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Lynch v. State

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Third Division

May 29, 2018

RICHARD LYNCH, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County 14SL-CC02387 Honorable Thea A. Sherry

          Gary M. Gaertner, Jr, Presiding Judge

         Introduction

         Richard Lynch (Movant) appeals from the motion court's judgment denying his Rule 29.15[1] motion after an evidentiary hearing. Movant argues the motion court erred in denying post-conviction relief because his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the presence of the victims in the courtroom and for failing to submit an instruction for a lesser-included offense. We affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         A jury convicted Movant after a trial of burglary in the first degree, two counts of robbery in the first degree, and three associated counts of armed criminal action, stemming from a home invasion. The trial court sentenced Movant to concurrent terms of life in prison for each count of first-degree burglary and first-degree robbery, also concurrent to terms often years on each of the three counts of armed criminal action. This Court affirmed the convictions and sentences on appeal. State v. Lynch. 424 S.W.3d 466 (Mo. App. E.D. 2014).

         Movant timely filed a pro se motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Rule 29.15. Appointed counsel filed an amended motion, asserting Movant's trial counsel was ineffective-as relevant to the issues raised on appeal-for failing to request lesser-included-offense instructions for both counts of first-degree robbery, and for failing to move for the exclusion of the victim/witness Nicole Lanius and to object to her presence in the courtroom on the basis that Missouri's victim rights provisions conflict with the defendant's constitutional right to witness exclusion.

         At an evidentiary hearing, Stephen Reynolds (Reynolds) testified he worked for the Missouri Public Defender's Office and he represented Movant during his trial. Reynolds' strategy during trial was to seek acquittal on the first-degree robbery charges by challenging the voice identification because the victims were under duress due to being held at gunpoint in their home, and requesting a lesser-included-offense instruction of robbery in the second degree would have contradicted this strategy. Further, although he recalled both victims being present in the courtroom and having a sidebar discussion with the court about it, his strategy at trial was to assert that the victims had colluded with each other about the voice identification, and having them both present in the courtroom together supported his theory. Reynolds noted that it would have been "helpful" to his strategy if the jury noticed the victims sitting together during trial. Reynolds agreed that it was in the judge's discretion to exclude any witness.

         After the evidentiary hearing, the motion court entered judgment denying the amended motion. The motion court noted that even if Reynolds had requested that the victims be excluded from the courtroom during the trial, the trial court judge-who was the same judge presiding over the motion court here-would not have granted the request, in light of the provisions of the Missouri Constitution and statutes granting victims the right to be present during trial. This appeal follows.

         Standard of Review

         On appeal, we limit our review of the denial of a motion for post-conviction relief to a determination of whether the findings and conclusions of the motion court are clearly erroneous. Rule 29.15(k). The motion court's findings of fact and conclusions of law are clearly erroneous only if the reviewing court, having examined the entire record, is left with the definite and firm impression that a mistake has been made. Johnson v. State, 406 S.W.3d 892, 898 (Mo. banc 2013).

         Discussion

         Point I

         In his first point on appeal, Movant argues the motion court erred in denying his amended motion because Reynolds failed to object to the presence of the victims in the courtroom by challenging the constitutionality of the victims' rights provisions of the Missouri Constitution Article 1, section 32 and Section 595.209, RSMo. (cum. supp. 2016). Movant further argues ...


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