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State v. Donham

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, First Division

March 19, 2019

STATE OF MISSOURI, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
RONALL B. DONHAM, Defendant-Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF LAWRENCE COUNTY Honorable Jack A.L. Goodman

          GARY W. LYNCH, JUDGE

         Ronall B. Donham ("Defendant") appeals his conviction for the class B felony of receiving stolen property. See section 570.080.[1] He claims that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting into evidence "his previous convictions for receiving stolen property and tampering with a vehicle" because they were "offered to prove [Defendant] had a propensity to commit the crime for which he was on trial[.]" Finding no merit in Defendant's claim, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Defendant does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction. Viewed in the light most favorable to the finding of guilt, State v. Lammers, 479 S.W.3d 624, 632 (Mo. banc 2016), the evidence revealed that, on March 10, 2015, a white 2011 Ford F450 truck ("the truck"), valued at $32, 000, was stolen from Weiser Tent Service in Monett. Four days later, an off-duty Monett police officer, David Haskins ("Officer Haskins"), observed the truck and made contact with Defendant, an occupant thereof, informing him that the truck was stolen. Defendant then drove the truck away at a high rate of speed, and Officer Haskins was unable to follow. Later, in Joplin, police recovered the truck, which had been abandoned, and arrested Defendant for his involvement in a separate crime involving a different stolen truck. Following up on a tip, Officer Haskins met with Defendant in Joplin and identified Defendant as the person who fled from him in the truck.

         Defendant was charged with receiving stolen property, and his trial took place on September 6, 2017. Before trial, the State filed a motion seeking to introduce evidence of Defendant's prior convictions for receiving stolen property and for tampering with a motor vehicle. The State argued that Defendant's prior convictions were admissible under the provisions of section 570.080.2 to prove "knowledge or belief (intent) of the Defendant that he is in possession of stolen property[.]" Addressing the motion immediately before trial during the pre-trial conference, the trial court ultimately agreed with the State, sustained the motion, and admitted the prior convictions into evidence.

         Thereafter, during Defendant's trial, Officer Haskins testified before the jury as part of the State's case-in-chief. During that testimony, when asked by the prosecutor why Officer Haskins went to the Jasper County jail, defense counsel interjected and asked to approach the bench. Defense counsel then objected to Officer's Haskins' testimony on the basis that it was about to get into inadmissible "propensity evidence" and "[e]vidence of bad character." In response, the prosecutor stated that Officer Haskins "is going to testify he is in the jail because he was picked up in a stolen vehicle pursuant to the statute. He is in possession of stolen property which that is by statute is [sic] allowed." Some further discussion between defense counsel, the prosecutor, and the trial court followed. Ultimately, the trial court ruled that "[g]iven the statute I will overrule the objection."

         Officer Haskins then testified that Defendant "had been taken into custody in a stolen truck[, ]" which resulted in him pleading guilty to a charge of "tampering with a motor vehicle[.]" Officer Haskins further testified that he ran a criminal check on Defendant and responded affirmatively when asked if Defendant had "been convicted of receiving stolen property[.]" Defense counsel offered the "[s]ame objection[, ]" which the trial court noted and overruled. Officer Haskins proceeded to state that Defendant had been convicted of receiving stolen property in both Newton County and Jasper County.

         Defendant did not testify or otherwise present evidence in his defense. The jury received a written instruction, among others, that if they found from the evidence that Defendant had pleaded guilty to offenses other than the one for which he was then on trial, they could "consider that evidence on the issue of knowledge of the defendant[, ]" but could "not consider such evidence for any other purpose." Following its deliberations, the jury found Defendant guilty of receiving stolen property as charged. The trial court sentenced Defendant to a 15-year term of incarceration in the Department of Corrections, and now he timely appeals.

         Standard of Review

         "Trial courts retain broad discretion over the admissibility of evidence, and appellate courts will not interfere with those decisions unless there is a clear showing of abuse of discretion." State v. Winfield, 5 S.W.3d 505, 515 (Mo. banc 1999). "A trial court abuses its discretion when its ruling is clearly against the logic of the circumstances and is so arbitrary and unreasonable as to shock the sense of justice and indicate a lack of careful consideration." State v. Johnson, 207 S.W.3d 24, 40 (Mo. banc 2006). "Where reasonable persons can differ about the propriety of the action taken by the trial court, no abuse of discretion will be found." Id.

         Discussion

         Defendant's sole point contends:

The trial court abused its discretion in admitting, over [Defendant]'s objection, his previous convictions for receiving stolen property and tampering with a vehicle because this violated his rights to be tried only for the offense charged, to due process of the law, and to a fair and impartial trial, guaranteed by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and article I, sections 10, 17, and 18(a) of the Missouri Constitution, in that the evidence of these convictions was impermissibly offered to prove [Defendant] had a propensity to commit the crime for which he was on trial, and was vastly more prejudicial than probative when ...

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