Tuesday, November 20, 2007

State v. Taylor[1]

Opinion handed down November 20, 2007
Link to Supreme Court Opinion

The Missouri Supreme Court held that venue is not an element of a criminal offense thereby abrogating cases that required venue to be proven by the State, and also held that venue objections must be raised prior to trial.

I. Facts and Holding

Leonard Taylor was convicted of the forcible rape of his step-daughter. The crime occurred after the victim and Taylor drove to different locations within and around the City of St. Louis. The victim “was sure” the rape occurred in the City of St. Louis, but was unable to identify the location.

At trial, the defense filed two motions regarding improper venue. A motion for dismissal was denied on the first day of the trial, and a judgment for acquittal was overruled after the State rested. In addition, the trial court denied the defense’s request to make the argument that venue was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt in the defense’s closing argument.[2]

The Easter District Court of Appeals affirmed, and the Supreme Court accepted the case on transfer. The Supreme Court held that venue is not an element for a criminal offense and overruled prior case law[3] that required the State to prove venue as an element of the crime.[4] The criminal statute,[5] which does not include venue as an element, prevails over the approved jury instruction, [6] which includes venue as an element. The Court also distinguished between venue and jurisdiction, noting that while venue may be waived by the defendant prior to trial, jurisdiction cannot be waived and is required for a proceeding to be valid.[7] Lastly, the Court found any improper venue had no prejudicial effect because the defense addressed the victim’s credibility as to the location of the crime and the jury used the approved instruction to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

II. Legal Analysis

Venue is where a court proceeding will occur.[8] It is statutory defined[9] and can be waived prior to trial by a change of venue.[10] If a case is filed in an improper venue, the court is required to transfer the case to the proper court.[11]

In criminal cases, the Missouri Constitution provides venue by granting a criminal defendant the right to a “trial by an impartial jury of the county.”[12] The county where a criminal matter is brought is the location where the crime or elements of the crime occurred.[13] Prior to Taylor, the State was required to prove venue at trial, which could be done through interferences or circumstantial evidence.[14]

The elements of a criminal offense are set forth in both substantive law, specifically statutes[15] and case law, and procedural rules, such as jury instructions.[16] The Missouri Supreme Court provides approved jury instructions (MAI-CR),[17] which must be used if available[18] and are “presumptively correct”.[19] Statutes and case law will determine the applicable law when the substantive law is inconsistent with the MAI-CR.[20] One such inconsistency between the statutes and MAI-CR is the element of venue. Venue is an element in the MAI-CR for criminal offenses, but is not included in the statues.[21]

III. Commentary

Taylor will impact criminal trials as venue is no longer a required element. The inconsistencies between the jury instructions and statutes can be resolved in one of two ways. There will be a minimal impact once the inconsistencies are eliminated.

One way is for the instructions to be revised to reflect the current change. This can be done by either eliminating the venue element or keeping it in the instruction but adding an exception that the state does not need to prove venue for the jury to find the defendant guilty. Despite the cumbersome task of revising the instructions, it would correctly state the law and avoid any risks of an acquittal or reversal. This option would also help eliminate the situation where a jury may acquit a defendant because the state did not prove the crime occurred within that county.[22] The other way is to keep the current instructions, but ignore the venue element. However, this may result in inconsistent application of the instructions and misunderstanding of the law.

Taylor will impact criminal trials until the inconsistency is resolved.

- Kate E. Noland

[1] No. SC88426 (Mo. Oct. 30, 2007) (en banc), available at http://www.courts.mo.gov/file.jsp?id=26585  The West reporter citation is State v. Taylor, 238 S.W.3d 145 (Mo. 2007) (en banc).
[2] The defense’s argument was based on the grounds that venue was included in the jury instruction and had to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial court did permit the defense to make an argument about the victim’s credibility in regards to the location of the crime.
[3] Cases abrogated are: State v. Burns, 28 Mo. 428 (Mo. 1871), State v. Garrett 416 S.W.2d 116 (1967), State v. Bradford, 462 S.W.2d 664 (Mo. 1971), and State v. Lingar, 726 S.W.2d 728 (Mo. 1987) (en banc).
[4] In a footnote, the opinion explained that since the Criminal Rules do not address transfer from an improper venue under RSMo § 476.410, a criminal defendant must object to venue prior to the trial. Taylor at 150 n5.
[5] Mo. Rev. Stat. 566.030.1 (2000)
[6] MAI-CR 320.01.
[7] Venue is where the court proceedings will occur. Jurisdiction is the court’s power to oversee court proceedings
[8] State ex rel. DePaul Health Center v. Mummert, 870 S.W.2d 820, 822 (Mo. 1994) (en banc).
[9] See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 541.033 (2007).
[10] See Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 32.03 & .04.
[11] Mo. Rev. Stat. § 476.410 (2007). Missouri Rules of Civil Procedure require a motion to transfer venue to the proper court to be filed within 60 days of service. Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 51.045
[12] Mo. Const. art. 1, § 18(a).
[13] Mo. Rev. Stat. § 541.033 (2007).
[14] State v. Lingar, 726 S.W.2d 728, 732 (Mo. 1987) (en banc). Venue does not have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt because it is not an “integral part of an offense.” Id.
[15] See Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 565-578 (2007).
[16] State v. Carson, 941 S.W.2d 518, 520 (Mo. 1997) (en banc).
[17] Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 28.01. The approved instruction are “Missouri Approved Instructions – Criminal” or “MAI-CR”. Id.
[18] Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 28.02(c).
[19] State v. Huckleberry, 823 S.W.2d 82, 86 (Mo. App. W.D. 1991).
[20] Carson, 941 S.W.2d at 520. Article 5, section 5 of the Missouri Constitution prohibits court rules from altering substantive rights. Mo. Const. art. V, § 5.
[21] See Taylor at 148. In Taylor, the criminal offense is forcible rape and RSMo § 566.030.1 and MAI-CR 320.01 are analyzed. Id.
[22] See Taylor, at 148 n.2. The opinion questions whether the instruction’s first paragraph provided two components, the venue and crime, or one component, the crime. Id.

Research Sources on Topic

- Darryl K. Brown, Judicial Instructions, Defendant Culpability, and Jury Interpretation of Law, 21 St. Louis U. Pub. L. Rev. 25 (2002).
- Judith L. Ritter, Your Lips are Moving . . . But the Words Aren’t Clear: Dissecting the Presumption that Jurors Understand Instructions, 69 Mo. L. Rev. 163 (2004).