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Jones v. State

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, First Division

January 2, 2018

CHRISTOPHER L. JONES, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Buchanan County, Missouri The Honorable Daniel F. Kellogg, Judge

          Before Cynthia L. Martin, Presiding Judge, James Edward Welsh, Judge and Karen King Mitchell, Judge.

          Cynthia L. Martin, Judge

         Christopher Jones ("Jones") appeals from the judgment of the motion court denying his Rule 24.035 motion for post-conviction relief without an evidentiary hearing. Jones argues that the motion court applied the incorrect standard to determine his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing. Jones also contends that it was error to deny his claim without an evidentiary hearing because his testimony expressing satisfaction with counsel applied only to the voluntariness of his plea, and not to his satisfaction with counsel's performance at sentencing. Alternatively, Jones contends that it was error to deny his claim without an evidentiary hearing because the record did not conclusively refute his claim. We affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On October 23, 2015, Jones pled guilty to the Class C felony of tampering in the first degree. After finding that Jones entered his plea knowingly and voluntarily, the trial court accepted the plea and ordered a sentencing assessment report. A sentencing hearing was held on December 22, 2015.

         At the sentencing hearing, defense counsel highlighted Jones's newfound sobriety since entering custody, and requested a three-year sentence with Jones possibly being assessed for drug court upon release. Jones presented his own statement accepting responsibility for his crime. The trial court noted Jones's prior history of drug use and criminal activity. The trial court specifically admonished Jones for using drugs while out on bond. The trial court expressed concern that Jones had continued to use drugs despite being given opportunities to succeed. The trial court sentenced Jones to a seven-year term of imprisonment.

         The trial court then advised Jones of his rights under Rule 24.035 to challenge his conviction and sentence. In response to questions from the trial court, Jones testified that there was nothing counsel did that Jones did not want him to do; there was nothing counsel failed to do that Jones wanted him to do; there were no witnesses to whom Jones wanted counsel to talk; there was no evidence Jones wanted counsel to present; and Jones was completely satisfied with counsel's assistance, even in light of the trial court's sentencing. Based on Jones's testimony, the trial court held that there was no probable cause to find that Jones received ineffective assistance of counsel.

         Jones thereafter filed a pro se Rule 24.035 motion. Appointed counsel filed an Amended Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Judgment and Sentence on May 24, 2016 ("Amended Motion"). The Amended Motion argued that Jones received ineffective assistance of counsel because counsel did not investigate or present testimony from Jones's girlfriend and father at the sentencing hearing. According to the Amended Motion, these witnesses were present in the courtroom on the day of sentencing, and were prepared to provide mitigating testimony that would have resulted in a reasonable probability that Jones would have received a lesser sentence.

         The motion court denied Jones's Amended Motion without an evidentiary hearing and entered findings of fact, conclusions of law, and a judgment ("Judgment"). The motion court held that Jones's claim was refuted by the record based on his sentencing hearing testimony.

         This timely appeal follows.

         Standard of Review

Appellate review of the denial of a post-conviction relief motion is limited to a determination of whether the motion court's findings of fact and conclusions of law are clearly erroneous. Rule 24.035(k); Roberts v. State, 276 S.W.3d 833, 835 (Mo. banc 2009). Findings and conclusions are 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. Roberts, 276 S.W.3d at 835. The movant bears the burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that the motion court clearly erred. Id.

Dunlap v. State, 452 S.W.3d 257, 261-62 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015). "The motion court's findings of fact and conclusions of law are presumed to be correct." Hays v. State, 360 S.W.3d 304, 309 (Mo. App. W.D. 2012) (quoting Edwards v. State, 200 S.W.3d 500, 509 (Mo. banc 2006)).

         Analysis

         To sustain his burden to prove that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, Jones "must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that: (1) counsel failed to exercise the level of skill and diligence of a reasonably competent attorney; and (2) that he was thereby prejudiced." Dunlap, 452 S.W.3d at 262 (citing Zink v. State, 278 S.W.3d 170, 175 (Mo. banc 2009)). "A movant claiming ineffective assistance must overcome a strong presumption that counsel provided competent representation." Id. (citing Worthington v. State, 166 S.W.3d 566, 573 (Mo. banc 2005)). "To prove prejudice the movant must demonstrate that 'there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.'" Id. (quoting Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694 (1984)). Because a movant must ...


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