Woods v. State

Decision Date23 November 1998
Docket NumberNo. 06S00-9403-PD-224,06S00-9403-PD-224
Citation701 N.E.2d 1208
PartiesDavid Leon WOODS, Appellant (Petitioner below), v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Respondent below).
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

David C. Stebbins, Columbus, Ohio, Joe Keith Lewis, Marion, for Appellant.

Jeffrey A. Modisett, Attorney General, James D. Dimitri, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, for Appellee.

BOEHM, Justice.

David Leon Woods was convicted of murder and robbery and sentenced to death. He appeals the denial of his petition for postconviction relief challenging the effectiveness of his trial counsel. This case presents a frequently encountered issue. The trial court found that the claim of ineffective representation was waived for failure to raise the issue on direct appeal. Woods contends that the trial record was not sufficiently developed to assess the merits of this claim on direct appeal. In brief, although ineffective assistance occasionally lends itself to resolution on direct appeal, we hold that a Sixth Amendment claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel may be presented for the first time in a petition for postconviction relief. However, if ineffective assistance of trial counsel is raised on direct appeal, it will be foreclosed in postconviction proceedings. Turning to the merits of Woods' claim, we affirm the trial court's denial of relief.

Background and Standard of Review

In the early morning hours of April 7, 1984, Woods went to seventy-seven-year-old Juan Placentia's apartment in Garrett, Indiana and stabbed him to death. Woods and accomplice Greg Sloan then took Placentia's television and later sold it. The full account of these crimes is outlined in Woods' direct appeal affirming the convictions and sentence. Woods v. State, 547 N.E.2d 772 (Ind.1989), aff'd on reh'g, 557 N.E.2d 1325 (Ind.1990). Because Woods appeals from a negative judgment, this Court will reverse the denial of postconviction relief only if the evidence as a whole leads unerringly and unmistakably to a decision opposite that reached by the postconviction court. Spranger v. State, 650 N.E.2d 1117, 1119-20 (Ind.1995). In this review, findings of fact are accepted unless "clearly erroneous," Ind. Trial Rule 52(A), but no deference is accorded conclusions of law. State v. Van Cleave, 674 N.E.2d 1293, 1295-96 (Ind.1996), reh'g granted in part, 681 N.E.2d 181 (Ind.1997), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 118 S.Ct. 1060, 140 L.Ed.2d 121 (1998). The postconviction court is the sole judge of the weight of the evidence and the credibility of witnesses. See, e.g., Stewart v. State, 517 N.E.2d 1230, 1231 (Ind.1988).

I. Woods' Principal Ineffectiveness Claim

Four months before trial began, Woods' court-appointed attorney, Charles Rhetts Jr., was allowed to withdraw from the representation due to a possible conflict of interest. Allen Wharry and Douglas Johnston replaced Rhetts and defended Woods at trial. As explained in Part VI below, Woods now argues that Rhetts' conflict of interest and failure to disclose the details of the conflict to Woods or his new lawyers tainted the entire trial. After Woods was convicted, Wharry filed a motion to correct error. Under the law at that time, this motion controlled the issues available on direct appeal. Ward v State, 519 N.E.2d 561, 562 (Ind.1988). No claim of ineffective assistance was raised in the motion. New counsel was then appointed to represent Woods on direct appeal.

The postconviction court found that any claim of ineffective assistance based on the conflict was waived for failure to present the issue on direct appeal. In this appeal, the State contends that even if ineffective assistance was not waived, the claim fails on its merits. Woods maintains that the claim is available on collateral review because the facts supporting the claim--the details of the conflict--were not apparent from the trial record on direct appeal. For this reason, he contends that successor trial counsel Wharry cannot reasonably have been expected to present the issue in the motion to correct error so as to preserve it for direct appeal. 1 Woods also raises other grounds to support his claim of ineffective assistance.

