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Gonzales v. State

Supreme Court of South Carolina

January 5, 2017

Michael Gonzales, Petitioner,
v.
State of South Carolina, Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2015-001553

          Heard September 21, 2016

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

         Appeal from Spartanburg County Roger L. Couch, Post-Conviction Relief Judge.

         REVERSED.

          Appellate Defender Susan Barber Hackett of Columbia, for Petitioner.

          Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Assistant Attorney General Alicia A. Olive, both of Columbia, for Respondent.

          PLEICONES ACTING JUSTICE.

         Petitioner was convicted of trafficking in 400 grams or more of methamphetamine. He was sentenced to thirty years' imprisonment, and his conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal. State v. Gonzales, 360 S.C. 263, 600 S.E.2d 122 (Ct. App. 2004).[1] Petitioner then filed this post-conviction relief ("PCR") action, arguing his trial counsel had a conflict of interest which adversely affected trial counsel's performance. The PCR judge denied relief, and in a split decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed the PCR judge's order. Gonzales v. State, 412 S.C. 478, 772 S.E.2d 557 (Ct. App. 2015). Because we find the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the PCR judge's order denying petitioner relief, we reverse the denial of petitioner's application for PCR.

         FACTS

         Petitioner, who was a juvenile, lived with his mother and her longtime boyfriend, Dino Perez. In 2001, at the request of petitioner's mother, trial counsel successfully represented Perez in a drug related forfeiture action. Less than a year later, in January 2002, petitioner was arrested for trafficking in marijuana over one thousand pounds. At the request of petitioner's mother, trial counsel agreed to represent petitioner on the trafficking charge. Three months later, in April 2002, Perez was also arrested for trafficking in marijuana in excess of one thousand pounds. At the request of petitioner's mother, trial counsel agreed to also represent Perez on his trafficking charge.

         In June 2002, petitioner was arrested on the charge of trafficking in methamphetamine-the conviction which petitioner challenged at the PCR proceeding leading to the case now before this Court. Trial counsel agreed to represent petitioner on the trafficking in methamphetamine charge. Thus, as of June 2002, trial counsel was simultaneously representing petitioner on his trafficking in marijuana and trafficking in methamphetamine charges, as well as representing Perez on his trafficking in marijuana charge.

         One month later, in July 2002, while petitioner's and Perez's respective trafficking in marijuana charges were still pending, petitioner was tried and convicted on his trafficking in methamphetamine charge. Petitioner received a thirty year sentence, and hired a different attorney to represent him on his direct appeal ("appellate counsel").

         It is uncontroverted that prior to petitioner's July 2002 trial for trafficking in methamphetamine, trial counsel knew: (1) petitioner was a juvenile; (2) petitioner's mother had approached him twice to represent petitioner, and twice to represent Perez; (3) petitioner and Perez had each been arrested on separate charges- trafficking in marijuana in excess of one thousand pounds-in the same geographical area within a three month period; (3) petitioner's mother had paid the $50, 000 attorney's fees for representation of both petitioner's and Perez's trafficking in marijuana charges; (4) when petitioner's mother was "trying to find money" to pay the additional $25, 000 attorney's fee for petitioner's trafficking in methamphetamine charge, trial counsel discussed with petitioner's mother using the money he had assisted Perez in recovering in his 2001 forfeiture action; (5) a check written from Perez's account for $3, 220 was used to pay part of the attorney's fee in petitioner's trafficking in methamphetamine case; and (6) the remainder was paid by J&M Contractors.[2]

         Despite all such indicators, trial counsel testified he never recognized the potential for a conflict of interest. Therefore, prior to petitioner's July 2002 methamphetamine trial, trial counsel never discussed with petitioner or Perez the potential for a conflict of interest or sought a waiver by either client. Trial counsel also never discussed with petitioner that his attorney's fees were being ...


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