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Williams v. State

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District

August 2, 2016


         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Saline County, Missouri The Honorable Dennis A. Rolf, Judge

          Before Division Two: Karen King Mitchell, Presiding Judge, Cynthia L. Martin, Judge and Gary D. Witt, Judge

          Cynthia L. Martin, Judge

         Vincent U. Williams ("Williams") appeals following the motion court's denial of his pro se Rule 24.035 motion without an evidentiary hearing. Williams alleges that his post-conviction counsel was unlawfully permitted to withdraw from his representation, leaving him without the benefit of counsel. We agree with Williams, and reverse and vacate the judgment denying his pro se Rule 24.035 motion, and remand this matter to the motion court for further proceedings.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Williams pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated as a chronic offender and driving while revoked. He was sentenced to twelve years and three years respectively, to run concurrently.

         Williams filed a timely Rule 24.035 motion ("Pro Se Motion") on July 29, 2013. The Public Defender's Office was appointed as Williams's counsel on the same date. The order appointing counsel extended the time to file an amended motion by thirty days. Appointed counsel did not enter an appearance for Williams until May 15, 2014. Williams's guilty plea and sentencing transcripts were filed June 9 and August 18, 2014, respectively. As a result, an amended motion was required to be filed by November 16, 2014.[1]

         On July 22, 2014, appointed counsel filed a motion to withdraw. The motion alleged that a letter had been sent to Williams on May 5, 2014, (ten days before appointed counsel entered an appearance), with an application/affidavit for public defender services, and that Williams had never responded, despite reminder letters dated June 13, 2014 and July 1, 2014. The letters referenced in the motion were not attached to the motion. The motion to withdraw alleged that because Williams had not responded and the letters had not been returned, appointed counsel "can only conclude that [Williams] is not interested in Public Defender representation."

          The certificate of service on the motion to withdraw does not reflect service on Williams. The motion advised that a hearing was scheduled for July 29, 2014. Nothing in the record indicates that Williams was afforded notice of the hearing. On July 29, 2014, the motion court's docket entry indicates that the parties appeared through counsel. No personal appearance by Williams is noted in the record. Appointed counsel's motion to withdraw was granted. The motion court's associated bench note stated: "Dismissal Hearing--Leave to Withdraw granted (Amended Pet [] by 8-8-14) pass to see if something is filed by 8-8-14.[2] St will file motion of denial 9-5-14 @ 9:00."

         On September 10, 2014, the State filed a motion for issuance of findings on Williams's pro se Rule 24.035 Motion without an evidentiary hearing, and a notice scheduling the State's motion for hearing on September 15, 2014. The certificate of service on both pleadings reflects service on Williams by sending facsimile copies to Williams's appointed counsel, even though appointed counsel had already withdrawn. There is nothing in the record to suggest that Williams received notice of the State's motion or of the hearing scheduled on the motion.

         The motion court entered a judgment denying Williams's Pro Se Motion without an evidentiary hearing on September 15, 2014 ("Judgment"). [3]

         On September 14, 2015, the Public Defender's Office filed a motion on Williams's behalf seeking leave to file a notice of appeal out of time and to proceed in forma pauperis. The motion alleged that counsel had "reason to believe that [Williams] was abandoned by postconviction counsel, " and that "the Public Defender System has determined [Williams] to be indigent, and will represent him herein." Leave in both respects was granted by this court on September 22, 2015.


         Williams asserts two points on appeal. The first point asserts that Williams was abandoned by appointed counsel's withdrawal from Williams's representation. The second point alleges that the motion court committed legal error by permitting appointed counsel to withdraw without appointing Williams new counsel, thus depriving Williams of the assistance of counsel in his Rule 24.035 proceeding. We combine our discussion of Williams's points on appeal.

         "[T]he determination of whether defense counsel should be allowed to withdraw is a matter within the discretion of the trial court, and this Court's review is for abuse of that discretion." State v. Christeson, 50 S.W.3d 251, 261 (Mo. banc 2001) (citing State v. Hornbuckle, 769 S.W.2d 89, 96 (Mo. banc 1989), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 860 (1989)). "Judicial discretion is abused when the trial court's ruling is clearly against the logic of the circumstances then before the court and is so arbitrary and unreasonable as to shock the sense of justice and indicate a lack of careful consideration." Id. (citing State v. Gardner, 8 S.W.3d 66, 73 (Mo. banc 1999)).

         A post-conviction movant has no constitutional right to counsel. Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551, 553-54 (1987) (holding that there is no constitutional right to counsel in post-conviction proceedings); see also State v. Hunter, 840 S.W.2d 850, 871 (Mo. banc 1992)), cert. denied, 509 U.S. 926 (1993)). Rather, the right to counsel in ...

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