Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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In 1983, Carr was convicted capital murder for killing his brother, stepmother, and stepsister when he was 16 years old. He was sentenced to three concurrent terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years. His sentences were imposed without any consideration of his youth. The Missouri Supreme Court granted his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. His sentences violate the Eighth Amendment because, following the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama, juvenile offenders cannot be sentenced to life without parole pursuant to mandatory sentencing schemes that preclude consideration of the offender’s youth and attendant circumstances. Carr was sentenced under a mandatory sentencing scheme that afforded no opportunity to consider his age, maturity, limited control over his environment, the transient characteristics attendant to youth, or his capacity for rehabilitation. Carr must be resentenced so his youth and other attendant circumstances surrounding his offense can be taken into consideration to ensure he will not be forced to serve a disproportionate sentence in violation of the Eighth Amendment. View "Carr v. Wallace" on Justia Law

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Sanders was convicted of murder in the second degree and is serving a sentence of life imprisonment for the murder of Sherilyn Hill (RSMo section 565.021.1). Consistent with the indictment, the trial court instructed the jury it must find Sanders guilty of second-degree murder if the jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that Sanders knowingly caused Hill’s death by “kicking her and strangling her.” The court also instructed the jury on voluntary manslaughter, which, like the second-degree murder instruction, required the jury to determine whether Sanders caused Hill’s death by “kicking her and strangling her.” The trial court refused Sanders’ requested instruction on the lesser included offense of involuntary manslaughter, which would have required the jury to determine whether Sanders “recklessly” caused Hill’s death by “kicking her.” The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. The trial court did not err by refusing to instruct the jury on involuntary manslaughter because Sanders’ proffered involuntary manslaughter instruction impermissibly modified the charged offense by requiring the jury to find he caused Hill’s death by kicking her as opposed to kicking and strangling her. View "State v. Sanders" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Jorgensen knocked Stout unconscious. Jorgensen and Jensen beat Stout with their fists and baseball bats and stomped on his head, chest, and midsection, then dragged him into the woods and left him for dead. The next day, they returned and discovered Stout was alive. Jorgensen stabbed Stout multiple times and attempted to cut his throat, then tried to shoot Jensen. Jensen ran away and called for help. Jensen eventually led authorities to Stout’s body, claiming that he acted under duress. The state charged Jensen, as a persistent offender, with first-degree murder, armed criminal action, and abandonment of a corpse. The court instructed the jury on first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and voluntary manslaughter and that duress was an affirmative defense to voluntary manslaughter but refused to instruct the jury on the lesser included offense of involuntary manslaughter. Jensen was convicted of second-degree murder, armed criminal action, and abandonment of a corpse. The Missouri Supreme Court reversed. The court's error in refusing Jensen’s properly requested instruction on involuntary manslaughter was prejudicial because the omitted instruction would have directly tested whether Jensen acted “recklessly” as opposed to “knowingly.” Jensen’s claims that the court erred in failing to declare a mistrial due to the admission of evidence of uncharged misconduct, comments the defendant had “gangster tattoos all over him,” and the emotional outburst of the victim’s mother were without merit.The court did not reverse Jensen’s conviction for abandonment of a corpse. View "State v. Jensen" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Willbanks was 17 years old when he was charged with kidnapping, first-degree assault, two counts of first-degree robbery, and three counts of armed criminal action, based on a carjacking. He was convicted and sentenced to consecutive prison terms of 15 years for the kidnapping count, life for the assault count, 20 years for each of the two robbery counts, and 100 years for each of the three armed criminal action counts. On appeal, he argued his sentences, in the aggregate, will result in the functional equivalent of a life without parole sentence and that Missouri’s mandatory minimum parole statutes and regulations violate his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment in light of the Supreme Court holding in Graham v. Florida (2010). The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Missouri’s mandatory minimum parole statutes and regulations are constitutionally valid under Graham. Graham held that the Eighth Amendment barred sentencing a juvenile to a single sentence of life without parole for a nonhomicide offense. Graham did not address juveniles who were convicted of multiple nonhomicide offenses and received multiple fixed-term sentences. View "Willbanks v. Missouri Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Brown went to Whitehead’s apartment and requested that Whitehead come outside. Whitehead recognized Brown and followed him downstairs. As they reached an exterior door, Brown pointed a gun at Whitehead and fired. Whitehead fell as he ran into the building, believing he had been shot. He had a hole in his shirt and a graze on his back. Whitehead was injured when he fell against a door, which was hit by the bullet. The state charged Brown, as a persistent offender, with first-degree assault and armed criminal action. The court's first-degree assault instruction asked the jury to determine whether Brown “attempted to kill or cause serious physical injury to Dylan Whitehead by shooting at him.” The second-degree assault instruction asked the jury to determine whether Brown “attempted to cause physical injury to Dylan Whitehead by means of a deadly weapon by shooting at him.” Both provided a person “attempts” to cause a certain result when they act “with the purpose” of causing that result. The court refused Brown’s instruction for