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Staten v. State

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, First Division

March 6, 2018

WALTER J. STATEN, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent.

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOPER COUNTY, MISSOURI THE HONORABLE ROBERT L. KOFFMAN, JUDGE

          Before Thomas H. Newton, Presiding Judge, Victor C. Howard, Judge and Karen King Mitchell, Judge

          VICTOR C. HOWARD, JUDGE .

         Walter Staten appeals from the judgment of the motion court denying his Rule 24.035 motion for postconviction relief following an evidentiary hearing. The record suggests that Staten's amended motion for postconviction relief was untimely filed. Because the motion court did not make an independent inquiry into whether Staten was abandoned by postconviction counsel as a result of the untimely filing, this court reverses the motion court's judgment and remands the case for determination of whether Staten was abandoned by postconviction counsel.

         Background

         Staten was charged by indictment in Pettis County with the class A felony of second-degree murder, armed criminal action, and felon in possession of a firearm. Following a change in venue to Cooper County and pursuant to a plea agreement, Staten pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of first-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action. The charge of felon in possession of a firearm was dismissed. Staten was sentenced to consecutive terms of imprisonment of fifteen years for manslaughter and twenty-five years for armed criminal action.

         Thereafter, Staten filed a timely pro se Rule 24.035 motion requesting that his guilty plea be set aside. The State filed an answer, motion for judgment on the pleadings, and confession of judgment conceding Staten's motion for postconviction relief. The motion court subsequently entered a judgment sustaining Staten's Rule 24.035 motion and setting aside his guilty plea and sentences.

         Thereafter, the State filed a first amended information restoring the original charges against Staten-second-degree murder, armed criminal action, and felon in possession of a firearm. The State charged Staten with "causing the death of William D. Saunders by shooting him." It further alleged that Staten was a prior and persistent offender in that he had two prior felony convictions for second-degree assault and one for unlawful use of a weapon.

         Staten entered open pleas of guilty to the second-degree murder and armed criminal action charges, and the felon in possession of a firearm charge was again dismissed. The court sentenced Staten to concurrent sentences of life imprisonment for second-degree murder and thirty years for armed criminal action.

         Staten filed a timely pro se Rule 24.035 challenging his second plea and sentences. Postconviction counsel was appointed, and he entered his appearance and filed a motion for extension of time to file an amended motion on July 8, 2014. The transcript from Staten's guilty plea and sentencing proceedings was filed August 1, 2014. Postconviction counsel filed an amended motion on October 29, 2014. The amended motion raised four claims for relief that were distinct from those raised in the pro se motion and did not incorporate any of the pro se claims. Specifically, the amended motion alleged that the plea and sentencing court was without jurisdiction, power, and/or authorization to accept Staten's guilty plea to and enter sentences for second-degree murder and armed criminal action because the prior convictions and sentences in the case had not been validly vacated. The motion further alleged ineffective assistance of counsel regarding counsel's failure to object to the judgment and sentences for the same reason and on the ground that it violated Staten's right to be free of double jeopardy. Finally, the motion alleged ineffective assistance of counsel regarding counsel's assurances to Staten about the sentences he would receive.

         The motion court held an evidentiary hearing. Thereafter, it entered its findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment denying relief. This appeal by Staten followed.

         Analysis

         The State does not address the merits of Staten's appeal but advises that this court must remand this matter to the motion court for determination of whether Staten was abandoned by postconviction counsel. Staten agrees with the State in his reply brief.

         "When an untimely amended motion is filed, the motion court has a duty to undertake an independent inquiry...to determine if abandonment occurred." Moore v. State, 458 S.W.3d 822, 825 (Mo. banc 2015)(internal quotes and citation omitted). "The result of the inquiry into abandonment determines which motion-the initial motion or the amended motion-the court should adjudicate." Id. at 826. "If the motion court finds that a movant has not been abandoned, the motion court should not permit the filing of the amended motion and should proceed with adjudicating the movant's initial motion." Id. at 825. But "[i]f the motion court determines that the movant was abandoned by appointed counsel's untimely filing of an amended motion, the ...


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