Before Bridges, C.j., Payne, And Southwick, JJ.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Southwick, JJ, For The Court:
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 11/07/1997
TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JOHN M. MONTGOMERY
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: CLAY COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: FORREST ALLGOOD
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - FELONY
TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: DENIAL OF POST CONVICTION RELIEF
¶1. Adrian Carter was denied post conviction relief by the Clay County Circuit Court. On appeal he argues ineffective assistance of counsel, lack of impartiality by the circuit court Judge, improper exclusion of evidence, and failure of his guilty plea to conform to due process requirements. Finding no error, we affirm.
FACTS ¶2. Adrian Carter was indicted for sexual battery. Carter had been a band instructor at the Oak Hill Academy in West Point. While employed there, he became sexually involved with a fifteen-year-old student. This child had formerly been a student of Carter's but was no longer one at the time their relationship was consummated, though Carter was still a teacher and the child a student at the school. Originally charged with sexual battery, Carter plead guilty to seduction and received a six year sentence. He now claims that improper legal counsel resulted in an erroneous decision by him to plead rather than have a jury trial. Carter petitioned for post conviction relief with the Clay County Circuit Court and a hearing was held on September 30, 1997, resulting in his motion being denied.
ISSUE 1: Effectiveness of counsel
¶3. The issue of ineffective assistance of counsel is rooted in the trial counsel's failure to conduct any interviews of witnesses other than Carter himself. During the post conviction relief hearing, the trial counsel, Mr. Bambach, defended this decision by stating that Carter had agreed with the information contained in the discovery material. Carter was charged with sexual battery which carries a possible sentence of thirty years. Mr. Bambach did not believe his client would be convicted of sexual battery because his client was no longer the victim's teacher at the time of the crime. The district attorney disagreed and took the position that Adrian Carter's position as a teacher in the school was sufficient. The statute provides in part: "A person is guilty of sexual battery if he or she engages in sexual penetration with a child of fourteen (14) but less than eighteen (18) years if the person is in a position of trust or authority over the child including without limitation the child's teacher . . . ." Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-95 (2) (Rev. 1994).
¶4. Counsel could not have known, absent case law that did not exist, the final interpretation of the statute. However, there was a reasonable possibility that any "position of trust" would justify a conviction, including being a teacher in a school in which the child was a student.
¶5. More generally Carter argues that his attorney failed to investigate his case. Constitutionally, ineffective counsel arises when there has been a "deficient performance and resulting prejudice from those deficiencies," which we evaluate after looking "to the totality of the circumstances." Payton v. State, 708 So. 2d 559, 563 (Miss. 1998). Whether or not a failure to interview witnesses constitutes deficient representation depends on the particular facts of the case. We address under the third issue the overall question of reasonable investigation, as there the defendant discusses what the result of an investigation would have been.
¶6. Preliminarily, though, we note that Carter informed his counsel that the witness statements made available in the State's discovery were essentially correct. That would mean that the basic claim was true that he had sexual relations with a student at least fourteen but under eighteen years of age at a school in which he taught. This admission is an unusual situation and explains why a defense ...