STATE ex rel. ERIC G. ZAHND, Platte County Prosecuting Attorney, Relator,
THE HONORABLE JAMES W. VAN AMBURG, Respondent. STATE ex rel. ERIC G. ZAHND, Platte County Prosecuting Attorney, Relator,
THE HONORABLE THOMAS C. FINCHAM, Respondent.
PROCEEDINGS IN PROHIBITION
Brent Powell, Judge.
Zahnd, prosecuting attorney for Platte County, seeks writs of
prohibition directing the Platte County circuit court to
vacate its orders sustaining Rule 29.12(b) motions and
amending the stealing convictions and sentences of Jesse
Nelson and Jack Walker II. Because the circuit court lacked
jurisdiction to adjudicate the Rule 29.12(b) motions and
amend the judgments, such actions were void and this Court
makes permanent its preliminary writs of prohibition.
Factual and Procedural History
separate cases, Nelson and Walker were charged pursuant to
§ 570.030.3(1) with a class C felony for stealing
property worth $500 or more. Nelson pleaded guilty in August
2015; Walker pleaded guilty in August 2013. The circuit court
sentenced Nelson to three years' imprisonment but
suspended execution of his sentence and placed him on
probation. The circuit court sentenced Walker to seven
years' imprisonment but likewise suspended execution of
his sentence and placed him on probation.
2016, this Court held the offense of stealing could not be
enhanced to a felony pursuant to § 570.030. State v.
Bazell, 497 S.W.3d 263, 266-67 (Mo. banc
2016). Relying on Bazell, Nelson and
Walker, who were both still on probation, filed motions in
the circuit court seeking to amend their convictions and
sentences to reflect that stealing property worth $500 or
more was a class A misdemeanor rather than a class C
felony. Nelson and Walker made their motions
pursuant to Rule 29.12(b). The circuit court sustained both
motions and amended the judgments in both cases. The
judgments were amended to reflect convictions for the class A
misdemeanor of stealing rather than class C felonies.
Nelson's sentence was reduced to 180 days in jail, and
Walker's sentence was reduced to one year in jail.
prosecuting attorney then sought writs of prohibition
directing the circuit court to vacate its orders sustaining
the Rule 29.12(b) motions and amending its judgments.
Pursuant to article V, § 4.1 of the Missouri
Constitution, this Court issued a preliminary writ of
prohibition in both cases.
writ of prohibition, an extraordinary remedy, is to be used
with great caution and forbearance and only in cases of
extreme necessity." State ex rel. Douglas Toyota
III, Inc. v. Keeter, 804 S.W.2d 750, 752 (Mo. banc
1991). "The essential function of prohibition is to
correct or prevent inferior courts and agencies from acting
without or in excess of their jurisdiction."
judgment in a criminal case becomes final when a sentence is
imposed. State v. Larson, 79 S.W.3d 891, 893 (Mo.
banc 2002). Therefore, a circuit court "exhausts its
jurisdiction" over a criminal case once it imposes
sentence. State ex rel. Simmons v. White, 866 S.W.2d
443, 445 (Mo. banc 1993); cf. Spicer v. Donald N. Spicer
Revocable Living Trust, 336 S.W.3d 466, 468-69 (Mo. banc
2011) (holding, in the civil context, a circuit court is
"divested of jurisdiction" once its judgment
becomes final). "It can take no further action in that
case [unless] expressly provided by statute or rule."
Simmons, 866 S.W.2d at 445. "To allow otherwise
would result in a chaos of review unlimited in time, scope,
and expense." Id. at 446. Accordingly, any
action taken by a circuit court after sentence is imposed is
a "nullity" and "void" unless
specifically authorized by law. Id. at 445; cf.
Spicer, 336 S.W.3d at 469 ("Following divestiture
[of jurisdiction], any attempt by the trial court to continue
to exhibit authority over the case, whether by amending the
judgment or entering subsequent judgments, is void.").
the circuit court, after exhausting its jurisdiction over the
criminal cases, took post-sentence action to amend its
judgments pursuant to Rule 29.12(b). That rule provides:
"Plain errors affecting substantial rights may be
considered in the discretion of the court when the court
finds that manifest injustice or miscarriage of justice has
resulted therefrom." Unlike Rule 24.035 or Rule 29.15,
the plain language of Rule 29.12(b) does not provide for an
independent post-sentence procedure. See Vernor v.
State, 30 S.W.3d 196, 197 (Mo. App. 2000). Instead, Rule
29.12(b) presupposes the criminal case is still pending
before the circuit court and provides a mechanism for the
circuit court to consider plain errors before
imposing sentence, i.e., while it still retains jurisdiction
over the criminal case. See id.
and Walker's Rule 29.12(b) motions did not extend the
jurisdiction of the circuit court after the original
sentences were imposed, so the circuit court had no
jurisdiction to adjudicate the Rule 29.12(b) motions and
amend the judgments. Any action the circuit court took
pursuant to Rule 29.12(b) after imposing the sentences was a
"nullity" and "void." See
Simmons, 866 S.W.2d at 445; cf. Spicer, 336
S.W.3d at 469. The only action the circuit court could take
was to exercise its inherent power to dismiss the motions for
lack of jurisdiction. See Collins & Assocs. Dietary
Consultants v. Labor & Indus. Relations Comm'n,
724 S.W.2d 243, 245 (Mo. banc 1987), superseded by
statute on other grounds.
and Walker argue the circuit court never exhausted its
jurisdiction over their criminal cases because it never
rendered a final judgment in either case. As noted, a
judgment in a criminal case becomes final when sentence is
imposed. Larson, 79 S.W.3d at 893. The circuit court
entered judgments convicting Nelson and Walker of the class C
felony of stealing and sentencing them to three and seven
years respectively. Although the circuit court suspended the
execution of the sentences in both cases, the judgments were
still final when the sentences were imposed. See State ex
rel. Poucher v. Vincent, 258 S.W.3d 62, 66 (Mo. banc
2008) (explaining that when "a sentence is imposed but
then its execution is suspended, the judgment is final and
the defendant has a right of immediate appeal").
and Walker rely on State v. Morris, 719 S.W.2d 761,
763 (Mo. banc 1986), wherein this Court held a "sentence
that is contrary to the law cannot constitute a final
judgment" and is "void." In doing so, this
Court cited a court of appeals' decision, Ossana v.
State, 699 S.W.2d 72 (Mo. App. 1985). In
Ossana, the court of appeals cited no legal
authority for its broad proposition that, "In order to