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State v. Prince

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Third Division

June 20, 2017

STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent,
v.
JORDAN L. PRINCE, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Charles County Hon. Nancy L. Schneider Filed: June 20, 2017

          OPINION

          Angela T. Quigless, P.J.

         Jordan L. Prince ("Prince") appeals from the judgment of the Circuit Court of St. Charles County following jury verdicts convicting him of first-degree murder, felony abuse of a child, and forcible sodomy. We would reverse the judgment and remand the case for further proceedings. However, because this is an issue of first impression and involves a question of general importance, we transfer the case to the Missouri Supreme Court pursuant to Rule 83.02.[1]

         Factual and Procedural Background

         We review the facts in the light most favorable to the verdict. State v. Johnson, 284 S.W.3d 561, 568 (Mo. banc 2009). On the evening of December 2, 2012, Prince's girlfriend and her four-month-old baby girl ("Victim") spent the night at Prince's home. The next morning, while Prince's girlfriend was asleep, Victim was sexually assaulted in her anus and sustained multiple bruises to her face, chest, and various parts of her body. Victim's anus was penetrated with a large object, causing numerous internal tears, including one approximately 6 cm in length. These injuries caused Victim to lose more than one-third of her blood supply. Victim was also strangled to death. According to the medical examiner, Victim died from strangulation but would have died from the internal injuries inflicted by the sexual assault if she had not been strangled. Prince was arrested and charged with three counts: first-degree murder, in violation of RSMo § 565.020[2] (Count I); felony abuse of a child, in violation of Section 568.060 (Count II); and felony forcible sodomy, in violation of Section 566.060 (Count III).

         During the jury trial, over Prince's objection, the State introduced evidence of Prince's pornography use. The State also introduced evidence of Prince's juvenile records from Idaho related to a 2004 adjudication of juvenile delinquency for "lewd and lascivious" conduct with a minor. The State admitted Prince's juvenile records through the testimony of the police detective who interrogated Prince in this case. The detective read substantial portions of Prince's juvenile records to the jury, including the allegations of lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor, the criminal statute defining the acts as a felony under Idaho law, and the certified adjudication showing Prince admitted to committing the acts alleged. The State also introduced into evidence video clips of the interrogation where Prince acknowledged his juvenile record. Prince did not testify at trial.

         After Prince was charged, but before his jury trial occurred, the Missouri Constitution was amended to allow relevant evidence of a defendant's prior criminal acts to be introduced as evidence of the defendant's propensity to commit the crime charged in a prosecution for a crime of a sexual nature involving an underage victim. Mo. Const. art. I, § 18(c) (2014) ("Article I, Section 18(c)" or the "Amendment").

         Prior to trial, Prince filed a motion in limine to exclude all evidence from his juvenile records as well as his pornography use. Prince argued the juvenile records were not legally relevant, contained inadmissible testimonial hearsay, and were inadmissible under Section 211.271, which governs the admissibility of juvenile records. Concerning his pornography use, Prince argued the evidence was neither logically nor legally relevant.

         Prince also filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude all evidence of prior criminal acts, arguing Article I, Section 18(c) was an ex post facto law as applied to his case, and admitting any evidence of prior criminal conduct as propensity evidence would violate his constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial by an impartial jury as guaranteed by the Missouri Constitution and the United States Constitution. The trial court largely denied these motions, excluding only Prince's psychological evaluation, and admitted the remainder of Prince's juvenile records as well as evidence of Prince's use of pornography.

         During trial, the State called a police detective to testify regarding Prince's juvenile records. Prince objected and moved for a mistrial. The court denied the request. When the State offered the juvenile records for admission, Prince again objected, renewing his arguments from the motions in limine. The court overruled the objection and admitted the evidence. The court also denied Prince's request to give a limiting instruction when the evidence was presented to the jury.

         At the conclusion of evidence, the court instructed the jury it could consider any evidence that Prince committed other criminal acts "on the issue of demonstrating the defendant's propensity to commit the crimes of abuse of a child and forcible sodomy with which he is presently charged."[3]

         During deliberations, the jury sent a request to the judge asking to see "the paperwork for the defendant's prior crime against a child that occurred in another state." The court provided the jury portions of Prince's juvenile records, including the petition listing the factual allegations for the charge of lewd and lascivious conduct, as well as the juvenile court's decree indicating Prince admitted to the charges.

         The jury found Prince guilty of all charges, and the court accepted the verdicts. Prince waived jury sentencing and the court sentenced him to three consecutive terms of life imprisonment. This appeal follows.

