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Rueger v. State

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

September 20, 2016

DIRK ALAN RUEGER, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Charles County Honorable Jon A. Cunningham

          KURT ODENWALD, Judge.

         Introduction

         Dirk Alan Rueger ("Rueger") appeals from the judgment of the motion court denying his amended Rule 24.035[1] motion for post-conviction relief following an evidentiary hearing. Rueger pleaded guilty to multiple felonies and misdemeanors, including one charge of the class C felony of driving while intoxicated ("DWI") and was sentenced to twelve years' imprisonment. Rueger's amended Rule 24.035 motion sought to set aside his guilty plea and sentence to the DWI charge. After an evidentiary hearing, the motion court denied Rueger's amended motion in its entirety. In his sole point on appeal, Rueger argues that his guilty plea was involuntary because plea counsel failed to inform him of a possible defense to the DWI charge. Because Rueger cannot show that he was prejudiced by his legal representation, the motion court did not clearly err in denying his Rule 24.035 motion for post-conviction relief. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the motion court.

         Factual and Procedural History

         The State charged Rueger with the following crimes: four counts of the class C felony of burglary in the second degree; three counts of the class C felony of stealing between $500 and $25, 000; one count of the class C felony of tampering with a motor vehicle; one count of the class C felony of DWI; one count of the class C felony of stealing a firearm; one count of the class D felony of driving while license is revoked; one count of the class A misdemeanor of stealing less than $500; and one count of the class B misdemeanor of property damage in the second degree. The maximum sentence for the charges against Rueger totaled seventy-four years in the Missouri Department of Corrections and up to sixteen months in the St. Charles County Jail. After engaging in plea negotiations, Rueger accepted a prison term of twelve years in exchange for a guilty plea on all thirteen charges.

         At the plea hearing, the trial court extensively questioned Rueger regarding his decision to plead guilty to all thirteen charges and the effectiveness of his plea counsel. During the questioning, Rueger acknowledged that plea counsel shared and reviewed the police reports with him, that he had sufficient time to speak with plea counsel about his case, and that plea counsel explained to him the possible consequences of proceeding to trial. Rueger also stated that plea counsel had performed adequately, that he knew and understood his position under the law, and that it was his decision alone to plead guilty.

         During further questioning, Rueger agreed that at least one of the reasons he pled guilty to all thirteen charges was to "receive the benefit of the plea bargain rather than taking [his] chances of going to trial, possibly being found guilty of one or more of the charges and possibly receiving a more severe sentence[.] . . ." Rueger then confirmed element by element that he in fact committed the crimes charged against him.

         The trial court accepted Rueger's guilty plea on all thirteen charges and sentenced him according to the terms of the plea agreement. Rueger's sentence totaled twelve years in prison, with many of the charges running concurrently. The sentence specifically included five years in prison for the DWI charge, running concurrently with many of the other charges.

         After sentencing, Rueger filed a Rule 24.035 motion. Upon amendment, Rueger alleged, in part, that plea counsel was ineffective because she failed to inform him of a potential defense to his DWI charge. The potential defense was that the State might not be able to prove Rueger's intoxication at the time he was driving because the police did not conduct a field sobriety test, perform a breathalyzer test, or draw blood. The police report established the failure by the police to execute any routine sobriety tests. Rueger sought an evidentiary hearing, which the motion court granted.

         The evidence at the hearing consisted of Rueger's testimony at the underlying plea hearing, the testimony of plea counsel, and a telephone deposition from Rueger. Plea counsel testified that she always reviews police reports with her clients, although she did not remember specifically doing so in this case. Similarly, while plea counsel could not remember discussing in detail any possible defenses to the DWI charge, she emphasized in her testimony that she always reviewed the strengths and weaknesses of the State's case with her clients. Plea counsel further attested that she never pressured Rueger in any way to plead guilty. Finally, plea counsel stated that Rueger was interested in a plea agreement that capped his total sentence, as he was afraid of otherwise receiving a much longer sentence.

         At the evidentiary hearing, Rueger testified via his deposition. In his deposition, Rueger stated that plea counsel never discussed the possibility of going to trial on any of the counts with which he was charged. Further, Rueger asserted that plea counsel never discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the DWI charge, beyond the general statements that there is a high conviction rate in the county for DWI cases and that Rueger had prior DWI convictions. Rueger also contended that although he received the police reports before entering his guilty plea, plea counsel never discussed the reports with him, and she did not discuss how the lack of field sobriety tests, breathalyzer tests, or blood tests influenced the case. Rueger alleged that even though plea counsel said trial was an option, she "scared" him into accepting the plea agreement. As a result, Rueger claimed that his acceptance of the plea agreement was ultimately due to plea counsel pressuring him into accepting the plea agreement and plea counsel's failure to inform him of any possible defenses to the DWI charge.

         After the evidentiary hearing, the motion court entered its "Findings of Fact, Conclusion of Law and Judgment." In the judgment, the motion court found "[t]he belief that Movant may have beaten a single DWI count at trial (an assertion which is far from certain), does not render a plea of guilty involuntary, especially when Movant admitted under oath that he committed the offense." Further, the motion court found that plea counsel was "a far more credible witness" than Rueger.

         The motion court determined that Rueger was not prejudiced by plea counsel's legal representation. When considering that the DWI charge ran concurrently with the other charges and did not add any additional time to Rueger's sentence, the motion court did not find credible Rueger's proposition that had he been informed about a possible defense to the DWI charge, "[I]t would have impacted his decision to plead guilty to the charge under the circumstances that the [Movant] was facing a total of eleven felony and two misdemeanor charges and was being offered a plea bargain of twelve years when facing potential sentences of up to 74 years in the Missouri Department of Corrections and up to 16 months in the St. Charles County Jail."

         The motion court denied Rueger's amended Rule 24.035 motion for post-conviction relief after the ...


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