State v. Rayes – 3/20/2007

March 20, 2007

Arizona Supreme Court Holds Ineffective Assistance Claims Can Only be Raised in Rule 32 Proceedings.

Anthony Reynaga, the real party in interest in this review of a special action decision, was charged with theft and indicted for armed robbery in separate incidents. The State, via the Maricopa County Attorney, offered pleas in both cases. Defense counsel never responded and later told the court that a clerical error had prevented her from receiving the offers. The offers had expired by their own terms by the time she learned of them at the trial management conference. After a request from the defense to reinstate the plea offers, the State refused. The Superior Court, however, found that counsel’s error was “excusable neglect” and ordered the offers reinstated. After the court refused to reconsider its order, the State filed a special action in the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals accepted jurisdiction and then granted relief under State v. Donald, 198 Ariz. 406 (App. 2000), finding that failure to communicate the plea was ineffective assistance of counsel, notwithstanding the superior court’s “excusable neglect” finding. The Court of Appeals went on to hold, however, that Donald was wrong in holding that reinstatement of a plea is a permissible remedy for ineffective assistance of counsel during the plea process. The Court of Appeals thus directed the parties to return to the plea negotiation stage.

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision by Justice Hurwitz, vacated the decision of the Court of Appeals. The Court first noted that the Court of Appeals was correct insofar as it concluded that excusable neglect does not permit the superior court to order reinstatement of a plea under Donald. The Supreme Court then held that the record before it did not, indeed could not, establish ineffective assistance, because the case was at such an early stage. Relying on the fact that “ineffective assistance” Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), requires a showing of prejudice to the defendant, the Court reasoned that no prejudice can be demonstrated where, as here, the defendant has not yet been found guilty. Accord State v. Spreitz, 202 Ariz. 1 (2002). The Court, explicitly held “that a defendant may bring ineffective assistance of counsel claims only in a Rule 32 post-conviction proceeding–not before trial, at trial, or on direct review.”