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Rice v. State

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fifth Division

May 22, 2018


          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis Case No. 1422-CC00500 Honorable Timothy J. Wilson


          James M.. Dowd, Chief Judge

         Appellant Shatondi Rice pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree felony murder and one count of armed criminal action. Rice filed a Rule 24.035[1] motion for post-conviction relief which was denied by the motion court without an evidentiary hearing. We now consider Rice's appeal of that denial.

         In Rice's sole point on appeal, he argues the motion court clearly erred in denying his Rule 24.035 motion without an evidentiary hearing because he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Specifically, Rice alleges that plea counsel's failure to advise him of the possibility of a jury instruction on the lesser included offense of involuntary manslaughter rendered his guilty plea involuntary, unknowing, and unintelligent. Because the motion court did not clearly err in finding that Rice's ineffective assistance of counsel claim did not entitle him to relief, or to an evidentiary hearing, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Shatondi Rice was indicted as a prior and persistent felony offender on charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action. Pursuant to a plea agreement, the State filed an amended information reducing the first-degree murder charge to second-degree felony murder, and Rice pleaded guilty to second-degree felony murder and armed criminal action. At his plea hearing, the State detailed the evidence that would have supported the charges at trial, including the testimony of Doriana Jefferson, the victim's daughter. Specifically, the State related that Jefferson would have testified she was in her home with Rice and the victim; witnessed the two arguing; and then heard a loud noise. Additionally, the State would have shown that Rice was in possession of a firearm, which he used to shoot and kill the victim. Rice acknowledged that this evidence was "basically correct."

         The plea court found that Rice's pleas were made voluntarily and intelligently with a full understanding that by pleading guilty, he was giving up his right to a jury trial. Rice was sentenced to concurrent life sentences with the possibility of parole.

         Rice timely filed his pro se Rule 24.035 motion for post-conviction relief alleging that plea counsel was ineffective for failing to advise him of the chance that the jury could have been instructed on the lesser included offense of involuntary manslaughter. Counsel then entered his appearance for Rice and filed an amended motion which the motion court denied without an evidentiary hearing. Rice appealed, and this Court found that his amended motion was untimely filed. Rice v. State, 482 S.W.3d 464 (Mo.App.E.D. 2016). Consequently, pursuant to Moore v. State, 458 S.W.3d 822 (Mo.banc 2015), we remanded the case to the motion court to conduct an abandonment inquiry. The motion court concluded that Rice's amended motion was untimely because he had been abandoned by counsel, and as a result the court considered Rice's amended motion. Nevertheless, the court again denied the motion without an evidentiary hearing.

         Standard of Review

         We review the denial of a Rule 24.035 motion for post-conviction relief only to determine whether the motion court's findings and conclusions are clearly erroneous. Rule 24.035(k); Dorsey v. State, 448 S.W.3d 276, 282 (Mo.banc 2014). Findings and conclusions are clearly erroneous only if, after reviewing the entire record, we are left with the definite and firm impression that a mistake has been made. Swallow v. State, 398 S.W.3d 1, 3 (Mo.banc 2013). We presume that the motion court's findings are correct. Chaney v. State, 323 S.W.3d 836, 841 (Mo.App.E.D.2010).

         Moreover, an evidentiary hearing is not warranted for every Rule 24.035 motion. Rule 24.035(h); see Whitehead v. State, 481 S.W.3d 116, 122 (Mo.App.E.D. 2016). To be entitled to an evidentiary hearing, the movant's motion must (1) allege facts, not conclusions, warranting relief; (2) raise factual matters that are not refuted by the file and record; and (3) raise allegations that resulted in prejudice. Id. Courts will not draw factual inferences or implications in a post-conviction motion from bare conclusions or from a prayer for relief. See Johnson v. State, 406 S.W.3d 892, 898 (Mo.banc 2013) (elucidating this principle with respect to Rule 29.15 motions).


         The Strickland Test

         We apply the two-part Strickland test to ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims for post-conviction relief. Johnson, 406 S.W.3d at 898 (citing Strickland v. Washington,466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). To be entitled to relief, the movant must show by a preponderance of the evidence that (1) his counsel failed to exercise the level of skill and diligence that a reasonably competent counsel would in a similar situation and (2) he was prejudiced by that failure. Id. To overcome the strong presumption that counsel's conduct was reasonable and effective, the movant must identify specific acts or omissions of counsel that, in light of all the circumstances, fell outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance. Id. ...

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