Price v. State, SC 93120.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri
Citation422 S.W.3d 292
Docket NumberNo. SC 93120.,SC 93120.
PartiesClayton Dean PRICE, Respondent, v. STATE of Missouri, Appellant.
Decision Date25 February 2014


Shaun J. Mackelprang, Attorney General's Office, Jefferson City, for the State.

Lincoln J. Knauer Jr. and Ginger K. Gooch, Husch Blackwell LLP, Springfield, for Price.


Clayton Dean Price's motion for post-conviction relief missed the deadline for such a motion under Rule 29.15(b) by more than four years. Price claims that his tardiness should be excused because the counsel he retained to draft and file that motion for him misunderstood the deadlines. The motion court agreed and excused Price's untimely filing. Following a hearing on Price's substantive claims, the motion court granted relief and vacated Price's conviction. The state claims that the motion court erred by proceeding on Price's untimely motion because Price waived all claims for relief when he failed to file his motion within the time allowed by Rule 29.15(b). This Court agrees. Accordingly, the motion court's judgment is reversed and Price's motion is dismissed with prejudice.

I. Standard of Review

Appellate review of a judgment entered under Rule 29.15 “is limited to a determination of whether the motion court's findings of fact and conclusions of law are clearly erroneous.” Moore v. State, 328 S.W.3d 700, 702 (Mo. banc 2010). “Findings and conclusions are clearly erroneous if, after a review of the entire record, the court is left with the definite and firm impression that a mistake has been made.” Moss v. State, 10 S.W.3d 508, 511 (Mo. banc 2000).

II. Facts

On March 9, 2004, a Taney County jury found Price guilty of first-degree sodomy. Price's trial attorney filed a motion for a new trial but was allowed to withdraw when Price retained a new attorney. At sentencing, with Price's new counsel in attendance, the trial court overruled the new trial motion and sentenced Price to 12 years in prison.

After pronouncing sentence, the trial court advised Price that he was entitled to seek post-conviction relief under Rule 29.15. The court stated that, if he wanted to seek such relief, it was Price's responsibility to complete Criminal Procedure Form No. 40 and file it with the trial court on or before the applicable deadline. The trial court explained further that, if Price did not appeal his conviction, the deadline for filing his post-conviction motion was 180 days after his arrival at the department of corrections. If Price pursued an appeal and was not successful, however, the court explained that the deadline for his motion was 90 days after the appellate court's mandate affirming his conviction. When questioned by the court as to whether he understood these deadlines, Price expressly confirmed that he did.

Price appealed, and his conviction was affirmed. State v. Price, 165 S.W.3d 568, 570 (Mo.App.2005). The court of appeals issued its mandate on July 15, 2005, which meant that the Rule 29.15(b) deadline for Price's post-conviction relief motion was October 13, 2005. Despite the trial court's explanation of the deadlines and Price's confirmation that he understood them, Price did not file his Rule 29.15 motion until December 31, 2009, more than four years after the deadline had passed.

In this motion,1 Price claimed that his failure to comply with the filing deadline established in Rule 29.15(b) should be excused because he was abandoned by his post-conviction counsel. Price alleged that he hired private counsel to draft and file his Rule 29.15 motion and then relied entirely on that counsel to ensure that a timely motion was filed. In an affidavit submitted in support of Price's motion, Price's counsel states that—despite being present at Price's sentencing and hearing the trial court's instructions to Price regarding the deadlines in Rule 29.15(b)he believed he had 180 days, not 90, after the appellate court's mandate to draft and file Price's initial post-conviction motion. Counsel claims that he did not discover his error until November 17, 2005, more than four weeks after the deadline for Price's motion. He concludes that “Price relied upon my advice regarding the deadline for filing the 29.15 motion, and relied upon my representation that I would prepare and timely file the motion.”

The state moved to dismiss Price's 2009 motion as untimely. Following a hearing on the state's motion, the motion court concluded that the blame for Price's failure to comply with the filing deadline set forth in Rule 29.15(b) rested entirely with Price's counsel and not with Price.

[There is] no difference between the factual settings and legal principles applied in Sanders, Luleff and McFadden and the case at bar. Price's attorney actively interfered with Price's ability to file a pro se 29.15 motion by assuring Price, directly and indirectly, that he would timely prepare and file the motion on Price's behalf. Price's attorney abandoned this undertaking and, along with it, Price. Price is without fault, and his attorney is solely to blame, for Price's failure to timely file an original 29.15 motion.

