Related Navigation

Constitutional Law

James D. Jenkins, Esquire

Section 632.495, pertaining to sexually violent predators, does not violate due process rights. In the Matter of the Care and Treatment of James Brasch, No.91186 (Mo. banc, Feb. 8, 2011) Fischer, J.
James Brasch had a long history of both mental illness and sexually violent crimes. In 1997, he was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for sodomy and burglary. Before his release, the State filed a petition to have Brasch committed to the custody of the Department of Mental Health as a sexually violent predator (SVP).  Section 632.495.2 provides for indefinite involuntary civil commitment of SVPs, with such individuals becoming eligible for release only when their "mental abnormality has so changed that the person is safe to be at large."  Brasch argued that this would amount to a lifelong commitment, from which he had no possibility of ever emerging, since his schizophrenia and other mental disorders rendered him incapable of ever successfully completing the Missouri Sex Offender Program (MOSOP) and returning to society.
Brasch argued that the treatment he was receiving from Department of Mental Health was not sufficient to restore him to a condition appropriate for release back in the community, and argued that the State is obligated to provide such treatment if it is available. Brasch argued that the State had kept him on the same medications since 1996, even though those drugs had not alleviated his schizophrenia and delusions that make him incapable of completing the MOSOP program. The trial court dismissed his petition for failure to state a claim.
Held: Affirmed. The Court unanimously affirmed the dismissal of Brasch's petition, finding no constitutional violation. The Court noted that civil commitment of SVPs has been allowed by the United States Supreme Court since the ruling in Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 346 (1997), and noted also that the primary purpose of SVP commitment statutes is not necessarily to treat or rehabilitate the offender, but to protect society from future crimes.

School superintendent had immunity from suit under federal Coverdell Act, and the Act was constitutionally enacted under Congress' power under the Spending Clause. Dydell v. Dr. Taylor, No. 90912 (Mo. banc, February 8, 2011) Stith, J.
James Whitehead was expelled from Westport Charter School for attempting to bring a knife on school grounds. After his expulsion, he applied for enrollment in the Kansas City School District, and was allowed to enroll. Although the superintendent, Dr. Bernard Taylor, became aware of the knife-related expulsion, school district staff was not notified of any potential risk posed by Whitehead. In 2005, Whitehead sliced Craig Dydell's neck open with a box-cutter knife in an unprovoked attack. Dydell sued Superintendent Taylor, alleging negligence in failing to supervise Whitehead adequately or to inform school district staff of Whitehead's psychiatric and criminal history.
Taylor moved for summary judgment, claiming immunity under the Paul D. Coverdell Teacher Protection Act of 2001, 20 U.S.C. Section 6731, and the trial court granted summary judgment in his favor. Dydell appealed, arguing that the Coverdell Act was unconstitutional, since neither the Spending Clause nor the Commerce Clause gave Congress authority to enact it.
Held: Affirmed. The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously rejected Dydell's arguments and found the Act valid under the Spending Clause, without reaching the Commerce Clause arguments. Under South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 203 (1987), Congress has broad power to condition receipt of federal funds on compliance with federal directives. Here, Missouri received federal funds for its schools by agreeing to comply with certain federal provisions. The Court noted in this case that the Coverdell Act does provide the opportunity for states to opt out of the provision at issue here, and states can do so without any loss of federal funds. Therefore, there could not be any coercion by the federal government which might render the Act impermissible under the Spending Clause.

DUI and driving while revoked convictions reversed where traffic stop violated Fourth Amendment. State v. Loyd, No. 71692 (Mo. App. W.D., December 21, 2010) Witt, J.
Kalvin M. Loyd was convicted of driving while intoxicated and driving while revoked, and was sentenced to six months' incarceration for each offense, with execution of the sentence suspended, and two years of probation.
Although any traffic violation, however minor, will ordinarily justify the police in stopping a vehicle, Loyd argued that he had not committed any traffic offense, and therefore the traffic stop of his vehicle was inherently unreasonable. The State argued that Loyd had committed three different violations, any one of which would have justified the stop: failure to signal, failure to turn into the nearest lane, and driving on the center line. The court of appeals, on plain error review, rejected all these purported bases for the stop since Loyd had not properly preserved his objection at trial. The officer's dash camera showed no evidence that Loyd failed to signal, and even if he had failed to signal, the failure occurred on private property and thus was not covered under any statute or ordinance. With regard to the failure to turn into the nearest lane, the officer admitted that he was unaware of this violation until after he later reviewed the dash cam video; therefore, it could not have provided a basis for the stop. Finally, the fact that Loyd's tires touched, but did not cross, the center line, was not sufficient to justify the stop.
Held: Reversed and remanded. The court of appeals remanded the case to the trial court with directions that the evidence obtained from the stop be suppressed, and made it clear that it believed the State could not prove its case on remand.

Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline's recommendation that Commissioner be retired due to disability rejected because he is not a judge, member of a judicial commission, or member of the Commission of Retirement, Removal and Discipline. In re: The Honorable Timothy J. Finnegan, No. 90937 (Mo. banc, December 21, 2010) Breckinridge, J.
Timothy J. Finnegan, a family court commissioner in St. Louis City, petitioned the Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline that he be retired from service as a commissioner due to disability. The Commission recommended to the Supreme Court that Commissioner Finnegan be retired.
Held: Reversed. Article V, Section 24 of the Missouri Constitution provides that the Commission has authority only over judges, members of judicial commissions, and of the Commission itself. Because Commissioner Finnegan is a commissioner and not a judge, and because he was not a member of a judicial commission or of this Commission, the Commission lacked authority to recommend his retirement request. However, the court noted, Commissioner Finnegan was free to pursue retirement benefits through the Missouri State Employees' Retirement System.
Judge Wolff filed a significant concurrence, in which he argued that the position of commissioner should be phased out and eventually eliminated, since the Missouri Constitution provides only for judges to exercise judicial functions, and not commissioners. Noting that the commissioner positions were created to lighten the workload of judges, Judge Wolff suggests that if there is a workload problem, the General Assembly needs to pass legislation creating more judgeships, not delegate judicial functions to people who are not judges.

The Missouri Bar Courts Bulletin, 11-Apr