third-degree assault, which would have required the jury to determine whether Brown “recklessly created a grave risk of death or serious physical injury to Dylan Whitehead by shooting at him.” The jury convicted Brown of first-degree assault and armed criminal action. The Missouri Supreme Court reversed. The trial court's error in failing to instruct the jury on third-degree assault was prejudicial. There is a basis in the evidence from which the jury could conclude Brown recklessly created a grave risk of death or serious physical injury. View "State v. Brown" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Smith was arrested after a string of break-ins at Sedalia businesses and was charged with one count of first-degree burglary, four counts of second-degree burglary, four counts of felony stealing, and one count of property destruction and resisting arrest. For the first-degree burglary charge, the jury was instructed on the charged offense and the lesser included offense of second-degree burglary. The trial court refused Smith’s request for an additional instruction on first-degree trespass. Smith also requested the trespass instruction for each of the second-degree burglary charges, but the trial court refused to give the instruction for three of the four charges. The jury found Smith guilty of all charged offenses. The Missouri Supreme Court reversed in part. The trial court erred when it refused to give an instruction for first-degree trespass for the charged burglary offenses. Additionally, because the enhancement provisions of RSMo section 570.030.32 do not apply to the definition of stealing in section 570.030.1, Smith’s felony stealing convictions must be reversed and remanded for resentencing as misdemeanors. The court rejected Smith’s claim that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to convict him for allegedly burglarizing the U.S. Post Office. View "State v. Smith" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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In connection with a home-invasion robbery and murder, Nathan, 16 years old, was convicted on 26 counts. Pursuant to RSMo 565.020.2, the court sentenced Nathan to life in prison without the possibility of parole plus five life sentences and five 15-year sentences, to be served consecutively. While Nathan's appeal was pending, the U.S. Supreme Court decided, in Miller v. Alabama, that "the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders." In compliance with the Missouri Supreme Court's instructions on remand, the circuit court entered a finding of guilt for second-degree murder and for armed criminal action in connection with second-degree murder. The jury recommended a life sentence for the second-degree murder conviction, a 30-year sentence for the first-degree robbery conviction, a 15-year sentence for kidnapping, and three life sentences for the related armed criminal action convictions. Nathan requested resentencing by a jury on the 20 convictions that were not part of the remand, claiming a Brady violation because the state failed to disclose, before his original waiver of jury sentencing, a police report detailing an investigation into alleged sexual abuse committed against him. The court rejected his arguments and imposed the jury-recommended sentences, to run consecutively. On appeal, Nathan argued the combined effect of his consecutive sentences amounted to the functional equivalent of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The Missouri Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed. View "State v. Nathan" on Justia Law

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Carl Kirk was committed to the custody of the Department of Mental Health under the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), Mo. Rev. Stat. 632.480 through 632.525. On appeal, the court of appeals transferred the case to the Supreme Court on the ground that the appeal involved issues within the Supreme Court’s exclusive appellate jurisdiction as set forth in Mo. Const. art. V, section 3. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the issues raised in this case did not fall within the Supreme Court’s exclusive appellate jurisdiction, and even thought he court of appeals erred in transferring the case, the Supreme Court granted transfer prior to opinion pursuant to Rule 83.01 and therefore had jurisdiction; (2) the SVPA, among other things, evidences no punitive intent and violates no constitutional prohibits against ex post facto laws, and the standard of proof required under the SVPA and employed in Kirk’s case is not unconstitutional; and (3) Kirk’s remaining claims of error were unavailing. View "In re Care & Treatment of Kirk" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of two counts of sale of a controlled substance and one count of unlawful possession of firearms. Defendant filed a motion for postconviction relief. The motion was premature because it was filed prior to a determination on appeal whether the judgment of conviction would be affirmed. After Defendant’s conviction was affirmed, Defendant filed a second postconviction motion alleging that the trial court erred in rejecting his speedy trial claim. The motion court dismissed the postconviction motion as “successive.” The Supreme Court vacated the dismissal of Defendant’s second postconviction and remanded, holding that, under the unusual facts of this case, the motion court should have treated the second motion as timely and as incorporating the first pro se motion. View "McKay v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Defendant was committed to the custody of the Department of Mental Health under the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), Mo. Rev. Stat. 632.480 through 632.525. On appeal, the court of appeals transferred the case to the Supreme Court on the ground that the appeal involved issues within the Supreme Court’s exclusive appellate jurisdiction. For the reasons set forth in In re Care & Treatment of Kirk, __ S.W.3d __ (Mo. 2017), decided also on this day, Defendant’s constitutional claims were “merely colorable” and did not invoke the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. However, the court, on its own motion, granted transfer from the court of appeals prior to opinion pursuant to Rule 83.01 and therefore had jurisdiction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant’s constitutional claims that the purpose and effect of the SVPA is punitive are rejected; and (2) Defendant’s remaining claims on appeal were unavailing. View "In re Care & Treatment of Nelson" on Justia Law