Having concluded that Price was abandoned by his post-conviction counsel, the motion court overruled the state's motion to dismiss and granted Price's motion for leave to file his Rule 29.15 motion out of time. On October 26, 2011, following an evidentiary hearing on Price's substantive claims, the motion court found that Price had established grounds for relief and entered judgment vacating his conviction.2 The state appeals on the ground that the motion court's decision to proceed on Price's untimely Rule 29.15 motion was clearly erroneous. The court of appeals affirmed. Because this Court granted transfer pursuant to Rule 83.04, jurisdiction over the appeal now lies in this Court, and the judgment of the motion court is reversed. SeeMo. Const. art. V, § 10.

III. Analysis

Individuals convicted of state crimes have “no federal constitutional right to a state post-conviction proceeding[.] Smith v. State, 887 S.W.2d 601, 602 (Mo. banc 1994) (citing Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551, 557, 107 S.Ct. 1990, 95 L.Ed.2d 539 (1987)). As a result, the several states have “substantial discretion” to determine what post-conviction procedures (if any) each will provide. Finley, 481 U.S. at 559, 107 S.Ct. 1990.

In 1988, this Court exercised this discretion by adopting Rule 29.15 as the single, unified procedure for inmates seeking post-conviction relief after trial. See alsoRule 24.035 (for inmates who plead guilty). The purpose of these rules is to “adjudicate claims concerning the validity of the trial court's jurisdiction and the legality of the conviction or sentence of the defendant.... [while] avoiding delay in the processing of prisoners' claims and preventing the litigation of stale claims.” State ex rel. Nixon v. Daugherty, 186 S.W.3d 253, 254 (Mo. banc 2006). See also Thomas v. State, 808 S.W.2d 364, 366 (Mo. banc 1991) (same).

Though these are laudatory purposes, post-conviction proceedings—by their very nature—come at the expense of the public's substantial interest in preserving the finality of criminal convictions. Accordingly, even though courts are solicitous of post-conviction claims that present a genuine injustice, that policy must be balanced against the policy of bringing finality to the criminal process.” White v. State, 939 S.W.2d 887, 893 (Mo. banc 1997). That “balance” is reflected in the requirement that an inmate must initiate his post-conviction proceedings within the specified period or forever waive both the right to such a proceeding and all of the claims that might have been raised in a timely motion. SeeRule 29.15(b) and Rule 24.035(b).

A. Filing deadlines for initial motions

When an inmate is convicted after trial, Rule 29.15(b) establishes that inmate's deadline for filing his initial motion for post-conviction relief. Where, as here, the inmate appeals and his conviction is affirmed, the initial post-conviction motion must be filed within 90 days of the appellate court's mandate. The consequences of failing to comply with this deadline are stated unequivocally in the rule: “Failure to file a motion within the time provided by this Rule ... shall constitute a complete waiver of any right to proceed under this Rule ... and a complete waiver of any claim that could be raised in a motion filed pursuant to this Rule.” Rule 29.15(b) (emphasis added).

The deadline and “complete waiver” provisions of Rule 29.15(b) are mandatory and constitutional. Smith, 887 S.W.2d at 602 (citing Day v. State, 770 S.W.2d 692, 695 (Mo. banc 1989)). They play such an important role in the orderly presentation and resolution of post-conviction claims that the state cannot waive them. Dorris, 360 S.W.3d at 270 (Mo. banc 2012). Instead, motion courts and appellate courts have a “duty to enforce the mandatory time limits and the resulting complete waiver in the postconviction rules—even if the State does not raise the issue.” Id. at 268.

Despite these unequivocal provisions and this Court's duty to enforce them, Price contends that his failure to comply with the deadline in Rule 29.15(b) should be excused and the “complete waivers” under Rule 29.15(b) should not be enforced because the blame for his tardiness properly rests with his counsel and not himself. Though Price seeks the protection of the abandonment doctrine created by this Court in Sanders v. State, 807 S.W.2d 493 (Mo. banc 1991), and Luleff v. State, 807 S.W.2d 495 (Mo. banc 1991), his reliance on these cases is misplaced. As discussed below, the abandonment doctrine was created to excuse the untimely filing of amended motions by appointed counsel under Rule 29.15(e). The rationale for this excuse does not apply to untimely initial motions, and the purposes of Rule 29.15(b) would not be served by extending this doctrine to such circumstances.

B. Abandonment

As noted above, there is no federal constitutional right to...

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