II. The Varying Forms of Ineffective Assistance Claims

Woods' claim is based solely on the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. 2 Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984) established the two-part test of incompetent performance and prejudice for adjudicating challenges to the effectiveness of trial representation. The competence prong ultimately presents a single overarching issue of whether counsel's performance, as a whole, fell below "an objective standard of reasonableness" based on "prevailing professional norms." Id. at 685, 104 S.Ct. 2052. "Isolated poor strategy, bad tactics, a mistake, carelessness or inexperience do not necessarily amount to ineffective counsel unless, taken as a whole, the defense was inadequate." Davis v. State, 675 N.E.2d 1097, 1100 (Ind.1996) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Nearly fifteen years of practice under Strickland demonstrates that "ineffective assistance of counsel" embraces a number of quite different issues. Evaluating the assertion that availability of ineffective assistance in postconviction proceedings should be driven by the state of the record on direct appeal requires an analysis of the diverse nature of these contentions.

For purposes of the question presented today, issues supporting an ineffectiveness claim can be separated into three broad categories. Some can be evaluated on the face of the trial record ("record errors"). Examples are failure to tender or object to an instruction or failure to object to inadmissible evidence where the failure is outside the range of reasonable professional judgment and its prejudicial effect is clear. In those situations, there may be no need for delay or the taking of extrinsic evidence on the competence prong of Strickland because the claim may be resolved from the face of the trial record. 3 If so, the interest of prompt resolution of the matter favors permitting it to be raised on direct appeal. For example, in Pemberton v. State, 560 N.E.2d 524 (Ind.1990), trial counsel aggressively litigated a motion to suppress that challenged the admissibility of a suggestive "show-up" identification, but inexplicably failed to object at trial to preserve the issue for appeal. In holding that this amounted to deficient performance, this Court reasoned that "[t]here is no conceivable rational basis upon which to predicate a decision not to object. This can in no way be characterized as a strategical or tactical decision gone awry." Id. at 527. See also Allen v. State, 686 N.E.2d 760, 778 (Ind.1997) (distinguishing Pemberton on the ground that "counsel's decision to file a motion in limine instead of a motion to suppress could well have rested on strategic reasons"), petition for cert. filed, 67 U.S.L.W. 3434 (U.S. Aug. 28, 1998) (No. 98-5855). Because the omission was found to be inexcusable and prejudicial as a matter of law, the claim was resolvable on direct appeal without extrinsic evidence.

Far more common, however, are issues that are not visible at all on the trial record, or that require additional record development to assess either the competence of the attorney or the prejudice resulting from the claimed error. These contentions may require an investigation of facts far beyond the record, and sometimes beyond the knowledge of either trial or appellate counsel, to establish substandard counsel performance ("extra-record errors"). Typical examples may be failure to pursue a factual defense of alibi or insanity or, as in this case, an undisclosed conflict of interest.

Finally, much confusion is generated by issues that are based on an action taken on the record, but whose evaluation requires a showing to rebut the presumption of counsel competence. An example of such a "hybrid" contention is an act or omission on the record that is perhaps within the range of acceptable tactical choices counsel might have made, but in the particular instance is claimed to be made due to unacceptable ignorance of the law or some other egregious failure rising to the level of deficient attorney performance. Kimmelman v. Morrison, 477 U.S. 365, 383-87, 106 S.Ct. 2574, 91 L.Ed.2d 305 (1986). 4 The requirement of a showing of the allegedly unacceptable basis for the error derives from the presumption of attorney competence. 5 Because we assume competence, if an action or omission is in the range of reasonable attorney behavior, it can support a claim of ineffective assistance only if that presumption is overcome by specific evidence as to the performance of the particular lawyer. Where no evidence of deficient representation is presented, therefore, the claim fails. 6 The reasoning of trial counsel is sometimes apparent from the trial record. 7 However, in assessing hybrid contentions it is often necessary for an additional record to be developed to show the reason for an act or omission that appears in the trial record. 8

For the reasons explained below, we conclude that precisely because it can take myriad forms, ineffective assistance of trial counsel "eludes once-and-for-all disposition." Guinan v. United States, 6 F.3d 468, 473 (7th Cir.1993) (Easterbrook, J., concurring). 9 Nonetheless, we are dealing with a subject that has the potential for both forfeiture of important constitutional protections and also enormous demands on counsel and the judiciary. Accordingly, the always important objectives of clarity and workability of rules of law take on even greater significance.

III. Indiana Precedent on Waiver of Ineffective Assistance Claims

Despite the frequency with which challenges to the effectiveness of trial representation appear in postconviction petitions in this State, this Court has not conclusively resolved whether waiver of this claim (1) always arises from a failure to...

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