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State v. Ward

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

March 19, 2019

STATE OF MISSOURI, Appellant,
v.
JUSTIN LUKE WARD Respondent.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF POLK COUNTY The Honorable William J. Roberts, Judge

          W. BRENT POWELL, JUDGE

         The State appeals the circuit court's judgment, after a bench trial, finding Justin Ward "not guilty" of the class D felony of sexual misconduct involving a child by indecent exposure because the statute under which he was charged, § 566.083[1], is unconstitutionally overbroad as applied to Ward's case. Ward was charged in 2016 after the parents of the alleged victim, MKB, informed the sheriff that Ward had sexual relations with their 14-year-old daughter when Ward was 18 years old. The State appeals, asserting this Court has jurisdiction to hear the appeal because the circuit court's judgment is akin to a dismissal of the indictment following a guilty verdict and, therefore, Ward was not acquitted of the offense. Ward filed a motion to dismiss this appeal, asserting the circuit court's judgment is a judgment of acquittal because the circuit court expressly found him "not guilty" and the appeal, therefore, is barred by double jeopardy. Because this Court is unable to determine if the judgment is an acquittal or a dismissal, it cannot consider the appeal or motion to dismiss on its merits. Accordingly, the circuit court's judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded for the circuit court to enter its judgment setting out whether it is an acquittal or dismissal based on the facts and issues previously submitted.

         Factual and Procedural History

         On the evening of July 2, 2016, MKB, a 14-year-old girl, sent a text message telling Ward, an 18-year-old male, to come to her house. In the early morning hours of July 3, 2016, MKB let Ward in through the window and they performed oral sex on each other. They also had intercourse on the bedroom floor. Upon questioning by the sheriff, Ward stated he was in a relationship with MKB and admitted to having oral sex and intercourse with her despite knowing she was 14. The State charged Ward with the class D felony of sexual misconduct involving a child by indecent exposure pursuant to § 566.083. Ward waived his right to a jury trial, and the case proceeded to a bench trial.

         At trial, the parties stipulated to all the facts submitted to the circuit court - admitting into evidence the probable cause statement, the Polk County sheriff's investigative report, and the videotape of Ward's interview with the sheriff. After the circuit court took the matter under advisement, the parties filed written suggestions in support of their proposed judgments. Ward argued the issue was not whether the alleged conduct occurred, but whether the alleged conduct was illegal. He asserted his conduct was not illegal because he did not expose his genitals to MKB for the purpose of gratifying his sexual desires, but rather for the purpose of engaging in a consensual sexual encounter that was not illegal under any of Missouri's statutory rape and sodomy laws.[2] Ward contended the sexual misconduct involving a child by indecent exposure statute was, therefore, unconstitutionally overbroad as applied to him because it criminalizes conduct that is otherwise legal. The circuit court entered the following judgment:

MKB was 14 years old. Defendant was 18 years old. It is not illegal for him to have her perform fellatio on him as all was consensual and that act cannot be accomplished without him exposing his penis to her. The statute he is charged with makes it illegal to expose his penis to her because of her age only, under 15.
One act is legal by statute, and the other illegal by statute. The later statute in this factual situation only, is unconstitutionally overbroad. State v. Beine, 162 S.W.3d 483 (Mo. banc 2005).
Defendant is found not guilty. Costs to Polk County. Case and record ordered closed.

         The State appealed directly to this Court.[3]

         Standard of Review

         This Court is a court of limited jurisdiction. Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 3. Jurisdiction must be decided at the outset. Lane v. Lensmeyer 158 S.W.3d 218, 222 (Mo. banc 2005). When this court lacks jurisdiction to entertain an appeal, the appeal must be dismissed. Id.

         Analysis

         The threshold question presented in this case is whether double jeopardy precludes the State from appealing the circuit court's judgment. If so, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider the appeal. Ward filed a motion to dismiss this appeal, asserting this Court lacks jurisdiction because the circuit court expressly found him to be "not guilty," suggesting the circuit court acquitted Ward; therefore, this appeal is barred because there is no statutory authority to appeal when the possible outcome of the appeal would result in double jeopardy for the defendant. The State asserts this Court has jurisdiction to hear its ...


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