State high court to consider time limits on prosecutions

Monday, October 1, 2012

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The state Supreme Court is deciding whether prosecutors in southwestern Missouri missed the deadline to file charges in two criminal cases.

Missouri's statute of limitations gives prosecutors three years to bring forward a case for most felonies, with the clock starting the day after the offense is committed and stopping when a criminal complaint or indictment is filed. However, the Missouri Constitution requires the filing of an indictment or information to prosecute -- not a complaint.

In two cases headed before the high court, prosecutors filed a complaint within the three-year window. But judges in Greene County concluded the law is unconstitutional and dismissed the cases. The Missouri Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for Thursday.

A complaint is filed by a prosecutor, after which a judge determines whether there is probable cause that a crime was committed. Prosecutors then file an information. Prosecutors also can start a case through an indictment that is returned by a grand jury.

Defending Missouri's current statute of limitations is the state attorney general's office. It argues the law focuses on when to stop running the clock and merely allows prosecutors to file a criminal complaint to meet the deadline and does not let prosecutors skip the submission of an indictment or information.

"Everyone agrees that no one may be criminally prosecuted for a felony except by information or indictment," assistant attorney general Evan Buchheim said in a written argument. "But this is not the same as saying that a criminal prosecution is 'commenced' only upon the filing of either an information or indictment."

According to court records, Springfield police collected two blood samples in March 2008 from a break-in. Law officers reported that in October 2009, they discovered the blood matched Jeffrey Anderson, who was incarcerated at that time for an unrelated offense. After Anderson was released, a felony complaint was filed Feb. 28, 2011. The information accusing Anderson of burglary and stealing was filed until May 6, 2011.

In the other case, prosecutors filed a complaint Jan. 25, 2011, accusing Grant Mixon of receiving stolen property on May 2, 2008. He asked for the charges to be dismissed Nov. 2, 2011.

Both men are represented by public defenders, who said in written arguments that counting the filing of a criminal complaint under the statute of limitations runs afoul of the Missouri Constitution.

"The constitutional provision prohibits a prosecution absent information or indictment; the statute decrees that a felony prosecution commences with the filing of a complaint. By its terms, the statute contravenes -- is contrary to -- the Missouri Constitution," wrote Rosalynn Koch, who is represents Mixon.

Assistant public defender Alexa Pearson, who is Anderson's attorney, said in a written argument that the attorney general's defense is "untenable" and would allow prosecutors to extend the statute of limitations indefinitely by filing a criminal complaint, which does not lay out the charge or trigger "substantive rights" for defendants.

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