Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Missouri
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The Supreme Court made permanent a writ of prohibition to prevent the circuit court from ordering Relator to submit to a mental evaluation pursuant to Mo. Rev. Stat. chapter 552, holding that chapter 552 did not authorize the circuit court to order the department of mental health to conduct a psychiatric evaluation of Relator. Relator was charged with first-degree murder, second-degree burglary, and other offenses. Relator asserted that he was not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. The State sought an order for a mental evaluation pursuant to chapter 552. The circuit court granted the motion. Relator then petitioned the court of appeals for a writ of prohibition, and the court of appeals granted the writ. The Supreme Court granted transfer and made permanent a writ of probation, holding that the circuit court exceeded its authority by ordering Relator to undergo a mental evaluation pursuant to chapter 552 when Relator intended to rely only on the diminished capacity defense because the circuit court lacked reasonable cause to question his competence to stand trial. View "Caruthers v. Honorable Wendy Wexler-Horn" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the motion court overruling Appellant's Mo. R. Crim. P. 29.15 motion for post-conviction relief alleging several claims of ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel, holding that Appellant's claims of error were unavailing. After a jury trial, Appellant was found guilty of one count of first-degree murder for the death of a Missouri highway patrolman. The jury was unable to agree whether to recommend a sentence of death or life imprisonment. The circuit court subsequently conducted an independent review of the facts and imposed a death sentence. The Supreme Court affirmed on appeal. Thereafter, Appellant filed his Rule 29.15 motion. The motion court denied the motion after an evidentiary hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding, among other things, that counsel were not ineffective in failing to question Juror 58 during voir dire about the provocative and violent novel he admitted writing and in failing to call other jurors in support of Appellant's motion for new trial. View "Shockley v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court remanded this case resulting in Defendant's convictions of first- and second-degree murder and sentence of death for the first-degree murder and life imprisonment for the second-degree murder, holding that Defendant's second-degree murder conviction must be reversed and that the judgment on the first-degree murder must be reversed as to the penalty phase of the trial. Specifically, the Court held (1) the circuit court erred when it refused to submit Defendant's proposed jury instructions for second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter in that there was sufficient evidence from which the jury could find that Defendant acted out of sudden passion arising from adequate cause; (2) the circuit court erred in admitting statements made in violation of Defendant's Miranda rights, but the error was harmless; (3) the circuit court violated Defendant's right to due process by admitting evidence of his post-Miranda silence, but those violations were harmless; and (4) the circuit court erred when it overruled Defendant's objection to the State's penalty phase closing argument in which the State made an impermissible reference to Defendant's decision not to testify, and this error required the judgment on the first-degree murder to be reversed as to the penalty phase of the trial. View "State v. Rice" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court convicting Defendant of possession of a controlled substance - methamphetamine - holding that while the State clearly violated the rules of discovery by failing timely to disclose a recorded statement Defendant made, the discovery violation did not warrant the sanction of excluding the evidence. Here, the State did not disclose the recorded statement at issue until four days before trial. Defendant filed a pretrial motion to exclude the recorded statement from evidence as a sanction for the alleged discovery violation. Defendant did not seek a continuance as a remedy to the discovery violation in her pretrial motion. The circuit court overruled Defendant's motion to exclude the evidence. The jury returned a verdict finding Defendant guilty of felony possession of methamphetamine. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because a continuance would have remedied any alleged prejudice to Defendant the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in overruling Defendant's motion for sanctions. View "State v. Zuroweste" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the circuit court, after a bench trial, finding Defendant “not guilty” of felony sexual misconduct involving a child by indecent exposure because the statute under which he was charged was unconstitutionally overbroad as applied to Defendant’s case, holding that, based on the record, the Court was unable to ascertain the precise nature of the circuit court’s ruling. On appeal, the State argued that the circuit court’s judgment was equivalent to a dismissal of the indictment following a guilty verdict, and therefore, Defendant was not acquitted of the offense. In response, Defendant argued that the circuit court’s judgment was a judgment of acquittal because the circuit court expressly found him not guilty. Therefore, Defendant argued, the appeal was barred by double jeopardy. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment and remanded the case with instructions to enter a new judgment, holding that the Court could not consider the appeal or motion to dismiss on the merits because the Court was unable to determine if the judgment was an acquittal or a dismissal. View "State v. Ward" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court quashed its preliminary writ of mandamus to compel the circuit court to dismiss with prejudice Relator’s charge of driving while intoxicated, holding that Relator did not demonstrate a clear and unequivocal right to the dismissal of his charge because the plain language of Mo. Rev. Stat. 577.037.2 does not require a pretrial hearing or pretrial determination on the motion. Relator filed a motion under section 577.037.2 asserting that because the chemical analysis demonstrated that his blood alcohol concentration was under the legal limit, and because the State did not present evidence to prove the dismissal was unwarranted, the charge should be dismissed. The circuit court overruled the motion. Relator then sought a writ of mandamus. The Supreme Court quashed its preliminary writ of mandamus, holding (1) a pretrial hearing or pretrial determination on the section 577.037.2 motion is not required; (2) the circuit court has discretion to order that a hearing and determination on the motion be deferred until trial; and (3) because the circuit court’s overruling of the motion effectively deferred the matter until trial, Relator could seek relief on appeal. View "State ex rel. McCree v. Honorable Wesley Dalton" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the suspension of Appellant’s driver’s license for driving while intoxicated, holding that Appellant’s arguments on appeal were unavailing. Specifically, the Court held (1) the filing of a report with the department of health and senior services showing that a driver’s blood alcohol content was over the legal limit is a collateral requirement that does not affect the performance of the test or its validity or accuracy, and therefore, the failure to timely make that filing was not preclude admission of the report; (2) the implied consent notice complied with due process because it accurately informed Appellant that his license would be suspended immediately if he refused the breath test; and (3) a later notice of suspension given Appellant after he failed the breath test accurately informed him of the facts statutorily required to suspend his license and how to request a hearing. View "Carvalho v. Director of Revenue" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the orders of the circuit court overruling motions to retax court costs after each movant had his jail board bill taxed as costs against him by the circuit court, holding that no statutory authority exists to treat jail board bills as court costs. Both movants were sentenced to a term in jail. The circuit clerks taxed to the movants as court costs a jail board bill. The movants later filed motions to retax costs, arguing that the circuit court had no statutory authority to tax their board bills as court costs. The circuit courts overruled the motions. The Supreme Court reversed the rulings on both motions and remanded with direction for the circuit court to retax the costs by removing the board bill liability of the movants under Mo. Rev. Stat. 221.070 from their respective fee reports, holding that the circuit courts erred in taxing as court costs the movants’ board bills, as express statutory authority permitting jail board bills to be taxed as court costs does not exist. View "State v. Richey" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court made permanent its preliminary writ of prohibition preventing the circuit court from taking any action in this case other than discharging Relator from probation, holding that the circuit court lacked authority over Relator and could not hold a hearing to revoke her probation. During Relator’s term of probation, the division of probation and parole issued notices of citation, but none of those notices resulted in the issuance of probation violation warrants or the suspension of Relator’s probation. After a field violation report was filed, however, the circuit court suspended Relator’s probation. After a probation violation hearing was scheduled, Relator sought a petition for a writ of prohibition. The Supreme Court issued a preliminary writ, which it made permanent, holding (1) the notices of citation were not “initial violation reports” or “violation reports” pursuant to Mo. Rev. Stat. 217.703, and therefore, the division’s issuances of notices of citation did not stop the accrual of earned compliance credits because Relator was not out of compliance with the terms of her probation; and (2) after the optimal discharge date passed, the circuit court did not have the authority to hold a probation revocation hearing and, rather, should have discharged Relator from probation. View "State ex rel. Coleman v. Honorable Horn" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held in these two cases that a probationer may not be discharged from probation as a result of Earned Compliance Credits (ECCs) accrued under Mo. Rev. Stat. 217.703 unless she has paid the full amount of any court-ordered restitution because Mo. Rev. Stat. 559.105.2, which prohibits such a discharge if the probationer has failed to pay the full amount of court-ordered restitution, takes precedence over section 217.703.7. In the case of Nettie Pallai, the judge sustained Pallai’s motion for discharge from probation, and the prosecutor, Kevin Hillman, petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of prohibition. In the case of Erica Long, the judge overruled Long’s motion to be discharged from probation. Both Pallai and Long accrued sufficient ECCs to be discharged under section 213.703.7 but failed to pay restitution. The Supreme Court made permanent the preliminary writ of probation in Hillman’s case and quashed the preliminary writ of prohibition in Long’s case, holding that a probationer may accrue ECCs under section 217.703.3, but she may not be discharged from probation by applying those ECCs to shorten her term of probation under section 217.703.7 unless she pays any court-ordered restitution in full pursuant to section 559.105.2. View "State ex rel. Hillman v. Honorable John D. Beger" on Justia Law