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Rivers v. State

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

September 20, 2016

EARON RIVERS, Appellant,

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County 15SL-CC01094 Honorable Michael D. Burton

          Gary M. Gaertner, Jr., Judge


         Earon Rivers (Movant) appeals the motion court's judgment denying, without an evidentiary hearing, his motion under Rule 24.035[1] to vacate, set aside, or correct the judgment and sentence (Rule 24.035 Motion) after his plea of guilty. We affirm.


         On November 7, 2014, Movant entered a blind plea of guilty to second-degree murder, first-degree robbery, and two counts of armed criminal action. The factual basis underlying Movant's plea was as follows.

         The prosecuting attorney recited the State's evidence, stating it would show that Movant acted with others to commit the charged crimes on November 5, 2012. Specifically, the State recounted that a person using Movant's cell phone made a call to Imo's Pizza and ordered three pizzas for delivery to an address two blocks away from Movant's residence. A driver named Brian Johnson (Victim) delivered the pizzas to the address. Victim was shot and killed at that address, and the pizzas were stolen.

         When Victim's employer discovered he was missing, the employer called the police, who found Victim in his car. The police obtained the phone number used to place the order and discovered Movant's address was the billing address for the cell phone. Police went to Movant's residence, and the person who answered the door let them in. They found Movant sleeping in the basement, and an Imo's pizza box was nearby. They asked for consent to search the premises for additional evidence and eventually obtained consent from the owner of the house. The police found an additional two Imo's pizza boxes, as well as a gun under the mattress where Movant had been sleeping. They later tested the gun for fingerprints and found Movant's fingerprints. Movant also consented to a search of his phone, and they found a call placed to Imo's in the list of outgoing calls on the phone. Police also later matched the bullet recovered from Victim to the gun seized from Movant's residence.

         Movant eventually admitted to police that he was involved in the robbery and had placed the call to Imo's to order the pizzas, but Movant insisted he did not shoot Victim. Movant told police he stood back from the robbery as a lookout. Movant said he heard a gunshot, and then all of the people involved retreated to Movant's residence, where they ate the pizza. Movant said he never intended for anyone to get hurt. The State concluded by saying that Movant "didn't really have an explanation how the gun came back into his possession[, b]ut he did admit that he knew that a gun was going to be used in this robbery."

         The plea court accepted Movant's guilty plea and ordered a sentencing assessment report (SAR). The plea court held a sentencing hearing on January 15, 2015, after which it sentenced Movant to concurrent terms of 25 years' imprisonment on each charge.

         Movant timely filed a pro se motion under Rule 24.035, and later his amended Rule 24.035 Motion through counsel. His motion alleged that his plea counsel was ineffective for advising Movant that he would receive a sentence of 18 to 20 years, but no more than 20 years, if he pled guilty and left sentencing up to the plea court. He argues that his reliance on his plea counsel's advice was reasonable, and that such reliance rendered his plea involuntary. The motion court denied Movant's motion without an evidentiary hearing, finding Movant's claims were conclusively refitted by the record. This appeal follows.

         Standard of Review

         Our review of the denial of a Rule 24.035 motion is "limited to a determination of whether the findings and conclusions of the trial court are clearly erroneous." Rule 24.03500: see also Weeks v. State. 140 S.W.3d 39, 44 (Mo. banc 2004). A motion court is not required to grant an evidentiary hearing unless: (1) the movant pleads facts that if true would warrant relief; (2) the facts alleged are not refuted by the record; and (3) the matter complained of resulted in prejudice to the movant. Dorsey v. State, 115 S.W.3d 842, 844-45 (Mo. banc 2003).

         Where there is a plea of guilty, a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is immaterial "except to the extent that the conduct affected the voluntariness and knowledge with which the plea was made." Worthington v. State, 166 S.W.3d 566, 573 (Mo. banc 2005). If an examination of the guilty plea proceedings directly refutes a movant's claim that his plea was involuntary, then the movant ...

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