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State ex rel. Delf v. Missey

Supreme Court of Missouri

May 30, 2017

STATE ex rel. CHRISTINE DELF, Relator,
v.
THE HONORABLE DARRELL E. MISSEY, Respondent.

         ORIGINAL PROCEEDING IN PROHIBITION

          George W. Draper III, Judge.

         Christine Delf (hereinafter, "Delf") seeks a writ of prohibition to prevent the circuit court from taking any further action in her guilty plea proceeding other than setting aside its judgment overruling her motion to enforce her plea agreement or, in the alternative, to withdraw her guilty plea. Delf contends the circuit court lacks the authority to impose special conditions of probation that she believes were excluded by the plea agreement she bargained for with the state. This Court holds the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in overruling Delf's motion to enforce the plea agreement or in failing to permit Delf to withdraw her guilty plea because its ruling comported with Rule 24.02(d). The preliminary writ of prohibition is quashed.

          Factual and Procedural History

         Delf was charged with one count of forgery, a class C felony, after forging a $5, 000 check belonging to her elderly neighbor. Delf and the state negotiated a plea agreement, which stated: "7 years MDC, SES, 5 years' probation. Restitution of $5, 000 plus administrative fee to be paid through P.A. Restitution Dept., and to be paid in full prior to the expiration of probation." The plea agreement further stated, "The [p]arties agree that this recommendation is being entered into pursuant to Rule 24.02(d)(1)(C) and agree to be bound by its terms."

         Delf pleaded guilty pursuant to the plea agreement. The circuit court deferred sentencing and informed Delf that, if probation was not granted as the state recommended, she would be allowed to withdraw her guilty plea and proceed to trial. The circuit court ordered a sentencing assessment report.

         At sentencing, the circuit court stated it initially intended to reject the state's recommendation after reviewing the sentencing assessment report. The sentencing assessment report revealed Delf pleaded guilty to passing a bad check in 2000. In 2009, Delf was convicted of nine counts of forgery, resulting in a $25, 000 loss to the victim. Delf committed those forgeries while employed as a home healthcare aide to an elderly patient. Delf received a suspended execution of sentence and was placed on probation. In 2012, while on probation for the 2009 offenses, Delf misappropriated money from another elderly patient but was not charged with a crime or found to have violated probation. The circuit court expressed its concerns regarding Delf working as a home healthcare aide for elderly people and her propensity to steal their money. However, the circuit court indicated it would not reject the state's recommendation; instead, the circuit court planned to impose special conditions on her probation.

         Defense counsel responded that if shock incarceration was one of the conditions of probation the circuit court was considering, "shock time" was discussed previously with the prosecutor. When he negotiated the plea agreement, defense counsel specifically asked the prosecutor whether the plea agreement meant no "shock time." Defense counsel contended the prosecutor confirmed no "shock time" was involved. Defense counsel requested time to discuss this issue off of the record prior to the circuit court's imposition of sentence.

         The circuit court declined defense counsel's request to discuss anything off the record and ordered Delf to serve 120 days' shock incarceration in the Jefferson County jail as a condition of her probation. The circuit court explained that, if it had ordered Delf to serve 120 days' shock incarceration in the department of corrections, Delf would have been able to set aside her guilty plea. However, the circuit court did not want to set aside the plea so it imposed the shock incarceration in the county jail as a special condition of probation. Defense counsel objected and pointed out the plea was "binding" because it was entered into under Rule 24.02(d)(1)(C). The circuit court overruled the objection, stating Delf could not pick and choose the conditions of probation she wished to serve. The circuit court further noted the plea agreement did not prohibit the imposition of this condition of probation. As an additional special condition of probation, the circuit court barred Delf from working as a home healthcare aide.

          Delf was delivered to the Jefferson County jail immediately after sentencing. Delf filed a motion to enforce her plea agreement or, in the alternative, to withdraw her guilty plea and proceed to trial. The circuit court overruled her motion.

         Delf subsequently filed a writ of mandamus in the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, challenging the circuit court's ruling. The Eastern District treated Delf's filing as a writ of habeas corpus and issued a preliminary writ, which secured her immediate release from jail pending further proceedings. After the state filed an answer and suggestions in opposition to Delf's writ, the Eastern District quashed the preliminary writ and ordered Delf to return to jail.

         After returning to jail, Delf sought relief from this Court, filing a writ of mandamus or, in the alternative, habeas corpus. This Court ruled it would treat Delf's petition as a writ of prohibition. On July 27, 2016, this Court issued a preliminary writ of prohibition, pursuant to its authority under article V, section 4 of the Missouri Constitution. This Court's preliminary writ of prohibition commanded the circuit court to take no further action in this matter, other than to show cause as to the reasons this writ should not issue, until ordered to do so by this Court.

         Standard of Review

         This Court has jurisdiction to issue original remedial writs. Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 4. "A writ of prohibition is appropriate: (1) to prevent the usurpation of judicial power when a lower court lacks authority or jurisdiction; (2) to remedy an excess of authority, jurisdiction or abuse of discretion where the lower court lacks the power to act as intended; or (3) where a party may suffer irreparable harm if relief is not granted." State ex rel. Strauser v. Martinez, 416 S.W.3d 798, 801 (Mo. banc 2014).

         Guilty Plea Proceedings

         Delf argues she is entitled to a writ prohibiting the circuit court from doing anything other than setting aside its order overruling her motion to enforce the plea agreement or, in the alternative, to withdraw the guilty plea and set the case for trial. Delf argues Rule 24.02(d) requires the circuit court to either accept a binding plea agreement without modification or reject it and permit the defendant to withdraw the guilty plea. Delf maintains the circuit court effectively rejected the plea agreement by adding terms the parties did not agree upon in reaching their agreement. Delf argues the circuit court abused its discretion and acted in excess of its authority when it effectively rejected the plea agreement and did not permit Delf to withdraw her guilty plea.

         Rule 24.02(d) Requirements

         Rule 24.02(d) governs plea agreement procedures. In this case, the parties reached an agreement pursuant to Rule 24.02(d)(1)(C), which provides the prosecutor will agree that a specific sentence is the appropriate disposition for the case. The parties' agreement states Delf would receive a seven-year sentence, execution of the sentence would be suspended, she would be placed on five years' probation, and she would pay $5, 000 in restitution before the end of the probationary term. The parties disclosed the plea agreement on the record as required by Rule 24.02(d)(2). At sentencing, the circuit court had two options: (1) it could accept the plea and dispose of ...


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