Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF GREENE COUNTY Honorable Judge David
W. SHEFFIELD, J.
Edward Smith ("Defendant") appeals his convictions,
after a jury trial, of one count of domestic assault in the
second degree under § 565.073 and one count of domestic
assault in the third degree under §
565.074. Defendant alleges that the trial court
abused its discretion when it denied Defendant's motion
to compel a health care facility to disclose a witness's
mental health records, or, in the alternative, to conduct an
in camera review of those records. For the reasons
explained below, we affirm
Defendant's convictions, but remand to correct a clerical
error in the trial court's written
the facts in the light most favorable to the verdict, the
following evidence was adduced at trial as is relevant to
this appeal. J.C. ("Victim") was in a relationship
and lived with Defendant for almost a year. During the
afternoon or evening of June 6, 2016, there was an argument,
Defendant pushed Victim down, got on top of her and choked
her. After she got back up, he pushed her down a second time,
she got up again, and he "came after [her] with a
knife." Victim "held up [her] arm to protect
[herself, ]" and the knife cut her dominant right arm.
She wrapped up her arm with a towel and the police were
called. The cut left a 2-3 inch scar on Victim's arm and
marks were found on her throat.
theory at trial was that Victim had mental health problems
and her injuries were self-inflicted, specifically, that she
was "a cutter." Prior to trial which began on
February 1, 2018, Defendant filed two pre-trial motions on
January 25, 2018 related to Victim's mental health
records: (1) a motion for a court order compelling the
production of Victim's mental health records for the
period of time from January 1, 2015 to July 31,
2015; and (2) a motion to compel "an
[in camera] review of records and subpoenas duces
tecum filed by the Defendant on the Custodian of Records for
Cox Medical Center." The State opposed these motions, noting
that Defendant had not alleged any specific facts to show how
the mental health records were relevant. Defendant filed
amended suggestions on January 30, 2018 in support of his
request ("amended suggestions").
oral argument, the trial court denied Defendant's motions
on January 30, 2018. The trial court's order stated that
the court "finds that the records which Defendant [asks]
to have reviewed are privileged records and protected by the
provisions of RSMo § 491.060. As such, Defendant's
motion for in camera review is denied."
found Defendant guilty of domestic assault in the second
degree (count 1) and domestic assault in the third degree
(count 2). As to count 1, the court orally sentenced
Defendant to 12 years in the custody of the Department of
Corrections, and as to count 2, he was orally sentenced to
one year in the county jail with that sentence to run
concurrently. Defendant was sentenced as a prior and
persistent offender. Defendant timely filed this appeal.
Defendant's point relates to the trial court's
decision not to compel the production of Victim's medical
records as part of discovery, it is subject to an abuse of
discretion standard of review. State v. Taylor, 134
S.W.3d 21, 26 (Mo. banc 2004); State v. Donovan, 539
S.W.3d 57, 69 (Mo. App. E.D. 2017). The purpose of discovery
is to provide a defendant with a "decent opportunity to
prepare in advance for trial and avoid surprise."
State v. Tisius, 92 S.W.3d 751, 762 (Mo. banc 2002)
(quoting State v. Mease, 842 S.W.2d 98, 108 (Mo.
banc 1992)). "[T]he focus of a denial of discovery is
whether there is a reasonable likelihood that denial of
discovery affected the outcome of the trial."
Id. If a defendant claims he was denied meaningful
discovery, the standard for review is whether the trial court
abused its discretion such that it results in fundamental
unfairness. Id. "Fundamental unfairness occurs
when the state's failure to disclose results in
defendant's genuine surprise and the surprise prevents
meaningful efforts to consider and prepare a strategy for
addressing the evidence." State v. Julius, 453
S.W.3d 288, 296 (Mo. App. E.D. 2014) (quoting State v.
Artis, 215 S.W.3d 327, 337 (Mo. App. S.D. 2007)). If
reasonable persons can disagree as to whether the trial court
acted correctly or not, then the trial court did not abuse
its discretion. Donovan, 539 S.W.3d at 69.
claims that the trial court abused its discretion when it
denied his motions requesting the court to order the
disclosure of Victim's mental health records, or for the
trial court to conduct an in camera review of those
records. A review of those records was "necessary to
determine whether [Victim] had engaged in self-harm through
cutting" because the "main theory" of his
defense was that Victim, not Defendant, had harmed herself.
Defendant argues that after the trial court determined that
the information he sought was privileged, "the trial
court was required to make a determination of whether
[Defendant's] need for the information outweighed
[Victim's] interest in confidentiality" and any
requirement that a defendant provide "some other actual
evidence of the fact he needs the records in question"
would "foreclose the use of privileged records to aid
in a criminal defense."
pre-trial discovery disputes, "a trial court is required
to balance the State's interest in preserving the
confidentiality of records that may contain privileged
information, such as medical and psychiatric records, with a
defendant's right to a fair trial." J ...