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State v. Churchill

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

February 3, 2015


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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF MONROE COUNTY. The Honorable Rachel Bringer Shepherd, Judge.

Churchill was represented by Amy M. Bartholow of the public defender's office in Columbia.

The state was represented by Evan J. Buchheim of the attorney general's office in Jefferson City.

Paul C. Wilson, Judge. Russell, C.J., Breckenridge, Fischer, Stith and Teitelman, JJ., concur; Draper, J., dissents.


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Paul C. Wilson, J.

The juvenile officer for the 10th Judicial Circuit received information that Brenda Churchill (" Churchill" ) had a son (" JC" ), who was approximately five years old and who was in need of protective custody under section 211.031.1(1).[1] Churchill denied that JC existed, however, and efforts to locate JC proved unsuccessful. As a result, the juvenile officer filed an " Emergency Petition for Protective Custody" in the juvenile division of the circuit court of Monroe County. A summons was served on Churchill to testify at an initial hearing set for June 10, 2011, and to " have said juvenile with you then and there if the juvenile is in your custody." Churchill appeared without JC and testified repeatedly under oath that JC did not exist. Two weeks later, Churchill surrendered JC to the juvenile officer and conceded that he was her child.

Based on the false testimony she gave at the protective custody hearing, Churchill was charged with perjury. She moved to suppress her testimony from the protective custody hearing on the ground that it resulted from violations of her constitutional and statutory rights to counsel and her constitutional privilege against self-incrimination. This motion was overruled. Following a bench trial, Churchill was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison. This Court has jurisdiction of her appeal, see Mo. Const. art. V, § 10, and the judgment is affirmed.


Prior to the events underlying this criminal case, Churchill gave birth to six children. All six children were removed from her home, and Churchill's parental rights were terminated. Based on concerns for the welfare of a seventh child believed to be living with Churchill, the juvenile officer filed an " Emergency Petition for Protective Custody." On June 9, 2011, Churchill was served with a summons to appear at a hearing on this petition the following day and to bring JC with her. Churchill appeared at the protective custody hearing, but did not produce JC.

At the hearing, counsel for the juvenile officer elicited testimony from two of Churchill's relatives. First, Churchill's oldest daughter testified that she had seen a child named JC at her mother's home and he appeared to live there. She did not know whose child JC was, however, because

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Churchill said the child belonged to the witness' sister who lived in New York. Second, Churchill's father testified that JC was Churchill's child and was living with Churchill. Though he initially thought the child belonged to his granddaughter who lived in New York, he later learned this granddaughter was unable to have children. He testified that, after he learned the child could not be his granddaughter's, " it all come out in the open it -- it was [Churchill's] child."

After requesting the court take judicial notice of the files from prior proceedings in which Churchill's parental rights concerning her six other children were terminated, the juvenile office called Churchill to testify:

THE COURT: Miss Churchill, please come forward and be sworn. Please raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear that the evidence you shall give in this case now appearing will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God?
THE WITNESS: I just -- I want legal counsel.
THE COURT: Well --
THE WITNESS: (Inaudible). But yes, sir.
THE COURT: All right.
THE WITNESS: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: All right. Fine. Before you start. Miss Churchill, have a seat. Just let me say this is not the end of this procedure. This is merely the beginning of this procedure. You certainly have the right to legal counsel. We're not going to make any final determinations until you have legal counsel. What we're going to do today, if anything, would be a temporary matter.
If you cannot afford legal counsel, we will appoint one for you. Certainly if at a certain point you want another judge to proceed in this matter other than me, because I've got a certain amount of involvement certainly with your prior cases, that's something you can also request. We are going to proceed with as much of this hearing as we can today. All right?
THE WITNESS: I -- I want legal counsel, sir, please.
THE COURT: Well, that I understand.

At this point, counsel for the juvenile officer began questioning Churchill. Churchill's answers were cogent, responsive, and apparently accurate. When counsel began questioning her about JC, however, the following colloquy took place:

Q. All right. You have a son named [JC], is that true?
A. No, sir.
Q. And your son's -- this child's date of birth is 2/16 of '06, isn't that true?
A. No, sir.
Q. You're saying that's not true?
A. I'm saying that is not true.
Q. All right. Do you know a [JC]?
A. There is no [JC].
Q. All right. You were here when your father testified, ...

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