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State v. Smith

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division

June 28, 2019

STATE OF MISSOURI, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
ROBERT EDWARD SMITH, Defendant-Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF GREENE COUNTY Honorable Judge David C. Jones

          MARY W. SHEFFIELD, J.

         Robert 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.[1] 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 judgment.[2]

         Statement of Facts

         Considering 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.

         Defendant's 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;[3] 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."[4] 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").

         After 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."

         A jury 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.

         Standard of Review

         Because 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.

         Analysis

         Defendant 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."

         For 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 ...


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