Justia Missouri Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court entering partial summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff on the issue of liability, holding that the circuit court did not err in entering summary judgment on the issue of liability in Plaintiff's favor.After he mobile home caught on fire Plaintiff sued several defendants, including Mehrdad Fotoohighiam, alleging that Fotoohighiam and the other defendants conspired to set her home on fire, causing her mental and physical harm and property damage. The circuit court entered partial summary judgment as to liability in Plaintiff's favor. After a jury trial on the issue of damages only the jury returned a verdict of $250,000 in actual damages and $2,500,000 in punitive damages. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court correctly determined that the uncontroverted material facts established Plaintiff's right to partial summary judgment on the issue of liability. View "Green v. Fotoohighiam" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court against Defendant for one count of class C felony stealing and two counts of class A misdemeanor stealing, holding that absent proof of value, the offense submitted was a class D misdemeanor, not a class A misdemeanor, and that the circuit court should have entered judgment against Defendant for a class D felony rather than a class C felony.The jury instructions in this case required the jury to find Defendant retained the two victims' personal items without their consent and with the purpose of withholding this property from them. At trial, the State did not present evidence of the value of the stolen items of personal property. At issue on appeal was whether the circuit court properly entered judgment for one count of class C felony and two counts of class A misdemeanor stealing. The Supreme Court remanded the case, holding that the circuit court should have entered judgment for one count of class D felony stealing and two counts of class D misdemeanor stealing. View "State v. Knox" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court granted Petitioner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that Petitioner should have been discharged from probation before the State attempted to revoke probation and the circuit court suspended and revoked his probation.In his petition, Petitioner alleged that his due process rights were violated when, rather than discharging him from probation, the circuit court revoked his probation and ordered his sentence executed despite his having sufficient earned compliance credits (ECCs) and having paid restitution in full. The Supreme Court granted habeas relief and ordered that Petitioner be discharged from the custody of the Missouri Department of Corrections, holding that the circuit court no longer had authority to revoke Petitioner's probation after he paid restitution because the combination of his time served on probation and accrued ECCs would have entitled him to discharge under Mo. Rev. Stat. 217.703.7. View "State ex rel. Jonas v. Minor" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court convicting Defendant of second-degree domestic assault and armed criminal action, holding that none of Defendant's allegations of error entitled Defendant to relief.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the circuit court's failure to strike for cause a juror because she was the sister of an assistant prosecuting attorney who participated in Defendant's case did not result in manifest injustice; (2) the circuit court did not commit plain error in instructing the jury on self-defense; (3) the circuit court's response to the jury's question regarding the mental state for domestic assault did not warrant relief under plain error review; (4) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the testimony of a defense witness about the victim's "reputation" for violence; and (5) Defendant was not entitled to relief due to the circuit court overruling his objection to certain testimony. View "State v. Brandolese" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the motion court overruling Appellant's pro se Rule 29.15 postconviction motion seeking to vacate his felony statutory sodomy conviction under Mo. Rev. Stat. 566.062, holding that there was no final judgment in the underlying criminal case, and therefore, Appellant's postconviction relief motion was premature.In his motion for postconviction relief, Appellant argued that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel. After an evidentiary hearing, the motion court overruled the motion on the merits. Appellant appealed, arguing that his postconviction relief motion was premature because the trial court failed to carry out the Supreme Court's mandate issued in his direct appeal, and therefore, his judgment of conviction was not yet final. The Supreme Court agreed, holding (1) the trial court failure strictly to comply with the Court's mandate; and (2) therefore, the judgment of condition in Appellant's criminal case was not yet a final judgment that triggers the running of the time period in which he can file a Rule 29.15 motion, and the Rule 29.15 motion was premature. View "Lemasters v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court