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Harris v. State

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Second Division

August 2, 2016

DEANTE L. HARRIS, Movant/Appellant,
v.
STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis Honorable Bryan L. Hettenbach

          PHILIP M. HESS, CHIEF JUDGE

         Introduction

         Deante Harris (Movant) appeals the motion court's denial, without an evidentiary hearing, of his Rule 24.035[1] amended motion for post-conviction relief. In his sole point relied on, Movant contends that the motion court erred by denying his motion for post-conviction relief without an evidentiary hearing because he pleaded facts unrefuted by the record that counsel improperly assured him he would receive eight to ten years' imprisonment in exchange for pleading guilty, thus making the plea involuntary, and that, but for counsel's deficient performance, Movant would have instead proceeded to trial. We affirm.

         Factual Background

         In November of 2011, Movant and an accomplice, Laron Eason, forcibly robbed three men and attempted to forcibly rob two others at gun point. Movant was indicted on three counts of first-degree robbery, two counts of attempted first-degree robbery, and five counts of armed criminal action in January 2012. Movant entered a blind[2] plea of guilty to all charges in May 2013. The court accepted the plea and, at a later hearing, sentenced Movant to twenty years' imprisonment for each count of first-degree robbery; twenty years for each count of armed criminal action; and fifteen years for each count of attempted robbery, with all sentences to run concurrently.

         In April 2014, Movant filed a pro se Rule 24.035 motion for post-conviction relief. Counsel was appointed and filed an amended motion alleging that plea counsel "failed to meet the standard of a reasonably competent attorney under similar circumstances [because he] improperly advised Movant that if he pleaded guilty and left sentencing up to the plea [court], he . . . should do no worse than ten years imprisonment" and that "[h]ad Movant known that plea counsel should not have assured him that he would not do worse than ten years' imprisonment, [Movant] would have taken his case to trial." The motion court denied the motion without an evidentiary hearing, finding that the record refutes Movant's claim "because he knew at the time his pleas were accepted that ten years was the minimum, that his sentences were up to the Court and the Court was not bound by either the State's or defense counsel's recommendation, and he knew he could receive up to 120 years plus . . . ." This appeal follows.

         Standard of Review

         A Rule 24.035 post-conviction motion is reviewed for clear error. Rule 24.035(k). "We presume that the motion court's findings and conclusions are correct." Clay v. State, 297 S.W.3d 122, 124 (Mo. App. E.D. 2009). Its findings and conclusions are clearly erroneous only if, after reviewing the entire record, we are left with the definite and firm impression that a mistake has been made. Mullins v. State, 262 S.W.3d 682, 684 (Mo. App. E.D. 2008). A motion court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing unless "(1) the motion . . . allege[s] facts, not conclusions, warranting relief; (2) the facts alleged must not be refuted by the files and records of the case; and (3) the allegations must have resulted in prejudice." Wilkes v. State, 82 S.W.3d 925, 928 (Mo. banc 2002). The motion court must deny an evidentiary hearing if it determines that the record conclusively establishes the movant is not entitled to relief. Rule 24.035(h).

         Discussion

         In his sole point, Movant contends that the motion court clearly erred by denying his motion for post-conviction relief without an evidentiary hearing because he pleaded facts unrefuted by the record that plea counsel was ineffective for improperly assuring Movant he would receive eight to ten years' imprisonment in exchange for pleading guilty. Movant maintains that plea counsel's performance rendered his guilty plea involuntary and unknowing, and, but for plea counsel's assurances, Movant would not have pleaded guilty but would have proceeded to trial. In response, the State asserts that the motion court did not clearly err by denying Movant's motion without an evidentiary hearing because the record refutes Movant's claim that plea counsel's performance was ineffective.

         To be entitled to an evidentiary hearing, a movant must demonstrate that "counsel's performance was deficient and that this deficiency prejudiced the defense." State v. Smith, 353 S.W.3d 1, 3 (Mo. App. E.D. 2011). By pleading guilty, "a movant waives any claim that [plea] counsel was ineffective except to the extent that counsel's conduct affected the voluntariness and knowledge with which the plea was made." Nichols v. State, 409 S.W.3d 566, 569 (Mo. App. E.D. 2013) (citation and quotations omitted). In order to demonstrate prejudice, a movant must illustrate that absent counsel's errors he would have insisted on proceeding to trial rather than pleading guilty. Smith, 353 S.W.3d at 3.

         A movant's guilty plea is entered knowingly if he "had sufficient awareness of the relevant circumstances and likely consequences of the act." Whitehead v. State, 481 S.W.3d 116, 123 (Mo. App. E.D. 2016). Mistaken beliefs about sentencing may affect, to an extent, a movant's ability to knowingly enter a guilty plea. Lynn v. State, 417 S.W.3d 789, 801 (Mo. App. E.D. 2013). That is, "even if Movant established that counsel made misleading statements that caused him to have a mistaken belief about his sentence, he would be entitled to relief only if his belief was reasonable." Id. Where a defendant affirms that he understands the full consequences of entering a guilty plea, including that the court may assess a sentence up to the full range of punishment at its discretion, any mistaken belief remaining about the potential sentence is unreasonable. Id.; see also Zarhouni v. State, 313 S.W.3d 713, 716 (Mo. App. W.D. 2010); Porter v. State, 480 S.W.3d 455, 459 (Mo. App. W.D. 2016).

At the plea hearing, the following exchange occurred:
[THE COURT]: Has anybody forced you in any way to get you to -- get you to plead guilty today?
[MOVANT]: No, sir.
[THE COURT]: And has anybody promised you anything in return for your ...

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