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State v. Jones

State v. Jones, 2020 UT App 125 (Pohlman, J.)

Criminal: Post-Conviction

In 2016, Jones filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief in which he raised numerous grounds for relief. The State moved for summary judgment on every ground. The district court ruled that Jones’s claims of trial court error were procedurally barred, that his constitutional challenge to the procedural bars were meritless, and that his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel all failed as a matter of law. Jones now appeals. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed, holding:

  • The district court did not err in granting summary judgment on Jones’s procedurally barred claims. Jones does not take issue with the district court’s application of the procedural bars to these claims. Instead, he asserts that (A) he is entitled to the application of the egregious injustice exception for his procedurally barred claims and (B) the PCRA’s procedural bars are unconstitutional.
    • Even assuming an egregious injustice exception exists, Jones has not satisfied his heavy burden under State v. Winward, 2012 UT 85. Jones has not demonstrated that he has a reasonable justification for missing the deadline combined with a meritorious defense. 
    • Even giving Jones every reasonable indulgence as a pro se defendant, Jones’s constitutional argument lacks development and reasoned analysis based on authority. The issues Jones raises demand deeper analysis than Jones provides. 
  • The district court did not err in granting summary judgment on Jones’s ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claims. 
    • Jones cannot show prejudice and, therefore, cannot show that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel even if trial counsel’s pretrial investigation was insufficient in various ways. He has not proffered what specific evidence further investigation would have yielded and how that evidence “would have affected the entire evidentiary picture.” Resting on his allegations alone does not defeat summary judgment. 
    • Jones has not shown that counsel provided ineffective assistance when he failed to make specific arguments or objections at trial. Jones has not shown that trial counsel’s treatment of the DNA evidence, crime scene evidence, or Mother’s testimony was objectively deficient. 
    • Jones has not shown that counsel provided ineffective assistance when he failed to request a special verdict form. Ample evidence supported a finding of murder under all three theories available to the jury.
    • Jones has not shown that counsel provided ineffective assistance when he failed to argue that his murder and aggravated robbery convictions should merge. The Utah Supreme Court has held that “a conviction for felony murder does not merge with its underlying predicate felony.”
    • Jones has not shown that counsel provided ineffective assistance when he failed to oppose the imposition of consecutive sentences. Trial counsel reasonably advocated for concurrent sentences and requested that the court correct several items on the presentence investigation report. Further, Jones cannot show a reasonable likelihood of a different sentence.
    • Because Jones’s trial counsel was not constitutionally ineffective in the ways Jones alleges, Jones’s appellate counsel was also not ineffective for failing to argue on direct appeal that trial counsel was ineffective.

Read the full court opinion

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