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State ex rel. Fite v. Johnson

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

October 31, 2017

STATE ex rel. AMY J. FITE, Christian County Prosecuting Attorney, Relator,
v.
THE HONORABLE LAURA JOHNSON, Respondent. STATE OF MISSOURI, Appellant,
v.
ROBBY LEDFORD, Respondent.

         ORIGINAL PROCEEDING IN PROHIBITION

          Zel M. Fischer, Chief Justice.

         Amy J. Fite, the Christian County Prosecuting Attorney, filed a petition for a writ of prohibition alleging the circuit court exceeded its authority by sustaining Robby Ledford's Rule 29.07(d) motion to withdraw his plea of guilty to felony stealing pursuant to § 570.030.3(1)[1] and resentencing him as a misdemeanor offender. Ledford's claim is procedurally defaulted and substantively meritless. This Court's preliminary writ of prohibition is made permanent.

         Facts and Procedural Background

         In 2013, Ledford pleaded guilty to stealing property worth more than $500 but less than $25, 000. Pursuant to § 570.030.3(1), the circuit court sentenced Ledford as a felon to five years' imprisonment, suspended imposition of the sentence, and placed him on probation for five years.

         In November 2015, the circuit court revoked Ledford's probation, executed his sentence, and delivered him to the custody of the Department of Corrections. Ledford did not appeal, nor did he file a Rule 24.035 motion for post-conviction relief.

         In February 2017, after expiration of the period for filing a timely Rule 24.035 motion for post-conviction relief, Ledford filed the underlying Rule 29.07(d) motion to withdraw his guilty plea.[2] Ledford claimed his conviction and sentence for felony stealing were unlawful and constituted manifest injustice pursuant to State v. Bazell, 497 S.W.3d 263 (Mo. banc 2016). Ledford argued Bazell applies retroactively and holds that stealing in violation of § 570.030.1 is a class A misdemeanor, not a felony. The circuit court sustained Ledford's motion, issued an order amending the stealing charge from a felony to a class A misdemeanor, and resentenced him to one year in the county jail with credit for time served.[3] The State filed the instant writ petition and a notice of appeal.[4]

         Standard of Review

         This Court has jurisdiction to issue original remedial writs. Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 4.1. "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).

         The Circuit Court Lacked Authority

         A criminal judgment becomes final when a sentence is entered. State v. Larson, 79 S.W.3d 891, 893 (Mo. banc 2002). "[O]nce judgment and sentencing occur in a criminal proceeding, the trial court has exhausted its jurisdiction. It can take no further action in that case except when otherwise expressly provided by statute or rule." State ex rel. Simmons v. White, 866 S.W.2d 443, 445 (Mo. banc 1993). This Court has recognized Rule 29.07(d) provides for a post-sentence civil matter. See Brown v. State, 66 S.W.3d 721, 724-25, 730 n.5 (Mo. banc 2002). Therefore, the circuit court had jurisdiction to adjudicate Ledford's Rule 29.07(d) motion as a civil matter. See Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 14(a).

         The circuit court lacked authority, however, to sustain the motion.[5] Because Ledford pleaded guilty, his claims for post-conviction relief are governed by Rule 24.035. Rule 24.035(a) "provides the exclusive procedure" to seek relief for the claims enumerated in the rule. Brown, 66 S.W.3d at 727. Rule 24.035, therefore, was the exclusive procedure by which Ledford could have collaterally attacked the final judgment based on his claim his sentence exceeds the maximum sentence authorized by law. Ledford's claim is procedurally defaulted due to his failure to file a Rule 24.035 motion for post-conviction relief.

         Contrary to the circuit court's order, Rule 29.07(d) does not provide an independent basis for reviewing procedurally defaulted claims for post-conviction relief. Brown, 66 S.W.3d at 730. Rule 29.07(d) provides:

A motion to withdraw a plea of guilty may be made only before sentence is imposed or when imposition of sentence is suspended; but to correct manifest injustice the court after sentence may set aside the judgment of ...

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