Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Life-Sentenced Missouri Prisoner Has No Right to Release Date

by Ed Lyon

In 1990, Gordon F. Goldsby received consecutive sentences of 10 years, life and 25 years for crimes he committed in Missouri in 1972. After discharging his 10-year sentence, he began serving the life sentence. In 2015 he sought a declaration of his right to be released, relying upon a law passed in 1865, as amended in 1879, called the “three fourths rule” – which, he argued, capped life sentences at 20 years for computation purposes.

That statute also required prisoners to exhibit good behavior while imprisoned. Although the 1879 law was repealed under the state’s 1979 code revisions, Goldsby claimed it still applied to him due to his 1972 offense date. Goldsby had failed to achieve relief in two prior legal actions.

Unsurprisingly, the circuit court denied his petition. Goldsby gave timely notice of appeal and said the docketing fee was being sent from his prison trust account. Because the fee was received late, the appellate court dismissed his appeal. Missouri’s Supreme Court granted a transfer, heard the case and ultimately affirmed the circuit court’s denial on the merits.

Because Missouri’s legislature had repealed appellate docketing fees but left it up to a court’s discretion to impose them as additional requirements, a fee received late is not a jurisdictional bar that affects “the validity of the notice of appeal.” As Goldsby’s docketing fee was received within 15 days of his appeal notice, the Supreme Court proceeded to hear the case.

The Court agreed with the circuit court’s analysis that even if the original 1865 law remained in effect it would not apply to Goldsby, pointing to his 15 disciplinary infractions. The original law, and its 1879 amendment, required good behavior by a prisoner in order to qualify for a release date.

The Supreme Court further held that “the ‘three fourths rule’ of section 1 of the 1865 law did not apply to life sentences,” and noted “The statute also did not entitle the prisoner to release but merely to a recommendation of release, which was then left to the governor’s discretion.” See: Goldsby v. Lombardi, 559 S.W.3d 878 (Mo. 2018). 

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Goldsby v. Lombardi