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State v. Jones

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

March 14, 2017

STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent,
v.
RALPH BABY JONES, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis Honorable Thomas J. Frawley

          KURT S. ODENWALD, Judge.

         Introduction

         Ralph Jones ("Jones") appeals from the judgment of the trial court entered after a jury trial. Jones was charged with attempting to cause physical injury with a dangerous instrument (his vehicle) and then leaving the scene of the resulting accident. The jury convicted Jones on one felony count of second-degree assault and one felony count leaving the scene of a motor-vehicle accident. On appeal, Jones challenges the sufficiency of the evidence for both counts. Jones also argues that the trial court plainly erred in submitting Instruction No. 5, the verdict director for second-degree assault, without defining the term "dangerous instrument."

         Because the evidence was sufficient to support both convictions, we deny Jones's first two points. Further, because Jones did not seriously dispute that his vehicle constituted a "dangerous instrument, " failing to define the term in the verdict director for second-degree assault did not warrant reversal under plain-error review. Accordingly, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural History

         Jones skipped bail. In February 2014, he was at large. Randall Davis ("Davis"), a licensed bail bondsman, sought a $5, 000 bounty for Jones's capture. Davis had received Jones's information-including a photo-from another bondsman. Davis found a woman who knew Jones and, for $100, the woman agreed to text Davis if she saw Jones.

         The woman texted Davis, who then drove to the woman's residence in a Chevy Tahoe with two associates. While looking for a parking spot, Davis testified that a grey SUV "zoomed" directly towards him, swerved into his lane, and struck the front-right of his Tahoe. The impact pushed the Tahoe backwards into "a pole or something, " tearing the back bumper. The repairs totaled $3, 992. Davis identified Jones as the driver of the grey SUV.

         Jones did not stop after striking Davis. Instead, Jones steered his SUV onto the sidewalk, went around Davis's Tahoe, and drove away. Davis followed Jones for about 20 minutes, on and off the interstate, down side streets, back on the highway, then through more city streets. At one point, Jones stopped and a woman roiled out of the SUV. The woman stood up and pointed at Jones. Jones, however, was off again. Davis followed. Later in the chase, Jones attempted to turn left but he hit another vehicle in the intersection. Jones continued driving until he hit a tree. Jones then exited the SUV and started running. Davis yelled, "Stop, you're under arrest, " and pursued Jones on foot. Two officers saw Jones hit the tree and joined in the foot pursuit. Davis, his associates, and the officers eventually apprehended Jones in an alley. A grand jury indicted Jones on two felony counts: Count I for second-degree assault and Count II for leaving the scene of a motor-vehicle accident. Both counts related to Jones's collision with Davis.

         The case proceeded to a jury trial. The State presented its case largely as outlined above. Jones testified as the only defense witness. Jones maintained that he tried to avoid the collision with Davis, but that Davis was speeding, driving recklessly, and swerving into the other lane. Jones claimed that he left the scene because he did not know who was driving the Tahoe and lie was afraid. Once Jones crashed into the tree, he immediately got out of his car and ran towards the police officers, telling them that someone was chasing him and that he feared for his life.

         Instruction No. 5 was the verdict director for the second-degree assault charge. The jury instruction was submitted by the trial court without any objection from the parties. To convict Jones of second-degree assault, the instruction required the jury to find that Jones "attempted to cause physical injury to Randall Davis by means of a dangerous instrument by striking Randall Davis's vehicle with his vehicle." Although the Note on Use 7 for MAI-CR 3d required the term "dangerous instrument" to be defined for the jury, Instruction No. 5 lacked that definition.

         The jury convicted Jones on both counts. The trial court sentenced Jones as a persistent felony offender to prison for 15 years on Count I and five years on Count II. Jones appeals.

         Points on Appeal

         Jones raises three points on appeal, the first two points challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, and the last point alleging instructional error. First, Jones posits that the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction for second-degree assault because no evidence was adduced proving that he intended to cause physical injury when he drove his SUV into Davis's Tahoe. Second, Jones claims there was insufficient evidence to support the charge of leaving the scene because the evidence presented at trial suggested that he left the scene of the collision because of his reasonable "apprehension of danger." Finally, Jones argues that the trial court plainly erred by giving Instruction No. 5 the verdict director for the second-degree assault charge without defining the term "dangerous instrument."

         Discussion

         I. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         Because Jones's first two points focus on the sufficiency of the State's ...


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