A Sierra Vista man serving a 39-year sentence for multiple drug related offenses will have to wait until January to present evidence as to why he deserves a new trial.
Usef Latrice Simmons received word back in July that Judge Laura Cardinal of the Cochise County Superior Court agreed to conduct an evidentiary hearing on whether Simmons was due a new trial because jurors at his 2014 trial may have heard inadmissible evidence. A hearing on the matter was slated for this month, but attorneys on both sides told Cardinal they needed a few months to conduct witness interviews.
Simmons was initially sentenced in 2014 to a 39-year state prison sentence as a category three repetitive offender after the jury found him guilty of 11 felony drug offenses. The next year the Arizona Court of Appeals overturned five of those convictions due to insufficient evidence to support the charges.
But when Simmons was resentenced on the remaining six convictions his prison term remained set at 39 years. Cardinal has agreed to decide on Jan. 5, 2022 if Simmons should have received a new trial on those six charges instead.
At issue is the fact the trial jurors heard evidence related to the five overturned charges, evidence which Simmons’ new court-appointed attorney, Davina Godley, contends would have been inadmissible if the jurors were only considering the six counts.
Neither Simmons’ original trial attorney nor his appellate attorney requested a new trial at the time, prompting Godley to file a petition for post-conviction relief. The petition cites a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, which carries a burden of proof against Simmons that one or both of his previous attorneys “fell below prevailing professional norms.”
Simmons also carries a second burden at the upcoming evidentiary hearing – he must convince Cardinal there is “a reasonable probability” that the outcome of his 2014 trial on the six counts would have been different if some of the evidence had not been heard by the jury.
According to the Arizona Department of Corrections, Simmons must serve 85 percent of his 39-year term before being eligible for early release from custody. That date is listed as December 2048.
Godley was ordered by Cardinal to prepare an order for the judge to sign allowing Simmons to be transferred to the Cochise County jail so he can be present in the courtroom for the hearing.
MORE ABOUT USEF SIMMONS’ CASE: Drug Dealer Wins Chance To Challenge His 39-Year Sentence