         Points on Appeal

         Prince raises four points on appeal. In Point I, Prince argues the trial court erred in admitting evidence of his 2004 juvenile adjudication from Idaho for lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor because this propensity evidence was not "relevant evidence of prior criminal acts, " in that his juvenile records were neither logically "relevant" nor evidence of a "criminal act, " as required by Article I, Section 18(c). In Point II, Prince argues the trial court erred in admitting evidence of his 2004 juvenile adjudication because it was not legally relevant in that its probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. In Point III, Prince argues the trial court erred in admitting evidence of his 2004 juvenile adjudication because his conduct pre-dated the 2014 enactment of Article I, Section 18(c) and applying this Amendment to him retroactively violated the ex post facto clause of the United States and Missouri Constitutions. In Point IV, Prince argues the trial court erred in admitting evidence concerning the viewing of pornographic websites on Prince's cellphone and computer because the evidence was neither logically nor legally relevant.

         Discussion

         We first address Point III, finding Article I, Section 18(c) is not an ex post facto law as applied in this case. Next, we address Point I, finding the trial court erred in admitting Prince's juvenile court records under Article I, Section 18(c), and that Prince suffered prejudice as a result. Because our holding in Point I is dispositive, we do not reach the merits of Points II and IV. However, due to the general importance of the issue raised in Point I, we transfer the case to the Missouri Supreme Court, pursuant to Rule 83.02.

         I. Article I, § 18(c) of the Missouri Constitution Is Not an Ex Post Facto Law

         In Point III, Prince argues the trial court erred in admitting evidence of his 2004 juvenile adjudication records because his conduct predated the 2014 enactment of Article I, Section 18(c) and applying this Amendment to him retrospectively violated the ex post facto clause of the United States and Missouri Constitutions. We disagree.

         A. Standard of Review

         Whether a defendant's constitutional rights have been violated is a question of law which this court reviews de novo. State v. Sisco, 458 S.W.3d 304, 312 (Mo. banc 2015).

         B. Analysis

         The Missouri Supreme Court recently decided this issue in State ex rel. Tipler v. Gardner, 506 S.W.3d 922, 923 (Mo. banc 2017). In Tipler, the defendant filed a writ of prohibition challenging the trial court's authority to apply Article I, Section 18(c). The defendant argued that the constitutional Amendment would be impermissibly retrospective as applied to him because his conduct occurred prior to the enactment of the Amendment. Id. The Court held that Article I, Section 18(c), as adopted in 2014, is not unconstitutionally retrospective in operation as applied to "trials occurring on or after the effective date of the amendment, regardless of when the crimes are alleged to have occurred." Id. at 923.

         The Court found that "[n]othing in article I, section 18(c) pertains to the criminality of particular conduct, " and the Amendment is a purely procedural rule governing the admissibility of evidence at trial. Id. at 925. The Court concluded the Amendment only "pertains to 'prosecutions' and, therefore, applies prospectively to all trials occurring after the effective date of that amendment, " which was December 4, 2014. Id. at 927; see also State v. Rucker, 512 S.W.3d 63, 68 (Mo. App. E.D. 2017) (applying Tipler and holding Article I, Section 18(c) is not an ex post facto law as applied to trials occurring after the amendment's effective date). Therefore, it is not unconstitutional to apply Article I, Section 18(c) to a trial occurring after December 4, 2014.

         We find Tipler is controlling and are therefore bound by the Supreme Court's holding. We reject Prince's argument that Article I, Section 18(c) was retrospectively applied to his case in violation of the ex post facto clause of the United States and Missouri Constitutions. Article I, Section 18(c) became effective on December 4, 2014, and therefore applies to all trials occurring after that date. Although Prince was charged prior to December 4, 2014, his trial began on March 23, 2016. Therefore, the trial court did not violate the ex post facto clause when it admitted relevant evidence of Prince's prior criminal acts as propensity evidence, pursuant to Article I, Section 18(c). Point III is denied.

         II. Juvenile Records Not Admissible Under Article I, Section 18(c)

         In Point I, Prince argues the trial court erred in admitting his 2004 juvenile adjudication records from Idaho for lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor because this propensity evidence was not "relevant evidence of prior criminal acts, " in that his juvenile records were neither logically "relevant" nor evidence of a "criminal act, " as required by Article I, Section 18(c). We agree that a defendant's juvenile records are not admissible evidence.

         A. Standard of Review

         A trial court's ruling concerning the admissibility of evidence is reviewed only for abuse of discretion. Cox v. Kan. City Chiefs Football Club, Inc., 473 S.W.3d 107, 114 (Mo. banc 2015). However, Missouri rules of evidence are procedural rules of law derived from statutes, the common law, and the Constitution. State v. Walkup, 220 S.W.3d 748, 757 (Mo. banc 2007); see also Tipler, 506 S.W.3d at 923 (Article I, Section 18(c) is a procedural rule of evidence). The interpretation and application of a rule of evidence is a question of law this Court reviews de novo. Rowe v. Farmers Ins. Co., 699 S.W.2d 423, 428 (Mo. banc 1985) (interpreting a rule of evidence as a matter of law); see also United States v. Young, 753 F.3d 757, ...


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