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State v. Larsen

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Special Division

August 16, 2016

STATE OF MISSOURI, Appellant,
v.
JOHN THOMAS LARSEN, Respondent.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri The Honorable Jeffrey C. Keal, Judge.

          Before Zel M. Fischer, Special Judge, Presiding, Mark D. Pfeiffer, Chief Judge, and Gary D. Witt, Judge

          Mark D. Pfeiffer, Chief Judge.

         John T. Larsen ("Larsen") was charged with the class D felony of driving while intoxicated ("DWI") as a persistent offender after he had previously pled guilty to a municipal DWI ordinance violation which arose from the same incident. The Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri ("circuit court"), dismissed the felony DWI charge on double jeopardy grounds and the State has appealed. We affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On June 28, 2014, John Larsen was arrested for DWI in Greenwood, Missouri. He was charged with violating a municipal DWI ordinance in the City of Greenwood Municipal Court and pleaded guilty to that charge on October 7, 2014. The judge presiding in the Greenwood municipal division of the circuit court entered judgment against Larsen the same day.

         On October 23, 2014, the Jackson County Prosecutor sought to prosecute Larsen for the class D felony of driving while intoxicated as a persistent offender, [1] said charge arising from the same incident as the municipal ordinance violation and resulting October 7, 2014 judgment.

         Larsen's attorney filed a motion to dismiss the felony DWI charge, asserting double jeopardy protection. See State v. M.L.S., 275 S.W.3d 293, 296 (Mo. App. W.D. 2008) ("The Double Jeopardy Clause prevents a criminal defendant from being subjected to multiple punishments for the same offense." (internal quotation omitted)). The circuit court agreed and dismissed the case, stating:

[Larsen] has already pleaded guilty in the City of Greenwood Municipal Court for driving while intoxicated stemming from events on June 28, 2014. As any new charge related to these same events would violate [Larsen's] protection from "Double Jeopardy" afforded to him by the 5th and 14th Amendments of the United States Constitution and Article 1 §19 of the Missouri Constitution, the case brought by the State of Missouri (1416-CR03682) against [Larsen] is hereby DISMISSED.
The State has filed this timely appeal.

         Standard of Review

         "Whether a defendant is afforded the protections of the Double Jeopardy Clause is a question of law, which we review de novo." M.L.S., 275 S.W.3d at 296.

         Analysis

         In the State's point on appeal, it argues that the Greenwood municipal division of the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction[2] and its judgment is a nullity; thus, the State argues that the present felony DWI charge is not barred under principles of double jeopardy analysis. However, the State's subject matter jurisdiction argument is nothing more than a "jurisdictional competence" argument that our Missouri Supreme Court has previously rejected. See J.C.W. ex rel. Webb v. Wyciskalla, 275 S.W.3d 249, 254 (Mo. banc 2009).

         In Webb, our Supreme Court succinctly explained that the subject matter jurisdiction of Missouri's courts is dictated by article V of the Missouri Constitution. Id. at 253. For example, in Webb, the court in question was a circuit court; thus, our Supreme Court evaluated that judge's subject matter jurisdiction under article V, section 14 (the provision governing circuit judge jurisdiction). Id. at 253-54. In footnote 7, the Supreme Court referred to the subject matter jurisdiction of associate circuit court judges under article V, section 17 (the provision governing associate circuit judge jurisdiction). Id. at 254 n.7. Here, the question presented is: What subject matter jurisdiction does a judge have in the municipal ...


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