to pay fees. A hearing on the motion was scheduled for November 8th, but counsel reported that he was ill and could not attend. The trial court nonetheless proceeded to deny the motion, ruling that it was untimely in light of the scheduled November 13th trial date.

On the first day of trial, counsel renewed his motion to withdraw, stating that he was unprepared to represent Williams because Williams had lacked the money to finance a proper investigation and defense. He said Williams' poverty prevented him from deposing the State's witnesses and two crucial alibi witnesses from Chicago. (Trial counsel explained in the post-conviction hearing that the alibi witnesses had indicated that they had no money to travel to Indianapolis for the trial, and Williams' own indigency prevented him from providing those funds.) Counsel said he had not even interviewed any of the State's witnesses. 1

In light of the obstacles which Williams faced in presenting a defense, his attorney argued that failure to grant a continuance and appoint a public defender before trial would deny Williams due process of law. The trial court again denied the motion to withdraw, noting that the case had been pending for more than eight months, that counsel had filed his appearance in the case more than five months earlier and that the questions raised by defense counsel's request should have been raised long before the first day of trial.

The trial proceeded. Testimony showed that the victim and another witness had viewed a photographic array immediately after the crime and had identified Williams as the robber. The victim also identified Williams as her attacker during a pre-trial line-up and in court. The State established that the robber attempted to flee in a car belonging to a member of Williams' family and that Williams was driving the same car when he was arrested. Defense counsel aggressively pursued evidentiary objections and cross-examination of the State's witnesses. However, he rested the defense case without presenting any evidence, despite the earlier notice of alibi.

Williams had provided the names of the two alibi witnesses to his private attorney in March. Williams claimed that those witnesses could testify that he was staying with them in Chicago when this crime occurred. Counsel contacted the two witnesses, but he was unable to interview them at length. 2 They told him that they could not afford to travel to Indianapolis, according to counsel. By the time of the post-conviction proceeding, one of those witnesses, Junior Johnson, had died. The other witness was living in Ann Arbor, Michigan; her absence from the hearing was not explained. However, Joyce Johnson testified at the post-conviction hearing that she saw Williams in Chicago several times between February 19 and February 25, including the day of the crime in Indianapolis. She conceded, though, that she did not see Williams at 4 a.m. that day, leaving open the possibility that Williams could have travelled to Indianapolis after seeing Joyce Johnson and returned to Chicago after committing the robbery.

To succeed on a claim of ineffectiveness of counsel, appellant must prove that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness under prevailing professional norms. Appellant also must prove that counsel's failure to function was so prejudicial as to deprive him of a fair trial. A fair trial is denied when the conviction or sentence resulted from a breakdown in the adversarial process that rendered the result unreliable. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). To meet his burden, appellant must overcome by strong and convincing evidence a presumption that counsel has prepared and executed his client's defense effectively. Terry v. State (1984), Ind., 465 N.E.2d 1085.

Ineffectiveness of counsel revolves around the particular facts of each case. This Court will not speculate about what may have been the most advantageous strategy, and isolated bad tactics or inexperience does not necessarily amount to ineffective assistance. Mato v. State (1985), Ind., 478 N.E.2d 57. Nonetheless, perfunctory representation does not satisfy the mandates of the Sixth Amendment. Magley v. State (1975), 263 Ind. 618, 335 N.E.2d 811.

The undisputed facts, standing alone, clearly establish that Williams received ineffective assistance. Williams' attorney stated both before the trial court and in the post-conviction proceeding that he was unprepared to represent Williams at trial. He admitted his failure to interview any of the State's witnesses. His only contact with the alibi witnesses was by telephone, and he failed to subpoena any of them. Despite his knowledge that these witnesses would not attend the trial without the provision of travel funds, which Williams did not have, counsel failed to inform the court of this predicament until the first day of trial. Likewise, counsel did not indicate that Williams required public funds for depositions until the morning of trial, although he regarded deposing both the alibi witnesses and the State's witnesses as necessary for a proper defense.

The record reveals no additional investigation or preparation by Williams' attorney during the five days between the ruling on his motion to withdraw and the first day of trial. Such inaction is particularly disturbing in light of the possible seventy-year prison sentence Williams faced upon conviction. 3 While we appreciate counsel's frustration in having to represent a client who had breached an employment agreement, it does not justify his apparent refusal to invest any time in preparing an adequate defense for Williams once the motion to withdraw was denied. The Code of Professional Responsibility and the attorney's oath does not exempt from professional norms those attorneys who are not fully compensated by their clients. Indeed, the ABA...

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