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Jeffcott v. State

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Third Division

May 1, 2018

DONALD JEFFCOTT, Appella
v.
STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis 1422-CC08966 Honorable John J. Riley Judge.

          ROBERT M. CLAYTON III, JUDGE.

         Donald Jeffcott ("Movant") appeals the judgment granting in part and denying in part his Rule 24.035[1] motion for post-conviction relief following an evidentiary hearing. We affirm in part and reverse and remand in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Movant was charged with nine sex offenses involving two victims (Counts I-IX). The indictment alleges Counts I, II, and III (two counts of first-degree statutory sodomy and one count of incest, respectively) were all committed by Movant on or between April 21, 2000 and December 31, 2001. In all three counts, Movant was alleged to have had deviate sexual intercourse with J.K. by engaging in hand-to-genital contact; Count I alleged Movant touched J.K.'s genitals with his hand, Count II alleged Movant put J.K.'s hand on Movant's penis, and Count III alleged Movant placed his hand on J.K.'s genitals.[2]

         Movant was also charged with Counts IV-IX (one count of first-degree statutory sodomy, four counts of first-degree child molestation, and one count of incest, respectively). Those six counts pertained to Movant's alleged sexual contact with victim J.J.[3]

         A. Movant's Guilty Plea and Sentencing Hearings

         On November 6, 2013, Movant appeared with plea counsel ("Counsel") to enter guilty pleas to Counts I-IX without any plea bargain.[4] Movant stated he believed it was in his best interest to plead guilty to all of the offenses, he had sufficient time to speak with Counsel, and he had no complaints as to how Counsel handled his case. Further, Movant told the court he understood his constitutional right to a trial and he would be giving up that right and corresponding rights by pleading guilty.

         The prosecutor then explained if Movant's case had gone to trial, the evidence would have shown the following. For Counts I, II, and III relating to victim J.K., the charged conduct occurred between April 21, 2000 and December 31, 2001, J.K. was approximately eight years old during that timeframe, and the charged conduct constituted deviate sexual intercourse. The prosecutor explained the State would have proven that during the aforementioned timeframe: Movant touched J.K.'s genitals with his hand (the act of first-degree statutory sodomy charged in Count I); Movant put J.K's hand on Movant's penis (the act of first-degree statutory sodomy charged in Count II); and Movant placed his hand on J.K.'s genitals, at a time when Movant knew J.K. was his stepchild by virtue of a marriage creating the relationship (the act of incest charged in Count III). The prosecutor also explained the State would have proven each of the specific types of alleged sexual contact underlying Counts IV-IX pertaining to victim J.J. Finally, the prosecutor further stated J.K. told the police Movant touched her in the sexual manner alleged in Counts I-III, and J.J. told a professional at the Children's Advocacy Center that Movant touched her in the sexual manner alleged in Counts IV-IX.

         Movant stated he did not disagree with anything the prosecutor said, and that the prosecutor did not say anything that was not true or leave anything out. Movant then admitted he committed the conduct set forth by the prosecutor and stated he was "pleading guilty because [he] did those things[.]" Movant also stated he wanted to plead guilty and nobody was making him do it. Then, Movant acknowledged he faced up to life imprisonment for the first-degree statutory sodomy charges in Counts I, II, and IV, up to four years of imprisonment for the incest charges in Counts III and IX, and up to fifteen years of imprisonment for the first-degree child molestation charges in Counts V-VIII.

         Based on the foregoing information and discussion, the court found there was a factual basis for Movant's guilty pleas to Counts I-IX, accepted the pleas, and found Movant made the pleas voluntarily and knowingly. The court ordered a sentencing assessment report and continued the matter for sentencing.

         Movant's sentencing hearing took place on December 19, 2013. The court entered a judgment finding Movant guilty of Counts I-IX and sentencing him to a total of nineteen years of imprisonment.[5]

         B. Movant's Rule 24.035 Motion, the Evidentiary Hearing, and the Motion Court's Judgment

         Movant subsequently filed a pro se Rule 24.035 motion for post-conviction relief. The motion court did not appoint post-conviction counsel. However, an attorney from the Missouri State Public Defender's office ("post-conviction counsel") entered an appearance on behalf of Movant on December 10, 2014. The transcript of Movant's guilty plea and sentencing hearing was filed with the motion court on October 3, 2014.

         Post-conviction counsel timely filed an amended motion for post-conviction relief on January 21, 2015, [6] alleging Movant was denied his right to effective assistance of counsel. Specifically, Movant asserted Counsel was ineffective for failing to properly advise Movant that the hand-to-genital contact charged in Counts I-III did not fall within the applicable statutory definitions of "deviate sexual intercourse" for the entire time period alleged in those charges, and as a result, he was entitled to have his guilty pleas to Counts I-IX and his sentences for those counts vacated.

         The motion court granted Movant an evidentiary hearing regarding Movant's claim. Movant testified via a deposition admitted into evidence during the evidentiary hearing, and Counsel testified at the hearing.

         Thereafter, the motion court granted in part and denied in part Movant's Rule 24.035 motion. The motion court's judgment granted Movant some post-conviction relief with respect to Counts I and II (the two counts of first-degree statutory sodomy involving victim J.K.); specifically, the court modified the underlying judgment to find Movant guilty of the lesser-included offenses of first-degree child molestation, vacated the sentences for Counts I and II, and ordered resentencing as to those two counts. The motion court's judgment denied Movant post-conviction relief in all other respects. Before resentencing occurred on Counts I and II, Movant filed this appeal.[7]

         II. DISCUSSION

         We initially note this case involves a unique procedural posture because Movant filed his appeal before resentencing occurred on Counts I and II.[8] Movant raises one point on appeal, asserting the motion court's judgment was clearly erroneous.

         A. Standard of Review and General Law

         Our Court reviews a trial court's ruling on a Rule 24.035 motion for post-conviction relief only to determine if the findings of fact and conclusions of law of the motion court are clearly erroneous. Rule 24.035(k); Jones v. State, 516 S.W.3d 447, 450 (Mo. App. E.D. 2017). Findings and conclusions are clearly erroneous if, after a review of the entire record, we are left with the definite and firm impression that a mistake has been made. Jones, 516 S.W.3d at 450. The motion court's findings are presumed correct, and we defer to the motion court's credibility determinations. Id.

         After a guilty plea, this Court's review is limited to a determination of whether the underlying plea was knowingly and voluntarily made, and counsel's alleged ineffectiveness is only relevant to the extent it affected the voluntariness of the movant's plea. Whitley v. State, 501 S.W.3d 531, 534 (Mo. App. E.D. 2016); see Neal v. State, 379 S.W.3d 209, 215 (Mo. App. W.D. 2012) (similarly finding). The movant has the burden of proving his claims for post-conviction relief by a preponderance of the evidence. Whitley, 501 S.W.3d at 534; Neal, 379 S.W.3d at 214-15; Rule 24.035(i). In order to prove a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel following a guilty plea, the movant must show counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and as a result, the movant was prejudiced. Whitley, 501 S.W.3d at 534-35; Neal, 379 S.W.3d at 215. To demonstrate prejudice after a guilty plea, the movant must establish that but for his counsel's alleged unreasonable conduct, there is a reasonable probability the result of the proceeding would have been different, i.e., he would not have pled guilty. Neal, 379 S.W.3d at 215-16 (citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687, 694 (1984)); see Whitley, 501 S.W.3d at 535.

         B. Movant's ...


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