Breckenridge joins Missouri Supreme Court

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Judge Patricia Breckenridge questioned attorneys frequently and assertively Tuesday as she heard her first arguments as the newest member of the Missouri Supreme Court.

First up on the docket for Breckenridge and her six other colleagues was an appeal from a man sentenced to 100 years in prison for raping a stepdaughter. Defense attorneys claim they were wrongly forbidden by a St. Louis judge from arguing to jurors that the offense may not have occurred in the city, but rather in the county.

Just a couple of minutes into the arguments, Breckenridge questioned defense attorney Robert Lundt on whether he had sought to transfer the case to the county.

She later peppered Lundt with a series of questions about whether he was arguing that prosecutors had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the rape occurred in St. Louis city -- as opposed to elsewhere -- as part of their burden for getting a conviction.

When Lundt said that was his argument, Breckenridge noted in follow-up questions that previous cases have determined that venue -- or the location -- of an offense is not an element of the crime that must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt to jurors, even if it is mentioned in the jury instructions.

Other members of the Supreme Court, including Chief Justice Laura Denvir Stith, made similar observations when questioning the defense attorney.

Breckenridge essentially got the last word in the arguments, when she summarized that Lundt was claiming the Missouri Constitution requires proof of venue of a crime for a conviction, even if that's not been the practice in courts previously. Lundt concurred that's what he was arguing.

The case involves an appeal by Leonard Taylor, who was convicted of felony forcible rape and sentenced March 10, 2006, by St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael David. The rape occurred in July 2000 in a vehicle in the parking lot of an abandoned store, though the victim did not tell police about it until December 2004, according to court documents.

Police drove around the city and county with the victim, asking her to try to identify the location where the incident occurred. At trial, the victim did not identify a specific place but testified that the rape did occur in the city.

Case is State of Missouri v. Leonard Taylor, SC88426.

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