Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

Disregarding Statutory Safeguards: The Supreme Court of Missouri's Failure to Recognize Manifest Injustice in Predatory Sexual Offender Determinations

Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

Disregarding Statutory Safeguards: The Supreme Court of Missouri's Failure to Recognize Manifest Injustice in Predatory Sexual Offender Determinations

Article excerpt

State v. Johnson, 524 S.W.3d 505 (Mo. 2017) (en banc)

I. INTRODUCTION

The Sixth Amendment provides: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury...." (1) This right, in conjunction with the Due Process Clause, (2) requires that each element of a crime be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. (3) Over the course of the twentieth century, however, legislatures across the country have adopted schemes that allow certain factors that impact sentencing to be found by the trial judge, independent of the jury. (4) The way these legislative sentencing schemes intersect with the jury-trial guarantee provided by the Sixth Amendment has been a subject of confusion and controversy for decades. (5)

The United States Supreme Court has interpreted the Sixth Amendment in this context in a series of decisions, beginning with McMillan v. Pennsylvania (6) in 1986, followed by Apprendi v. New Jersey (7) in 2000, Harris v. United States (8) in 2002, Blakely v. Washington (9) in 2004, United States v. Booker (10) in 2005, and most recently Alleyne v. United States (11) in 2013 and Hurst v. Florida (12) in 2016. In each of these opinions, the Court attempted to clarify the messy topic of constitutionality in criminal sentencing and grappled with providing answers to two questions. First, what facts constitute elements of a crime such that a jury must prove them beyond a reasonable doubt? Second, what facts that can impact sentencing are not elements but, rather, mere "sentencing factors," such that a judge may determine them by a lower standard of persuasion?

However, with each decision, a "thicket of knotty issues" emerged, many of which involved determining the proper relationship between the judiciary and legislature in criminal sentencing. (13) In June 2013, the United States Supreme Court sought to put these constitutional sentencing questions to rest with its decision in Alleyne. Many legal scholars have written about the clarity they hoped Alleyne would bring to the national stage. (14) The general thrust of their scholarship voiced optimism that Alleyne would once and for all silence the ongoing sentencing debate regarding the proper relationship between the judiciary and the legislature in sentence enhancement. (15) The Supreme Court of Missouri's August 2017 decision in State v. Johnson, however, proves that the clarity many legal scholars believed Alleyne would bring is more of a dream than a reality--at least in Missouri. (16)

The predatory sexual offender sentence enhancement scheme, as written in the 2017 version of Missouri's Criminal Code, provides a perfect illustration of the Sixth Amendment violations that can occur when the legislature allows a judge to make findings of fact that the Constitution requires to be proven to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. (17) In August 2017, this sentencing scheme was brought to the attention of the Supreme Court of Missouri, for the first time since Alleyne was decided. (18) In Johnson, the Supreme Court of Missouri determined whether the fact that a defendant committed a sexual offense against multiple victims--a fact that, if found, triggers the enhanced sentencing mechanisms provided by the predatory sexual offender laws in Missouri's Criminal Code--was an element of the crime, and thus "must be submitted to a jury and found beyond a reasonable doubt," or a mere sentencing factor, and thus may be found independently by a judge by a preponderance of the evidence. (19)

This Note scrutinizes the way in which the Supreme Court of Missouri resolved the issue of whether the predatory sexual offender statute, section 566.125.5(3), is constitutional when applied to currently charged acts in light of the procedural mandates for sentence enhancement provided in section 558.021.2. This Note argues the Supreme Court of Missouri erred in its interpretation of the statutory language provided in section 566. …

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