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State ex rel. Griffith v. Precythe

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

May 21, 2019

STATE OF MISSOURI ex rel. TREVOR GRIFFITH, Petitioner,
v.
ANNE PRECYTHE, JULIE KEMPKER, AND KENNY JONES, Respondents.

          ORIGINAL PROCEEDING IN HABEAS CORPUS

          George W. Draper III, Judge.

         Trevor Griffith (hereinafter, "Griffith") filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, seeking an immediate release from custody and his return to the circuit court to be discharged from probation. Griffith argues the circuit court exceeded its authority after revoking and terminating his second term of probation and was without authority to execute his sentence.

         After this case was briefed, argued, and submitted, Griffith was released from his incarceration and discharged from parole. This Court exercises its discretion to not dismiss this appeal as moot. The circuit court erred in placing Griffith on a third term of probation. When a circuit court places a defendant on an erroneous third term of probation, the case should be remanded back to that point in time to determine the proper course of the defendant's sentence. However, since Griffith has been released and discharged, he should not be returned to custody to make this determination.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         In December 2010, Griffith pleaded guilty to one count of felony distribution, delivery, or sale of a controlled substance. The circuit court suspended imposition of Griffith's sentence and placed him on a five-year term of probation.

         Griffith's probation was revoked in October 2011, and the circuit court sentenced him to five years in prison and placed him into a 120-day institutional treatment program. Pursuant to section 559.115, RSMo Supp. 2005, the circuit court retained jurisdiction for the 120-day period. Following Griffith's completion of the treatment program, the circuit court placed Griffith on a second five-year probationary term, beginning in February 2012.

         In February 2013, the circuit court revoked Griffith's probation. The circuit court then placed Griffith on a third term of probation for five years.

         Griffith's probation was revoked again in November 2014. The circuit court imposed and executed a five-year term of imprisonment.

         In March 2017, Griffith filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus with the circuit court asserting the court exceeded its authority[1] in imposing a third term of probation. The circuit court denied Griffith relief. Griffith petitioned and was denied relief by the court of appeals.

         Griffith then petitioned this Court for habeas corpus relief, requesting this Court order his unconditional release from confinement and amend his conviction record to reflect his discharge from probation. This Court issued a writ of habeas corpus.

         Mootness

         A threshold determination in any appellate review is whether the controversy is moot. Grzybinski v. Dir. of Revenue, 479 S.W.3d 742, 745 (Mo. App. E.D. 2016). "When 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." Id. (quoting Kinsky v. Steiger, 109 S.W.3d 194, 195 (Mo. App. E.D. 2003)).

         However, there are two exceptions to the mootness doctrine: (1) where the case becomes moot after it has been argued and submitted, and (2) where the case presents an unsettled legal issue of public interest and importance of a recurring nature that will escape review unless the court exercises its discretionary jurisdiction.[2] State ex rel. Peters-Baker v. Round, 561 S.W.3d 380, 384-85 (Mo. banc 2018). "If either of these exceptions exist, an appellate court may choose to exercise its discretion to decide the case, notwithstanding that it has become moot." Id. at 385.

         After this case was heard and submitted, this Court requested counsel of record to file confirmation of Griffith's incarceration and parole status. Griffith was released from custody and discharged from parole at the end of February 2019. Griffith is no longer incarcerated and has been discharged from parole. While the case appears to be moot because Griffith is no longer restrained of his liberty and has completed his sentence, counsel agree this Court should reach the underlying merits of this case, rather than issue a dismissal, because the first exception to the mootness ...


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