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Appeals court re-instates 8 convictions

Appeals court re-instates 8 convictions

November 15th, 2017 by Bob Watson in Local News

Joseph L. Payne and seven other Missouri prison inmates lost a case Tuesday they previously had won in trial courts.

A panel of the state Western District appeals court ruled judges in four different courts — including Moniteau County Associate Circuit Judge Aaron J. Martin — had ruled incorrectly when they ordered stealing sentences to be reduced for the eight men, based on a 2016 Missouri Supreme Court ruling.

Under a 2002 change in state law, some stealing charges that were misdemeanor crimes could be upgraded to Class C felonies if the value of the stolen items was more than $500.

However, in the 2016 State v. Bazell case, the Supreme Court's opinion included a finding "stealing is not an 'offense in which the value of property or services is an element,' and, therefore, none of the enhancements listed in (the law) apply to the offense of stealing."

The ruling resulted in a number of felony sentences being reduced, including an appeals court ruling last December that dropped Ann Metternich's Cole County felony conviction for stealing tuxedos to a misdemeanor.

The eight cases before the appeals court this week involved requests to reduce other convictions and sentences under the Bazell ruling.

In Payne's case, the Tipton Correctional Center inmate was serving two separate sentences for stealing more than $500 in Phelps and Dent County cases. He asked to be released from prison under the Bazell ruling "because his offenses were only misdemeanors."

Judge Martin agreed Payne's sentences were excessive for misdemeanors and ordered Payne to be released, but stayed the order while the state appealed.

Attorney General Josh Hawley's office asked the appeals court to block all eight rulings, and the court agreed in its rulings in three cases Tuesday.

The appeals court panels found a Supreme Court ruling last month allowed the Bazell ruling to apply only on cases in the courts — or on appeal — at the time of the 2016 decision.

Cases like Payne's already decided shouldn't be changed, the Supreme Court said.

Court rules allow lawyers for the eight men to ask the full appeals court to hear the case, or to transfer it to the Supreme Court.

If the appeals court rejects those requests, the men could appeal directly to the high court, but it doesn't have to accept the appeal.

All of those decisions will be made over the next few weeks.