overruling Appellant's Rule 24.035 motion for postconviction relief from the sentences imposed on her for class C felony stealing under Mo. Rev. Stat. 570.030, holding that Appellant's crimes were class A misdemeanors under State v. Bazell, 497 S.W.3d 263 (Mo. banc 2016), and Appellant should have been sentenced accordingly.Appellant's judgment of conviction was not yet final when the Supreme Court decided Bazell, which held that stealing in violation of section 570.030 is a class A misdemeanor that cannot be enhanced to a class C felony. After Bazell was decided, Appellant's two five-year sentences were imposed. Appellant argued that she was entitled to have Bazell applied to her sentencing and that the sentences imposed exceeded the sentences authorized by law. The Supreme Court agreed, holding (1) Appellant was entitled to have Bazell applied to her sentencing; and (2) therefore, the circuit court erred in entering judgments of conviction against Appellant and sentencing her as if her crimes were class C felonies. View "Hamilton v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court sentencing Appellant for class C felony stealing under Mo. Rev. Stat. 570.030 because State v. Bazell, 497 S.W.3d 263 (Mo. banc 2016), held that stealing in violation of section 570.030 is a class A misdemeanor that cannot be enhanced to a felony.Appellant pleaded guilty to stealing in violation of section 570.030. Before Appellant's sentencing occurred Bazell was decided. Bazell held that stealing under section 570.030.1 was a class A misdemeanor that could not be enhanced to a class C felony. The circuit court subsequently sentenced Appellant to seven years for a class C felony, despite Appellant's objection that Bazell required he be sentenced for a class A misdemeanor. In his direct appeal, Appellant argued that he received an excessive sentence. The Supreme Court agreed, holding (1) Appellant did not waive his claim that he received an excessive sentence; and (2) the circuit court erred in sentencing Appellant for a class C felony. View "State v. Russell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court denied Petitioner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that Petitioner's claims of actual innocence did not entitle him to relief and that Petitioner neither demonstrated the "substantial threshold showing of insanity" nor that he was incompetent under Mo. Rev. Stat. 552.060.Petitioner was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. After the Supreme Court issued its order setting Petitioner's execution date, Petitioner filed his petition for writ of habeas corpus. The Supreme Court denied relief, holding (1) Petitioner failed to prove the substantial threshold showing of insanity required by Panetti v. Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930 (2007) and Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986); (2) Petitioner failed to prove that he is incompetent under section 552.060; and (3) Petitioner failed to offer sufficient evidence to show actual innocence, either as a gateway or as a freestanding claim. View "State ex rel. Barton v. Stange" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court judgment overruling Defendant's Mo. Rev. Stat. 29.15 motion for postconviction relief from his death sentence for first degree murder, holding that the circuit court's findings of fact and conclusions of law were not clearly erroneous.On appeal, Defendant argued that the circuit court committed multiple errors affecting the guilt phase, penalty phase, and postconviction relief phases of his criminal case. Among other things, Defendant argued that the circuit court erred in failing to find that his counsel provided ineffective assistance in several respects. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court's findings of fact and conclusions of law were not clearly erroneous and that the circuit court did not err in denying postconviction relief. View "McFadden v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court committing Appellant to the department of mental health (DMH) as a sexually violent predator (SVP), holding that the circuit court did not err.In 2005, Appellant pleaded guilty to felony sex abuse. Before his release in 2016, the State filed a petition seeking to civilly commit him as an SVP. A jury found Appellant to be an SVP and the circuit court committed him to DMH. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion when it prohibited Appellant from questioning the jury panel about the specific ages of child victims; (2) the circuit court did not err when it excluded a portion of the testimony regarding Appellant's risk of future dangerousness; (3) the circuit court did not plainly err in submitting Instruction No. 6, the verdict director; (4) Appellant received effective assistance of counsel at his probable cause hearing; (5) the circuit court did not plainly err in overruling Appellant's motion for new trial based on juror nondisclosure of bias; (6) Appellant's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to move for change of venue was without merit; and (7) omissions in the trial transcript did not prejudice Appellant's appellate review. View "In re Care & Treatment of D.N." on Justia Law