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State v. Stafford

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Second Division

November 19, 2019

STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent,
v.
ANTHONY J. STAFFORD, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis Honorable Christopher E. McGraugh

          KURT S. ODENWALD, JUDGE.

         Introduction

         Anthony J. Stafford ("Stafford") appeals the trial court's judgment following jury-trial convictions for first-degree sodomy and third-degree domestic assault. Stafford raises three points on appeal. Point One contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion for new trial because the jury heard impermissible testimony from the victim ("Victim") about uncharged drug use by Stafford. Point Two avers that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion for new trial on grounds that a juror failed to disclose that he knew Stafford and Victim. Lastly, Point Three charges the trial court with plain error in sentencing Stafford as a prior offender under Section 558.016[1] because the State failed to present evidence establishing Stafford's prior conviction under Section 558.021. Because Stafford demonstrates no prejudice or manifest injustice resulted from Victim's references to Stafford's drug use, we deny Point

          One. Because Stafford introduced no evidence that juror nondisclosure occurred, we deny Point Two. Although the trial court committed plain error in sentencing Stafford as a prior offender under Section 558.016, Stafford has not met his burden of showing manifest injustice with respect to the length of his sentence, jury-recommended sentencing, or parole eligibility. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Factual and Procedural History

         This case involves a domestic dispute between Stafford and Victim in which Stafford hit Victim and sodomized her with a broom in June 2017. The State charged Stafford with one count of sodomy in the first degree and two counts of domestic assault in the third degree. The case proceeded to trial in June 2018.

         At the beginning of the trial, Stafford filed a motion in limine to prevent Victim from testifying about uncharged drug use by Stafford. The trial court sustained the motion. When Victim took the stand, she made the following statements:

• "Sometimes we [Victim and Stafford] get up and just watch TV, smoke a cigarette or get up and call and get high."
• "I had went and sat on the love seat. That's when [Stafford] had called somebody and he made a call for-to get some drugs."
• "I gave [Stafford] what I had got from being outside, and then both of us had did some and then we sat there and he went upstairs."

         Stafford did not object to the first statement. Stafford objected to the second statement, and the trial court sustained the objection. In its initial instructions to the jury, the trial court had instructed the jury to disregard any evidence to which the trial court sustained an objection. After the third statement, Stafford requested a sidebar conference outside the hearing of the jury and objected to Victim's repeated violations of the motion in limine. The trial court sustained the objection and advised the State to lead the Victim through that portion of the testimony. Stafford stated that if violations of the motion in limine continued, he would ask the trial court for a limiting instruction and to strike certain portions of the testimony. The trial court concluded the sidebar, and the State resumed questioning Victim.

         During the trial, Stafford adduced evidence that he could not have committed the charged offenses due to his physical impairment from a prior injury, including his use of crutches to get around. The State sought to rebut Stafford's limited-mobility defense with testimony from Victim that Stafford managed his mobility issues through use of illegal narcotics. Following argument by both parties and over Stafford's objection, the trial court ruled that Victim could not testify that Stafford self-medicated with heroin but could testify that Stafford used "pain drugs." The State asked Victim if there were times when Stafford was able to be mobile and if pain drugs allowed him to have that increased mobility, and Victim answered affirmatively. The State repeated this testimony in its closing argument.

         The jury found Stafford guilty on all charges. Stafford moved for a new trial on several grounds, including Victim's testimony about uncharged drug use as well as juror nondisclosure. Regarding juror nondisclosure, Stafford alleged that the juror who occupied seat twelve and who identified himself during voir dire as working part-time at a pawnshop ("Juror") did not disclose that he knew Stafford and Victim from having encountered them at the pawnshop. No affidavit was attached to Stafford's motion. At the motion hearing, Stafford did not take the stand or present other evidence. Stafford argued that he recalled after trial that he knew the Juror prior to being incarcerated because on multiple occasions he had gone to the pawnshop where Juror worked. Stafford further argued that Juror knew him by name and would refer to him as "Mr. Stafford." The State disputed Stafford's allegation of juror nondisclosure. The trial court denied juror nondisclosure as a basis for retrial. The trial court explained that it was proceeding on the assumption that Juror was in fact the same individual with whom Stafford had contact at the pawnshop, even though no venireperson had indicated knowing Stafford or Victim. The trial court found no basis to believe that Juror intentionally withheld information or that Stafford was prejudiced, commenting that Juror likely did not recognize Stafford in the courtroom setting and, if he did, he might have had a favorable impression of Stafford.

         At Stafford's sentencing, the State did not file a sentence assessment report or introduce evidence of Stafford's prior conviction, which the indictment alleged involved Stafford pleading guilty to second-degree drug trafficking on July 25, 2000. Stafford stated that the prior conviction was for a drug-related offense occurring approximately eighteen years earlier. Stafford did not object when the sentencing court asked whether there was any reason not to proceed with sentencing. The trial court sentenced Stafford to seven years in prison for first-degree sodomy to run consecutively with concurrent three-year sentences for each of the two counts of third-degree domestic assault. The written sentence and judgment reflects that Stafford was sentenced as a prior offender under Section 558.016. Stafford now appeals.

         Points on Appeal

         Stafford raises three points on appeal. In Point One, Stafford argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion for new trial because Victim improperly testified about Stafford's uncharged drug use. In Point Two, Stafford claims that the trial court erred in denying his motion for new trial because Juror failed to disclose knowing Stafford and Victim. Lastly, in Point Three, Stafford contends the trial court plainly erred in sentencing ...


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