Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Hamilton v. State

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, First Division

March 26, 2019

HEATHER HAMILTON, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lincoln County Honorable James Beck

          OPINION

          ANGELA T. QUIGLESS, J.

         Heather Hamilton ("Movant") appeals from the judgment of the motion court, denying her Rule 24.035[1] post-conviction relief motion. Movant claims her sentences for two counts of felony stealing exceeded the maximum sentence authorized by law, in that under the holding in State v. Bazell, 497 S.W.3d 263 (Mo. banc 2016), the sentences should not have been enhanced to class C felonies but should have remained class A misdemeanors. Likewise, the State maintains Movant was sentenced in excess of the authorized range of punishment because Movant was not sentenced, and thus her stealing convictions were not final, until after Bazell was decided. Consequently, the State argues Movant is entitled to the forward application of Bazell, and requests that this Court reverse the motion court's judgment and remand for resentencing. We disagree with both Movant and the State, and affirm the judgment of the motion court.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On December 16, 2011, Movant was charged with two counts of the class C felony of stealing a controlled substance, in violation of Section 570.030 RSMo 2000 (Cum. Supp. 2009).[2]On March 26, 2012, Movant pleaded guilty to both charges, pursuant to a plea agreement in which the State agreed to recommend Movant be placed in a drug court program. Movant acknowledged she was charged with two counts of the class C felony of stealing, and that the range of punishment for each offense was up to seven years in prison.[3] The plea court accepted the State's recommendation. On May 22, 2014, the trial court suspended imposition of sentence and placed Movant on probation for five years. On December 22, 2014, a probation violation hearing was scheduled, but Movant failed to appear and a warrant was issued for her arrest. On May 18, 2015, another probation violation hearing was scheduled, and, again, Movant failed to appear and an arrest warrant was issued. On May 28, 2015, the warrant was served, and Movant appeared at a probation violation hearing and confessed to violating two conditions of her probation. The court continued Movant's probation. On December 19, 2016, another probation violation hearing was held, and Movant confessed to violating four conditions of her probation. On March 16, 2017, the court terminated Movant's probation and sentenced her to concurrent terms of five years' imprisonment on each count of felony stealing. Movant did not file a direct appeal.

         On August 4, 2017, Movant timely filed a pro se Rule 24.035 post-conviction relief motion. On August 17, 2017, the motion court appointed post-conviction counsel to represent Movant. On September 10, 2017, post-conviction counsel simultaneously entered his appearance and timely filed an amended motion. Therein, Movant acknowledged she did not request transcripts of the guilty plea and sentencing hearings, stating: "Given the nature of the claim being presented, and the time served already, movant is proceeding without the transcript." Movant claimed she was denied her right to due process of law because she was sentenced to the enhanced class C felony of stealing under Section 570.030, which was only a class A misdemeanor offense under the holding in State v. Bazell, 497 S.W.3d 263 (Mo. banc 2016). As a result, Movant argued her five-year sentences exceeded the maximum punishment authorized by law. Movant also waived her right to an evidentiary hearing.

         On February 26, 2018, the motion court entered its findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment, denying Movant's post-conviction relief motion. The motion court found Movant's claim was precluded by the holding in State ex rel. Windeknecht v. Mesmer, 530 S.W.3d 500 (Mo. banc 2017), in which the Missouri Supreme Court held that the Bazell holding only applies to cases moving forward, except those cases pending on direct appeal. The motion court concluded, "Since the Movant's motion is not a direct appeal, and the Movant received a sentence that was authorized by a different interpretation of section 570.030 without objection, the Movant's request for relief is hereby denied." Movant now appeals.

         Standard of Review

         We review the denial of a Rule 24.035 post-conviction relief motion to determine whether the motion court's findings and conclusions are clearly erroneous. Rule 24.035(k); Webb v. State, 334 S.W.3d 126, 128 (Mo. banc 2011). 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. Little v. State, 427 S.W.3d 846, 850 (Mo. App. E.D. 2014).

         Discussion

         In her sole point on appeal, Movant argues the motion court clearly erred in denying her Rule 24.035 post-conviction relief motion, in violation of her right to due process of law, because her sentences for two counts of felony stealing exceeded the maximum sentence authorized by law, in that under the holding in Bazell, the sentences should not have been enhanced to class C felonies but should have remained class A misdemeanors. Therefore, Movant asks this Court to reverse and remand for resentencing. We decline to do so.

         In Bazell, the Missouri Supreme Court held that the class A misdemeanor offense of stealing under Section 570.030 could not be enhanced to a class C felony because Section 570.030.3, the felony enhancement provision, only applies to those offenses "in which the value of the property or services is an element." Bazell, 497 S.W.3d at 266-67. The Court found the offense of stealing, as defined in Section 570.030.1, [4] contained no such element. Id.; see also State v. Smith, 522 S.W.3d 221, 229-30 (Mo. banc 2017) (reaffirming Bazell and holding that "Bazell draws no distinction among the numerous subcategories enumerated within section 570.030.3"). One year later, in State ex rel. Windeknecht v. Mesmer, which involved a petition for habeas corpus, [5] the Court concluded that Bazell's holding "only applies forward, except those cases pending on direct appeal." Windeknecht, 530 S.W.3d at 503.

         Here, Movant argues Windeknecht does not apply to a timely-filed Rule 24.035 post-conviction relief motion because the Missouri Supreme Court's holding "does not specifically address claims for relief pursuant to Rule 24.035." In support of her argument, Movant relies on State ex rel. Fite v. Johnson, 530 S.W.3d 508 (Mo. banc 2017), in which the Missouri Supreme Court held that a defendant could not rely on Bazell to withdraw a guilty plea pursuant to Rule 29.07(d) because a "claim that [a] sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law [is] within the purview of Rule 24.035[.]" Id. at 510. However, Movant's reliance on State ex rel. Fite is misplaced because the Court did not hold that a Bazell claim could be successfully asserted pursuant to Rule 24.035. See Watson v. State, 545 S.W.3d 909, 915 (Mo. App. W.D. 2018). Indeed, Missouri courts have repeatedly rejected the exact argument Movant raises on appeal. It is now well-established that although "a Bazell claim that a sentence has been unlawfully entered may be procedurally cognizable under Rule 24.035 in a strictly technical sense, a Bazell claim asserted pursuant to Rule 24.035 is substantively without merit as a matter of law." Id. (rejecting Movant's argument that a Bazell claim can be successfully raised in timely-filed post-conviction relief motions); see also Bosworth v. State, 559 S.W.3d 5, 10 (Mo. App. E.D. 2018) (finding argument erroneously conflates procedural cognizability with substantive merit); Whittley v. State, 559 S.W.3d 401, 403 (Mo. App. E.D. 2018); Abrams v. State, 550 S.W.3d 557, 558 (Mo. App. S.D. 2018). In accordance with these cases, we find Movant's argument fails because her Bazell challenge cannot be successfully raised in a Rule 24.035 post-conviction relief motion following a guilty plea. See Bosworth, 559 S.W.3d at 10 (citing Watson, 545 S.W.3d at 915, and Abrams, 550 S.W.3d at 558).

         Nevertheless, in support of Movant's appeal, the State argues Windeknecht is inapplicable to the present case because Movant was not sentenced, and therefore her stealing convictions were not final, until after Bazell was decided. Accordingly, the State maintains this case involves the forward application, rather ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.