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State v. Matson

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Third Division

August 22, 2017


         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Buchanan County, Missouri The Honorable Daniel Fred Kellogg, Judge.

          Before: Anthony Rex Gabbert, Presiding Judge, Victor Howard, Judge, Cynthia L. Martin, Judge.


         Terry L. Matson ("Appellant") appeals from two convictions of statutory sodomy (Section 566.062) and one conviction of statutory rape (Section 566.032).[1] Appellant raises four points on appeal. Points I and II allege abuse of discretion in admitting non-relevant propensity evidence pursuant to Art. I, Section 18(c) of the Missouri Constitution. Point III alleges the trial court erred in denying Appellant's Motion for Judgment of Acquittal, due to insufficient evidence he committed statutory rape beyond a reasonable doubt. Point IV alleges plain error in retrospective application of Art. I, Section 18(c). We affirm.


         Appellant lived in the same household with G.C., this case's child victim. G.C. was five-years-old when Appellant began touching "her private areas with his private areas and with his mouth." This conduct occurred on several occasions, though the parties dispute whether Appellant engaged G.C. in sexual intercourse.

         Before trial, the State filed a notice to admit propensity evidence pursuant to Art. I, Section 18(c) of the Missouri Constitution. The State sought to admit the testimonies of M.N. and A.B., both of whom Appellant allegedly sexually assaulted as children. M.N.'s allegation dates to 1994, and A.B.'s allegations date to 2007. Because the trial court found those allegations to be legally and factually like the present case, it denied Appellant's motion in limine and admitted the propensity evidence.

         Points I & II

         Appellant's first two points allege abuse of discretion, challenging the relevancy of the admitted propensity evidence. Appellant argues the testimonies of M.N. and A.B., addressed in Points I and II, respectively, were not relevant because the alleged acts were too dissimilar and temporally removed from the present case to have probative value. We find no abuse of discretion.

         The enactment of Article I, Section 18(c) effectively created a new evidentiary standard for sex crimes involving minors. The provision provides:

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 and 18(a) of this article to the contrary, in prosecutions for crimes of a sexual nature involving a victim under eighteen years of age, relevant evidence of prior criminal acts, whether charged or uncharged, is admissible for the purpose of corroborating the victim's testimony or demonstrating the defendant's propensity to commit the crime with which he or she is presently charged. The court may exclude relevant evidence of prior criminal acts if the probative value of the evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

         As Section 18(c) states, prior evidence of misconduct can be used to demonstrate criminal propensity. Thus, in the context of sex crimes involving minors, the provision unequivocally supersedes the Supreme Court of Missouri's evidentiary rulings that once prohibited propensity evidence. See State v. Bernard, 849 S.W.2d 10 (Mo. banc 1993) (prohibiting propensity evidence of any kind); State v. Ellison, 239 S.W.3d 603 (Mo. banc 2007) (ruling Section 566.025 unconstitutional because it impermissibly allowed propensity evidence); State v. Vorhees, 248 S.W.3d 585 (Mo. banc 2008) (finding that "signature modus operandi" evidence used to corroborate a victim's testimony constitutes prohibited propensity evidence). The aforesaid cases excluded propensity evidence not because it could never be relevant, but because despite its relevance, its admission into evidence would violate the Missouri Constitution. Vorhees, 248 S.W.3d at 591 (noting that propensity evidence, even if logically relevant, is not admissible because it "'it violates [the] defendant's right to be tried for the offense for which he is indicted'") (quoting State v. Sladek, 835 S.W.2d 308, 311 (Mo. banc 1992)).

         In fact, Section 17 of Article I states, "no person shall be prosecuted criminally for felony or misdemeanor otherwise than by indictment or information[.]" And Section 18(a) states, "in criminal prosecutions the accused shall have the right . . . to demand the nature and cause of the accusation[.]" These constitutional provisions are intended to "guarantee a criminal defendant the right to be tried only on the offense charged." State v. Burns, 978 S.W.2d 759, 760 (Mo. banc 1998). However, the specific language of Section 18(c) directly challenges the previous jurisprudence governing evidence of prior misconduct. The section's first clause specifically provides for the amendment's application "[n]otwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 and 18(a)[.]" In sum, when Missouri voters approved Section 18(c), they overruled our Supreme Court's relevant holdings in Bernard, Burns, Ellison, Vorhees, and their progeny. The effect of Section 18(c) was to relieve propensity evidence in certain types of cases from the absolute ban on admissibility, assuming logical and legal relevance is otherwise established.

         "Evidence is logically relevant if it tends to make the existence of a material fact more or less probable." Id. "This is a very low-level test that is easily met." Vorhees, 248 S.W.3d at 591 (citing State v Sladek,835 S.W.2d 308, 314 (Mo banc 1992) (J Thomas, concurring). "Crime statistics readily demonstrate that commission of a prior crime by a defendant is logically relevant to the issue of whether the defendant committed the crime charged simply because recidivous statistics demonstrate that prior offenders commit more crimes than persons who have not previously committed a crime." Id. Here, the admitted testimonies alleging Appellant previously sexually assaulted children clearly make more probable the facts in the present case, which allege Appellant sexually assaulted G.C. Appellant's argument that the alleged prior misconduct was too remote in time to be relevant speaks to the evidence's weight and not its admissibility. State v. Peal, 393 S.W.3d 621, 628-29 (Mo. App. 2013) ("To the extent that the motive evidence is remote, its remoteness normally affects the weight attached to the evidence rather than its admissibility . . . By itself, the passage of time does not render evidence ...

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