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Benson v. State

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, First Division

February 28, 2017

MARCUS BENSON, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent.

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF JACKSON COUNTY, MISSOURI THE HONORABLE S. MARGENE BURNETT JUDGE

          Before: James E. Welsh, Presiding Judge, Anthony Rex Gabbert, Judge and Edward R. Ardini, Jr., Judge

          EDWARD R. ARDINI, JR., JUDGE

         Marcus R. Benson ("Benson") appeals the denial of his Rule 24.035[1] motion for post-conviction relief following his plea of guilty to one count of first-degree child endangerment under Missouri Revised Statutes section 568.045.[2] Benson argues that the plea court failed to establish a factual basis for the plea and that the plea was thus not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily made. Finding no error, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Benson was originally charged in the Circuit Court of Jackson County with two counts of first-degree child endangerment for failing to seek appropriate medical attention and failing to provide proper nutrition to L.P. ("victim"). On October 19, 2012, Benson appeared before the plea court to enter a guilty plea to one count of child endangerment for failing to seek appropriate medical attention. The plea was the result of an agreement with the prosecutor who would, in exchange for the plea of guilty, dismiss the second count of child endangerment relating to the failure to provide proper nutrition and would recommend Benson be sentenced to seven years in prison with execution of the sentence suspended and placed on probation for a period of five years. Benson acknowledged that he understood the plea agreement and that he wished to enter a plea of guilty.

         Victim was not Benson's biological daughter but had been living with Jacole Prince ("Prince"), who was the mother to two of Benson's children. During the course of entering the guilty plea, Benson admitted that victim was a child under the age of 17 at the time of the alleged criminal conduct and that victim had shown him her injuries, which he found to be so alarming that he said he would "whoop" Prince. Benson also admitted that he knew that victim's medical issues created a substantial risk to her life, body, or health, yet he knowingly failed to seek appropriate medical attention for her.

         The plea court accepted Benson's guilty plea after finding that it was freely and voluntarily made with a full understanding of the nature of the charges and the consequences of pleading guilty, that it was not the result of any threats or promises except for the plea agreement, and that there was a factual basis for the plea.

         On October 10, 2013, Benson's probation was revoked and his seven-year prison sentence was executed. Benson timely filed his pro se motion for post-conviction relief, after which appointed counsel filed an amended Rule 24.035 motion. The motion court conducted an evidentiary hearing and then entered findings of facts and conclusions of law denying relief. Benson now appeals.

         Points Raised on Appeal

         Benson's sole point raised on appeal asserts that the trial court erred in denying his Rule 24.035 post-conviction relief motion because the plea court failed to establish the factual basis for the plea as, he argues, no facts were presented to demonstrate that he owed a duty to seek appropriate medical attention for victim. Benson contends that as a result, the plea court accepted his guilty plea in violation of Rule 24.02. Further, because the plea court failed to establish what he argues is a necessary element of the charged offense, Benson claims that his plea was not knowing, intelligent, and voluntary, thus violating his right to due process of law.

         Standard of Review

         The denial of a motion for post-conviction relief is reviewed for clear error. Rule 24.035(k). The motion court's judgment is "deemed clearly erroneous only if, after a review of the entire record, the appellate court is left with the definite and firm impression that a mistake has been made." Generaux v. State, 448 S.W.3d 355, 357-58 (Mo. App. W.D. 2014). The findings of fact and conclusions of law of the motion court are presumed correct. Frantz v. State, 451 S.W.3d 697, 699 (Mo. App. W.D. 2014).

         Discussion

         Rule 24.02(e) provides that a court "shall not enter a judgment upon a plea of guilty unless it determines that there is a factual basis for the plea." The purpose of this rule is to ensure that "a defendant understand[s] the specific charges against him, that he understand[s] the maximum penalty confronting him, and that he recognize[s] that he has waived specific legal rights by pleading guilty." Cafferty v. State, 453 S.W.3d 791, 795 (Mo. App. W.D. 2014) (quoting Calvin v. State, 204 S.W.3d 220, 225-26 (Mo. App. W.D. 2006)). "A factual basis for a guilty plea is necessary to ensure that the guilty plea was intelligently and voluntarily entered, thereby satisfying due-process requirements." O'Neal v. State, 236 S.W.3d 91, 95 (Mo. App. E.D. 2007). The factual basis must exist on the record as a whole, but it does not need to be established by the defendant's own words or by an admission of the facts recited by the State. Burnett v. State, 450 S.W.3d 800, 805 (Mo. App. W.D. 2014). Rather, "[a] factual basis exists if the defendant understands the facts recited by the court and expresses an awareness of the nature and elements of the charge." Generaux v. State, 448 S.W.3d 355, 358 (Mo. App. W.D. 2014)

         Under section 568.045, "[a] person commits the crime of endangering the welfare of a child in the first degree if: (1) [t]he person knowingly acts in a manner that creates a substantial risk to the life, body, or health of a child less than seventeen years old." Therefore, in a prosecution of this offense "[t]he state must prove the following elements: '(1) the defendant engaged in conduct, (2) in so doing, the defendant created a substantial risk to the life, body, or health of a child, (3) the victim was less than seventeen years old, and (4) the defendant acted knowingly with respect to the facts and circumstances.'" State v. Smith, 502 S.W.3d 689, 695 (Mo. App. E.D. 2016) (quoting State v. Short, 186 S.W.3d 828, 830-31 (Mo. App. E.D. 2006)). Further, it is well established that one can be found guilty of child endangerment based on a failure to act, including a failure to provide necessary medical attention. See, e.g., State v. Mahurin, 799 S.W.2d 840, 843 (Mo. banc 1990) ("To withhold food and medical care is to act in a manner that puts a child at risk. Failure to provide medical treatment for a child violates [the child endangerment statute].") Carmons v. State, 26 S.W.3d 382, 385 (Mo. App. W.D. 2000) ("[T]he failure to act may subject an individual to prosecution for child endangerment.") State v. Johnson, 402 ...


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