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Taylor v. State

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division

August 23, 2016

RONALD TAYLOR, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Clinton County The Honorable Daren L. Adkins, Judge.

          Before: Alok Ahuja, P.J., and Thomas H. Newton and Anthony Rex Gabbert, JJ.

          ALOK AHUJA, JUDGE.

         Appellant Ronald Taylor pleaded guilty to three charges of burglary in the second degree under § 569.170, [1] based on break-ins at three school buildings in Plattsburg in July 2009. Taylor was sentenced to three consecutive seven-year sentences, and placed on probation. After his probation was revoked and the sentences executed, Taylor moved for post-conviction relief under Supreme Court Rule 24.035. Taylor's amended Rule 24.035 motion alleged that his guilty pleas were involuntary because they were coerced by the State's initial filing of charges of burglary in the first degree, for which the prosecution lacked probable cause. Taylor also contended that his appointed plea counsel was incompetent for failing to advise Taylor of the lack of a factual basis to support the first-degree burglary charges, or to otherwise challenge those charges.

         The circuit court denied relief without conducting an evidentiary hearing. Because we conclude that Taylor's amended postconviction relief motion alleged facts which would entitle him to relief, and which were not conclusively refuted by the record, we reverse, and remand to the circuit court for an evidentiary hearing on Taylor's claims.

         Background

         Taylor's convictions stem from break-ins at a Plattsburg elementary school, middle school, and high school on the morning of Sunday, July 5, 2009. Property was damaged or stolen at each location. Taylor was arrested after he attempted to sell property taken from the high school to a confidential informant.

         Taylor was initially charged by information in separate cases with three counts of burglary in the first degree under § 569.160. Burglary in the first degree is a Class B felony. § 569.160.2. Under the statutes then in effect, Class B felonies were punishable by a term of imprisonment "not less than five years and not to exceed fifteen years." § 558.011.1(2).

         Pursuant to a plea agreement, the State agreed to amend the three charges to burglary in the second degree under § 569.170. Burglary in the second degree is a Class C felony, § 569.170.2, which at the time was punishable by imprisonment for "a term of years not to exceed seven years." § 558.011.1(3).

         On January 8, 2010, Taylor pleaded guilty to three counts of burglary in the second degree. At his sentencing hearing, the prosecution asked the court to impose the maximum sentence of seven years on each count, and to run the sentences consecutively to one another.[2] The circuit court followed the State's recommendation, and sentenced Taylor to seven years' imprisonment - the maximum authorized sentence - on each count, with the sentences ordered to run consecutively. Execution of the sentences was suspended and Taylor was placed on probation.

         The circuit court revoked Taylor's probation and executed the sentences on October 5, 2012. Following the revocation of his probation, Taylor moved for postconviction relief under Supreme Court Rule 24.035. The Amended Motion filed by appointed counsel contends that Taylor's guilty pleas were coerced and involuntarily because the prosecutor initially charged and threatened Taylor with prosecution for burglary in the first degree, even though the prosecutor lacked probable cause for the first-degree burglary charges. Taylor further alleged that the pleas were coerced and involuntary due to the ineffective assistance of his plea counsel, who failed to advise Taylor of the lack of a factual basis for the first-degree burglary charges, and failed to investigate or challenge the initial charges before advising Taylor to accept the plea agreement. Taylor alleged that he would not have pleaded guilty, but would have insisted on going to trial, were it not for prosecution's initial filing of the baseless first-degree burglary charges, and his counsel's incompetent response to those charges.

         The Circuit Court of Clinton County denied the Amended Motion without an evidentiary hearing. The motion court concluded that Taylor's allegations were refuted by the record. It explained:

The record in this case shows that Movant specifically denied that he had been threatened or coerced into pleading guilty. Specifically, during his guilty plea, Movant was questioned by the Court as to the voluntariness of his plea and the assistance of his counsel, including whether Movant had "been threatened or coerced in any manner to cause [him] to plead guilty[, including a] . . . threat of further prosecution, dismissal of other charges, or anything that is not now before the Court." The record shows that Movant gave no answers to the Court indicating that his plea was anything other than voluntary, or that he was in any way dissatisfied with his counsel. The record refutes Movant's allegations that he was coerced to plead guilty through the threat of additional or allegedly improper charges, so Movant is not entitled to a hearing on his claims.

(Record citation omitted.)

         Taylor appeals.

         Discussion

         I.

         Before addressing the merits of Taylor's claims on appeal, we are required to determine whether his Amended Motion for postconviction relief was timely filed. See, e.g., Childers v. State, 462 S.W.3d 825, 827 (Mo. App. E.D. 2015) (citing Moore v. State, 458 S.W.3d 822 (Mo. banc 2015)).

         The State argues that the Amended Motion was filed a day late, and that the case must therefore be remanded to the motion court to determine whether Taylor was abandoned by post-conviction counsel or instead whether the untimely filing was Taylor's fault. We disagree.

         Taylor initially filed a timely pro se motion for postconviction relief on January 11, 2013. Counsel was appointed to represent him on January 17, 2013. Taylor's guilty plea and sentencing transcripts were filed in the circuit court on April 15, 2013. With a 30-day extension which was granted at the request of appointed counsel, Taylor's amended Rule 24.035 motion was due on July 14, 2013.

         On July 19, 2013, Taylor's counsel filed a motion confessing his abandonment of Taylor due to counsel's failure to file a timely amended motion. Counsel asserted that his abandonment was caused by his failure to calendar the due date for the amended motion. Counsel requested that the motion court find that Taylor had been abandoned, re-appoint counsel, and permit him additional time within which to file an amended motion.

         On July 22, 2013, the motion court granted counsel's motion, found that Taylor had been abandoned, and re-appointed counsel to represent Taylor. The Court's July 22, 2013 order "ORDERED that Movant file his amended motion for post-conviction relief within ninety days of the date of counsel's reappointment."

         The 90thday following the July 22, 2013 order was Sunday, October 20, 2013. Accordingly, the State and Taylor agree that the Amended Motion was due on Monday, October 21, 2013. See Rule 44.01(a). The motion court's judgment states that the Amended Motion was filed on October 22, 2013 - one day beyond the deadline specified in the court's July 22, 2013 order. Further, the Clerk's file stamp indicates that the Amended Motion was filed on October 22. Based on these facts, the State argues that the Amended Motion was untimely, necessitating that the case be remanded to the motion court for an abandonment inquiry.

         What the State neglects, however, is that the copy of the Amended Motion in the circuit court's file bears a facsimile transmission time stamp indicating that it was received by the court at 3:27 p.m. on October 21, 2013 - the date the Motion was due. The Forty-Third Circuit's Local Rule 3.3 in effect in October 2013 states:

Facsimile transmissions of pleadings are permissible in any situation. No filing by facsimile shall be processed by the clerks until the ...

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