Fields v. State, WD 84506

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Writing for the CourtGary D. Witt, Judge
Citation642 S.W.3d 774
Parties Daniel FIELDS, Appellant, v. STATE of Missouri, Respondent.
Decision Date29 March 2022
Docket NumberWD 84506

642 S.W.3d 774

Daniel FIELDS, Appellant,
v.
STATE of Missouri, Respondent.

WD 84506

Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District.

OPINION FILED: March 29, 2022


Irene C. Karns, Columbia, MO, for appellant.

Austin Christopher Davis, Jefferson City, MO, for respondent.

Before Division One: Mark D. Pfeiffer, Presiding Judge, Karen King Mitchell, Judge and Gary D. Witt, Judge

Gary D. Witt, Judge

Daniel J. Fields ("Fields") pled guilty, pursuant to a plea agreement, to two counts of first-degree statutory sodomy in the Circuit Court of Jackson County. Following his guilty plea, Fields received two fourteen-year terms of imprisonment to be served consecutively. Fields filed a timely pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct judgment and sentence pursuant to Rule 24.0351 claiming ineffective assistance of counsel during the plea proceedings. Fields's appointed counsel filed a timely amended motion. After a bifurcated evidentiary hearing, the Circuit Court ("motion court") denied Fields's motion, and this appeal followed. Finding no error, we affirm.

642 S.W.3d 776

Factual Background

Fields, who was 41 years old at the time of the offenses in 2018, was charged with two counts of first-degree statutory sodomy for placing his genitals in the hand of a minor less than twelve years of age for purposes of sexual gratification, and one count of first-degree sodomy for placing his genitals in the mouth of a minor less than twelve years of age for purposes of sexual gratification. Pursuant to the plea agreement, the State dismissed the first-degree sodomy charge, and Fields entered a plea of guilty to the two counts of first-degree statutory sodomy. Consistent with the terms of the plea agreement, the trial court sentenced Fields to fourteen years on each count to be served consecutively for a total of twenty-eight years of imprisonment, with the possibility of parole after completion of eighty-five percent of the sentence.

During the plea and sentencing proceeding, Fields testified under oath that he fully understood the terms of the plea agreement as discussed with his counsel and that he was fully satisfied with his counsel's representation. The plea court then questioned Fields about the factual basis of his guilty plea, and Fields made no indication that he did not understand the offenses for which he was pleading guilty or recommended sentence pursuant to the plea agreement.

Following his guilty plea, Fields filed a timely pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct judgment pursuant to Rule 24.035. Fields's appointed counsel then filed a timely amended motion. In Fields's amended motion, he argued his counsel failed to adequately inform him of the collateral consequences of his plea. During the evidentiary hearing, Fields testified that his plea counsel never informed him that, following the completion of his sentence, his conviction could result in a civil lifetime commitment to the Missouri Department of Health ("MDH") as a sexually violent predator ("SVP") pursuant to Sections 632.480-632.498.2 Fields stated that he would not have accepted the plea offer had he known about the possibility of future civil commitment.

At the evidentiary hearing, Fields's plea counsel testified that Fields accepted the plea offer on a date initially set for a Section 491 hearing.3 Although Fields's plea counsel testified at the evidentiary hearing, she was not asked whether she informed Fields of the possible collateral consequence of civil commitment as an SVP.

The motion court denied Fields's motion and found Fields's testimony was not credible. On appeal, Fields solely argues that the motion court erred in denying his motion because he received ineffective counsel in that plea counsel failed to advise him of the possibility of involuntary commitment as an SVP.

Standard of Review

A movant bears the burden of proving entitlement to postconviction relief by a preponderance of evidence. Rule 24.035(i). This Court presumes that the findings and conclusions of the motion court are correct. Wilson v. State , 813 S.W.2d 833, 835 (Mo. banc. 1991). Our limited standard of review in this case

642 S.W.3d 777

allows us only to determine whether the motion court's decision was clearly erroneous based on its findings of fact and conclusions of law. Rule 24.035(k); Eichelberger v. State , 71 S.W.3d 197, 199 (Mo. App. W.D. 2002). Findings of fact or conclusions of law are clearly erroneous only when the Court has reviewed the entire record and is left with a "definite and firm impression" that a mistake was made. Wilson , 813 S.W.2d at 835.

Discussion

Fields's only point on appeal alleges that the motion court erred in denying his motion because he received ineffective assistance from his plea counsel that violated his rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution as well as his rights under Article I, Sections 10 and 18(a) of the Missouri Constitution. Fields argues that plea counsel was ineffective in failing to advise him that by pleading guilty, he would also face the possibility of civil commitment as an SVP following the completion of his prison term. Fields asserts that this failure by his plea counsel led him to plead guilty unknowingly and therefore involuntarily.

The Sixth Amendment, as applied to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, guarantees the fundamental right to counsel to all defendants in state criminal proceedings. Gideon v. Wainwright , 372 U.S. 335, 342-44, 83 S.Ct. 792, 9 L.Ed.2d 799 (1963). Additionally, the Missouri Constitution guarantees the right to due process in Article 1, Section 10, and the right to counsel in Article 1, Section 18(a). The right to "assistance of counsel" requires effective assistance. Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. 668, 686, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). To obtain postconviction relief for ineffective assistance of counsel, a movant must prove by preponderance of evidence that (1) his counsel failed to utilize the level of skill and diligence of a reasonably competent attorney, and (2) he was prejudiced by this failure. Johnson v. State , 406 S.W.3d 892, 898-99 (Mo. banc 2013). A defendant must show that the representation provided by counsel fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. Strickland , 466 U.S. at 688, 104 S.Ct. 2052.

The movant bears the burden of overcoming the strong presumption that counsel exercised reasonable and effective conduct in their...

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