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State v. Hobbs

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Second Division

August 23, 2016

STATE OF MISSOURI, Plaintiff/Respondent,
JEREMY R. HOBBS, Defendant/Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lincoln County Honorable Chris Kunza Mennemeyer.

          SHERRI B., SULLIVAN, P.J.


         Jeremy R. Hobbs (Appellant) appeals from the trial court's judgment entered upon a jury verdict finding him guilty of first-degree child molestation, punishable by a sentence of five to fifteen years. In accordance with the jury's recommendation after a bifurcated penalty phase of trial, the trial court sentenced Appellant to ten years in prison. We affirm the judgment, reverse the sentence, and remand for a new penalty phase.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Victim was five years old at the time of the events at issue in this case and lived with his father and L.H., to whom his father was engaged. Appellant was the cousin of L.H.'s sister, S.H. On May 31, 2013, J.C. told S.H., his aunt, he had seen Appellant and Victim in bed together and Appellant had his pants unzipped. S.H. told her husband, who told Victim's father. Victim's father asked Victim about this, and Victim told his father Appellant touched his penis twice. Victim's father contacted the police. Upon being interviewed, Appellant admitted to Detective James Patton (Det. Patton) orally and in writing he had touched Victim's penis. Appellant was indicted, tried and convicted of one count of first-degree child molestation. Prior to trial, Appellant filed a motion in limine prior to trial to exclude evidence he had been indicted on two additional sexual abuse charges following the indictment in this case. The trial court granted the motion, and during the guilt phase of his trial, no evidence of such was introduced.

         However, during the sentencing phase of trial, Det. Patton testified about the current charges pending against Appellant for child molestation and sexual exploitation of a minor. The defense objected to the State presenting evidence of the new charges, which had not yet been adjudicated. The State replied the incidents leading to the new charges occurred prior to the charges in the instant case, and did not have to have been adjudicated to be admissible.

         The trial court overruled Appellant's objection, relying upon State v. Thurman, 272 S.W.3d 489 (Mo.App. E.D. 2008). Det. Patton was allowed to testify during the penalty phase that during his continued investigation of Appellant after being apprised of the incidents leading to the instant case, he developed information regarding another incident of child molestation and discovered photographs which could constitute sexual exploitation of a minor. The State asked the jurors to impose the maximum sentence of fifteen years.

         Victim's father also testified during the penalty phase as to how the crime had affected his family and asked for the maximum sentence, fifteen years. L.H., Victim's stepmother, testified how Appellant had violated her trust and betrayed her. Appellant's father asked for leniency because this crime was a one-time event.

         At the conclusion of the penalty phase, the jury recommended Appellant be sentenced to ten years in prison, which the trial court imposed. This appeal follows.

         Point on Appeal

         In his point on appeal, Appellant claims the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the State to introduce evidence of additional charges filed against him in the punishment phase of the trial, because this violated his rights to due process of law and a fair trial guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 10 of the Missouri Constitution, in that the evidence was not legally relevant to the issue of punishment because the State failed to prove the existence of these additional charges by a preponderance of the evidence.

         Standard of Review

         As a general rule, the trial court has discretion during the punishment phase of trial to admit whatever evidence it deems helpful to the jury in assessing punishment. State v. Johns, 34 S.W.3d 93, 112 (Mo.banc 2000). When a challenge to the trial court's admission of evidence during the penalty phase is preserved for appeal, we review the trial court's ruling for an abuse of discretion. State v. Voss, 2016 WL 145727 *9 (Mo.App. E.D. 2016). An abuse of discretion occurs if the trial court's ruling as to the admission of evidence is clearly against the logic of the circumstances and is so unreasonable as to indicate a lack of careful ...

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