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State v. Ralph

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

June 6, 2017


         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis 1522-CR01416-01 Honorable Robert H. Dierker, Jr.

          Gary M. Gaertner, Jr., Judge


         Matthew Ralph (Ralph) appeals from a sentence and judgment of conviction for possession of a controlled substance. He challenges the trial court's admission of hearsay evidence and asserts error in the trial court's imposition of an enhanced sentence under the prior and persistent offender statutes. We affirm.


         The State of Missouri (State) charged Ralph as a prior and persistent offender with the class C felony of possession of a controlled substance, Hydrocodone. The evidence at the 2016 jury trial showed the following, viewed in a light most favorable to the verdict.[1]

         The police responded to an anonymous 911 call reporting open air drug sales in the 6000 block of Lucille in the City of St. Louis. Officer Andrew Brown (Officer Brown) testified that when he and his partner, Officer Timothy Nolan (Officer Nolan), approached the area in their marked patrol vehicle, he witnessed an individual later identified as Ralph standing at the front passenger window of an occupied vehicle in a manner associated with, in Officer Brown's experience, the sale of narcotics. Officer Brown made eye contact with Ralph, who then took something from his pocket and threw it under the vehicle, which caused Officer Brown to suspect, again from his experience and the surrounding circumstances, that Ralph had discarded narcotics. Officer Brown approached Ralph on foot and detained him. Officer Brown picked up a blue plastic knotted baggie from underneath the edge of the vehicle where Ralph had been standing and confirmed that the baggie contained pills. He seized the baggie of pills, which contained Hydrocodone. Officer Brown clarified, however, that he did not witness an exchange of narcotics or money. Finally, Officer Nolan testified over a hearsay objection that during booking, which Officer Brown conducted, Officer Nolan "learned" that Ralph lived in an area about a ten-minute drive from the 6000 block of Lucille.

         To prove Ralph's prior-and-persistent-offender status, the State relied upon Ralph's 2014 guilty plea in Cause No. 1322-CR1218 for the felony of resisting arrest and his 2008 guilty plea in Cause No. 0822-CR03740 for the felonies of second-degree assault of a law enforcement officer and tampering in the first degree. Ralph did not stipulate to the prior convictions, and the State called the court clerk, who testified without objection that the Missouri Justice Information System (JIS)-which is a computerized statewide automated record-keeping system established by the supreme court[2]-records reflected Ralph had at least two prior felony convictions in Cause Nos. 1322-CR01218[3] and 0822-CR03740. The State did not introduce physical copies of these court records, but asked the trial court to take judicial notice of its own files.[4] On this evidence, the trial court found beyond a reasonable doubt Ralph was a prior and persistent offender.

         The jury found Ralph guilty of constructive possession of a controlled substance, and the trial court sentenced him as a prior and persistent offender to eight years in the Missouri Department of Corrections. This appeal follows.


         Point One

         In his first point on appeal, Ralph argues the trial court erred in overruling his objection to Officer Nolan's testimony that he had learned Ralph did not live in the neighborhood where the crime occurred because such testimony was inadmissible hearsay that prejudiced Ralph by presenting him as an outsider causing trouble in the neighborhood. We disagree.

         Hearsay is any out-of-court statement that is used to prove the truth of the matter asserted and is generally inadmissible unless it is a recognized exception to the hearsay rule. State v. Tisuis, 362 S.W.3d 398, 405-06 (Mo. banc 2012). We review a trial court's decision to admit or exclude hearsay evidence for an abuse of discretion. State v. Justus, 205 S.W.3d 872, 878 (Mo. banc 2006). An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court's ruling is clearly against the logic of the circumstances or is so arbitrary and unreasonable so as to shock the sense of justice and indicate a lack of careful consideration. State v. Hughes. 497 S.W.3d 400, 403 (Mo. App. E.D. 2016). We reverse for an error in the admission of evidence only if the erroneously admitted evidence was so prejudicial that it affected the outcome of the trial, meaning that but for its admission there is a reasonable probability the jury would have acquitted. State v. Adams, 350 S.W.3d 864, 866 (Mo. App. E.D. 2011). Even if the evidence admitted was improper hearsay, we will only reverse the conviction if a defendant can prove both error and prejudice. State v. Jackson, 426 S.W.3d 717, 719(Mo.App.E.D.2014).

         Here, Ralph asserts on appeal that prejudicial error resulted when Officer Nolan testified that he "learned" during booking that Ralph lived about a ten-minute drive from where he was arrested in the 6000 block of Lucille, because Officer Brown was the declarant of the challenged statement, which was admitted for its truth. We note that Ralph bears the burden on appeal to prove both that the trial court erroneously admitted hearsay evidence and that evidence prejudiced him, which he has not done. See Jackson. 426 S.W.3d at 719. Although Ralph asserts Officer Brown was the declarant of the challenged statement, the record does not support this assertion. Officer Nolan testified that Officer Brown booked Ralph, but Officer Nolan did not reveal from whom he learned where Ralph lived. From the record before us, it is just as likely Officer Nolan learned this information from Ralph himself as from Officer Brown, and the admission of relevant, material out-of-court statements by the party opponent is a ...

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