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Watson v. State

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

January 16, 2018

TERRY T. WATSON, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent.

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF ST. LOUIS CITY, MISSOURI Honorable Bryan Hettenbach, Judge

          Laura Denvir Stith, Judge

         Terry T. Watson appeals the motion court's order overruling his Rule 29.15 motion for postconviction relief. Finding counsel failed to timely file an amended motion, this Court reverses and remands for a determination of abandonment.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Mr. Watson was convicted of first-degree robbery, resisting arrest, and second-degree trafficking. He was sentenced to concurrent terms of imprisonment, the longest of which was 18 years. The convictions and sentences were affirmed on appeal, and on February 11, 2013, Mr. Watson filed a timely pro se motion for postconviction relief under Rule 29.15. The motion alleged Mr. Watson received ineffective assistance of counsel in that counsel (1) failed to notify Mr. Watson of the existence of a plea offer and (2) opted to take Mr. Watson's case to trial because of a mistaken belief that a conviction under the first-degree robbery statute required the use of a weapon to forcibly take property and cause bodily harm.

         The motion court notified the public defender's office that Mr. Watson had filed a pro se motion on March 16, 2013, but did not appoint counsel. A special public defender entered her appearance on Mr. Watson's behalf on March 20, 2013. On April 12, 2013, she filed a "Motion for Leave to File Amended Answer, " in which she requested "a period of 45 days from the date of filing within which to file an amended petition." (Emphasis added). The motion court issued an order stating only "Motion Granted So Ordered."

         The issue now before this Court is to determine exactly when the amended motion was due and whether an amended motion filed by the special public defender on May 30, 2013, was timely. If timely, then this Court will reach the merits. If untimely, then this Court must remand for a determination of abandonment.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When an appellate court reviews a motion for postconviction relief, such review "is limited to a determination of whether the motion court's findings and conclusions are clearly erroneous." Eastburn v. State, 400 S.W.3d 770, 773 (Mo. banc 2013). The motion court's findings and conclusions are clearly erroneous only "if, after reviewing the entire record, this Court is left with the definite and firm impression that a mistake has been made." Id. The filing deadlines for postconviction relief "are mandatory, and cannot be waived." Cox v. State, 445 S.W.3d 131, 134 (Mo. App. 2014). When a motion for postconviction relief is filed untimely, "the motion court should not reach the merits of the motion." Turner v. State, 935 S.W.2d 393, 394 (Mo. App. 1996).

         III. TIMELINESS OF THE AMENDED MOTION A. Requirements for an Amended Rule 29.15 Motion

         Rule 29.15(e) requires a movant seeking postconviction relief to first file a pro se motion. The appointment of counsel for an indigent movant or entry of appearance of counsel for a movant triggers the running of the time for counsel to file an amended motion under Rule 29.15(g). See Creighton v. State, 520 S.W.3d 416, 421 (Mo. banc 2017); Rule 29.15(e). Under Rule 29.15(g), the amended motion must be filed:

[W]ithin sixty days of the earlier of: (1) the date both the mandate of the appellate court is issued and counsel is appointed or (2) the date both the mandate of the appellate court is issued and an entry of appearance is filed by any counsel that is not appointed but enters an appearance on behalf of movant.

Moore v. State, 458 S.W.3d 822, 825 (Mo. banc 2015), quoting, Rule 29.15(g).

         At the time Mr. Watson filed his motion, Rule 29.15(g) further provided the "court may extend the time for filing the amended motion for one additional period not to exceed 30 days." No other extensions were permitted.[1] Failure to file either a timely amended motion or a statement in lieu of an amended motion explaining why an amended motion was unnecessary "raises a presumption of ...


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