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State ex rel. Richardson v. Green

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

July 21, 2015

STATE ex rel. MARK A. RICHARDSON, Relator,
v.
THE HONORABLE DANIEL R. GREEN, Respondent

Richardson, the Cole County prosecutor of Jefferson City, represented himself.

Larry Welch was represented by James D. Barding, an attorney in Jefferson City.

OPINION

 LAURA DENVIR STITH, J.

ORIGINAL PROCEEDING IN PROHIBITION

The prosecutor in the underlying action seeks a writ of prohibition preventing the trial court from applying section 558.046[1] to reduce Larry Welch's sentences for vehicular manslaughter.[2] Section 558.046, as relevant here, permits a reduction of sentence only when the inmate has been convicted of an alcohol-related crime that does not involve violence or the threat of violence. The prosecutor contends that the trial court lacked authority to reduce Mr. Welch's involuntary manslaughter sentences under section 558.046 because a crime that causes death and injury through the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated is a crime that " involves violence." This Court issued a preliminary writ of prohibition, which it now makes permanent.

The phrase " crimes that involve violence" is broad in scope, encompassing more than merely crimes of violence -- instead, conviction of any crime that involves violence precludes a sentence reduction. This Court presumes that the legislature had a reason for using the broad term " involves violence" rather than merely listing crimes requiring intentional or knowing violent conduct. Here, an element of the crime of which Mr. Welch was convicted required that his conduct cause the death of another. Violent conduct is, therefore, a necessary component of his crime. Nothing in section 558.046 suggests that the legislature intended to allow sentence reductions for a crime that necessarily results in death through the criminal negligence of the defendant while driving while intoxicated. This Court, accordingly, rejects Mr. Welch's argument that the scope of section 558.046 should be limited to violence that was intentionally or knowingly inflicted by the defendant. The trial court had no authority to reduce Mr. Welch's involuntary manslaughter sentences pursuant to section 558.046.

I. STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Mr. Welch pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree involuntary manslaughter under section 565.024, RSMo Supp. 2006, and two counts of second-degree assault under section 565.060, RSMo Supp. 2006, for events occurring on November 4, 2007. Mr. Welch admitted that, on that date, he was driving while his blood alcohol content was in excess of whet the law presumes to be impaired. While so impaired, Mr. Welch was driving east in a westbound lane. A vehicle driven by Eric Olsen and occupied by his wife, Jean Olsen, and their two children, Tobias and Johanna, was driving west in the westbound lane of the same road. Eric swerved into the eastbound lane to avoid Mr. Welch's vehicle, but at the same time, Mr. Welch also swerved into the eastbound lane and hit the passenger side of the Olsen vehicle. Jean and Tobias died. Eric and Johanna suffered permanent injuries.

Mr. Welch entered an open plea of guilty. The trial court sentenced him to two concurrent 15-year terms of imprisonment on the involuntary manslaughter counts and two concurrent five-year terms of imprisonment on the assault counts, to be served consecutively to the involuntary manslaughter sentences. Mr. Welch moved for post-conviction relief under Rule 24.035, which was overruled. Welch v. State, 326 S.W.3d 916 (Mo. App. 2010). Mr. Welch subsequently moved for a reduction of his sentences under section 558.046. Rejecting the prosecutor's argument that the conditions were not met for a reduction in sentence under section 558.046, the circuit court ordered Mr. Welch's involuntary manslaughter sentences to be reduced to two concurrent seven-year sentences. The prosecutor filed a petition for writ of prohibition in the court of appeals. That court denied the petition but stayed the trial court's sentence-reduction order. During that period of stay, the prosecutor filed a petition for writ of prohibition in this Court. On January 12, 2015, this Court issued a preliminary writ of prohibition, pursuant to its authority under article V, section 4 of the Missouri Constitution.

II. STANDARD FOR ISSUANCE OF WRIT OF PROHIBITION

This Court has the authority to " issue and determine original remedial writs," Mo. Const. art. V, § 4.1, including writs of prohibition:

The extraordinary remedy of a writ of prohibition is available: (1) to prevent the usurpation of judicial power when the trial court lacks authority or jurisdiction; (2) to remedy an excess of authority, jurisdiction or abuse of discretion where the lower court lacks the power to act as intended; or (3) where a party may suffer irreparable harm if relief is not granted.

State ex rel. O'Basuyi v. Vincent, 434 S.W.3d 517, 519 (Mo. banc. 2014).

III. INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER WHILE OPERATING A MOTOR VEHICLE WHILE INTOXICATED " ...


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