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Gates v. State

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division

January 30, 2018

SIDNEY McNEAL GATES, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Boone County, Missouri The Honorable Jodi C. Asel, Judge

          Before: Mark D. Pfeiffer, Chief Judge, Presiding, Cynthia L. Martin, Judge and Anthony Rex Gabbert, Judge.

          CYNTHIA L. MARTIN, JUDGE.

         Sidney McNeal Gates ("Gates") appeals from the motion court's judgment that granted his post-conviction request for relief from a conviction and sentence for felony stealing. Though Gates prevailed on his post-conviction motion, he appeals because the motion court vacated his guilty plea and restored his case on the trial docket, instead of vacating his felony conviction and entering a conviction for misdemeanor stealing with an appropriate sentence. We dismiss Gates's appeal as moot.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On July 15, 2016, Gates pleaded guilty to the class C felony of stealing under section 570.030.[1] Gates admitted that he acted together with another person to steal a gun from a gun store. In exchange for his guilty plea, the State agreed to recommend a four-year sentence that would run concurrently with the other sentences he was serving. The trial court accepted Gates's guilty plea and sentenced him pursuant to the State's recommendation.

         Gates timely filed a pro se Rule 24.035 motion on September 22, 2016. The motion court referred the case to the Public Defender, and on January 23, 2017, Gates timely filed an amended motion ("Amended Motion"). The Amended Motion asserted that Gates was denied due process of law because he was unlawfully convicted and sentenced for the class C felony of stealing, when he should have been convicted and sentenced for the class A misdemeanor of stealing in light of the Missouri Supreme Court's decision in State v. Bazell, 497 S.W.3d 263 (Mo. banc 2016). The Amended Motion asked the motion court to vacate the unlawful felony conviction and sentence, and to enter an amended judgment to reflect Gates's conviction of the class A misdemeanor of stealing with a one-year sentence in the county detention center.

         On March 23, 2017, the motion court issued its findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment ("Judgment"). The Judgment found that Gates was entitled to relief pursuant to the authority of Bazell.[2] However, instead of affording Gates the remedy requested in the Amended Motion, the motion court vacated Gates's guilty plea and placed his criminal matter back on the docket. The motion court reasoned that Rule 24.035(j) authorizes such remedy as is appropriate, and that it was more appropriate to return the parties and the case to their positions before Gates's guilty plea, permitting the State to determine how it wanted to charge Gates.

         Gates timely appealed the motion court's Judgment. After Gates's appeal was filed, the trial court before whom Gates's criminal matter was once again pending[3] granted the State leave to file a substitute information charging Gates with the class C felony of receiving stolen property in violation of section 570.080.[4] Gates pleaded guilty to the amended charge and received a four-year sentence, with credit for time served. The trial court recommended Gates "for 559 Shock Program, if eligible and qualified." On October 4, 2017, the trial court found that Gates "has completed the 120 day program pursuant to 559.115 RSMo, " and ordered supervision of Gates by the Missouri Board of Probation and Parole for a term of five years.

         Analysis

         Gates's single point on appeal asserts that the motion court clearly erred in vacating Gates's guilty plea because that remedy was neither requested by him nor appropriate. Gates claims that, pursuant to State v. Bazell, the appropriate remedy when a trial court sentences a defendant in excess of the maximum sentence authorized by law is to resentence the defendant within the range of punishment for the proper degree of the offense. Thus, Gates asserts that instead of vacating his voluntary guilty plea, the motion court should have vacated the judgment of conviction and sentence for the class C felony of stealing and entered a new judgment of conviction and sentence for the class A misdemeanor of stealing.

         Before we consider the merits of Gates's appeal, we must determine, as a threshold question, whether the controversy is moot. In re Estate of Pethan, 475 S.W.3d 722, 726 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015). Mootness implicates the justiciability of the case, so we may dismiss a case for mootness sua sponte.[5] State ex rel. Reed v. Reardon, 41 S.W.3d 470, 473 (Mo. banc 2001). To exercise appellate jurisdiction, the case must present "an actual and vital controversy susceptible of some relief." Id. "[A] cause of action is moot when the question presented for decision seeks a judgment upon some matter which, if the judgment was rendered, would not have any practical effect upon any then existing controversy." Id. If "'an event occurs that makes a court's decision unnecessary or makes granting effectual relief by the court impossible, the case is moot and generally should be dismissed.'" Estate of Pethan, 475 S.W.3d at 726 (quoting Dotson v. Kander, 435 S.W.3d 643, 644 (Mo. banc 2014)). "This is true even if the case was not moot at its inception." Matter of Mo-Am. Water Co., 516 S.W.3d 823, 828 (Mo. banc 2017). A case "may be mooted by an intervenient event which so alters the position of the parties that any judgment rendered merely becomes a hypothetical opinion." State ex rel. Reed, 41 S.W.3d at 473. In determining whether the controversy is moot, we may consider facts outside the record. In re J.T.S., 462 S.W.3d 475, 478 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015).

         Gates's appeal asks us to reverse the motion court's Judgment and to remand this matter to the motion court with instructions to enter a judgment of conviction and sentence for the class A misdemeanor of stealing. However, Gates's decision to plead guilty to the amended charge of receiving stolen property renders it impossible to grant this relief. The factual circumstances giving rise to Gates's guilty plea to the amended charge of receiving stolen property are the same as those giving rise to the felony conviction for stealing Gates now wants reduced to a misdemeanor. Any opinion we might issue regarding the motion court's authority to vacate Gates's guilty plea when that remedy was not sought by the Amended Motion would have no practical effect, as Gates has voluntarily agreed to an alternative resolution of his criminal matter.

         Gates argues that this matter is not moot because once he filed a notice of appeal from the Judgment disposing of his Amended Motion, "the circuit court lacked the authority to allow the state to file an amended motion in the underlying criminal case or . . . to take any further action until the resolution of this appeal." Gates is correct that, generally, once a notice of appeal is filed, the trial court's jurisdiction over that case ceases, as jurisdiction is relinquished to the appellate court. Sanford v. CenturyTel of Mo., LLC, 490 S.W.3d 717, 721 (Mo. banc 2016). Gates's notice of appeal thus divested the motion court of the authority to take any further action in Boone County Cause No. 16BA-CV03343, the civil proceedings involving the Amended Motion. Gates's notice of appeal did not, however, divest the trial court of the authority to act in Boone County Cause No. 15BA-CR04395-01, the criminal matter reopened by operation of the ...


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