State v. Stapleton, KCD

Decision Date06 July 1976
Docket NumberNo. KCD,KCD
Citation539 S.W.2d 655
PartiesSTATE of Missouri, Respondent, v. Leo W. STAPLETON, Appellant. 28085.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

William G. Mays, II, Public Defender, 13th Judicial Circuit, David M. Doak, Asst. Public Defender, Columbia, for appellant.

John C. Danforth, Atty. Gen., Preston Dean, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jefferson City, for respondent.


SHANGLER, Presiding Judge.

The defendant appeals from a conviction for manslaughter and sentence of ten years imprisonment. The sufficiency of the proof for conviction is not disputed and the trial evidence is related only as it bears on the two issues presented on this appeal.

The defendant first asserts that the denial of certain evidence introduced by the prosecutor was so flagrant a violation of due process as to require dismissal of the criminal accusation and proceedings against him. The defendant also asserts that the failure of the State to disclose, upon his written request for discovery under Rule 25.32(A)(2), the substance of an inculpatory statement by the defendant to a prosecution witness, requires a new trial.

The homicide was the result of an affray between two of the guests at the Hayes residence one evening during the Christmas holiday season. A dispute arose between Holt, who became the victim, and Stapleton, the accused, who became annoyed by what he considered unjustified accusations of intermeddling. Holt threatened to hit Stapleton in the mouth, and then the harangue shifted to a debt of three dollars which Holt claimed from Stapleton and demanded he pay. Holt ran into the kitchen, opened the drawer where the knives were kept, grasped and came up with some spoons. Ms. Hayes, the owner of the premises, intervened, restored the spoons to the drawer and objected to such behavior in her home. Holt ran outside and challenged Stapleton to follow. Stapleton went into the kitchen for a knife to protect himself, although Ms. Hayes kept on telling him that Holt had no knife, but had taken some spoons. She attempted to wrest from him the butcher knife hd had taken from the kitchen drawer, and it fell to the floor. About then, Holt returned to the house with a green board plank, about six feet long and two inches by eight inches in dimension, used as a walkway from the back yard. The plank caught the ceiling as he came in and fell; so the protagonists faced each other, both without weapons. Then, of a sudden, Stapleton grabbed Holt, slammed his head first against the door, then against the concrete floor. Another guest at the Hayes home, Shirley Murray, tried to disengage them but without success. The blood came from Holt's head, and Stapleton finally stopped his assault. An ambulance took Holt to the hospital where he died.

The assault and eventual death of the victim at the hospital were events during the early morning of December 21, 1974. The police were called before the victim was removed to the hospital and attempted to investigate amidst a scene of pandemonium. They managed to get the attention of the defendant Stapleton who told them that the victim had come at him with a board in one hand and a knife in the other and that when he undertook to defend himself, Holt fell through the glass of a storm door and injured himself. After his arrest, on December 22, 1974, Stapleton gave a formal statement which described the board Holt was holding as 'a long two-by-four' and otherwise corroborated his earlier oral statement. The gestures of the defendant described the board as about three or four feet long. Following this disclosure, the police returned to the Hayes residence later that day; there they saw a green broomstick handle, about three feet long, and a green two-by-eight about eight feet long. They concluded that the broomstick more merely conformed to the description given them by Stapleton of the board or 'stick' with which the victim had threatened him, and so seized it as evidence.

On the next day, December 23, 1974, the Public Defender was appointed to represent the defendant who had been arraigned before the magistrate on a charge of murder in the second degree. The two staff attorneys of that office immediately interviewed the defendant Stapleton who recounted the events leading to the arrest and described a board which he told them was the instrument of assault against which he defended. The attorneys went directly to the Hayes residence, were allowed to investigate and photograph the scene and to take possession of a large green board which they found lying outside the house. The board matched exactly the description Stapleton had told them was used by the deceased against him and was found where the defendant had said the board was lying. The attorneys also observed a butcher knife by the sink which matched the description given by the defendant, so they photographed it and telephoned the police of the discovery.

As they left the premises with the green board, they were observed by two police officers who were entering the residence. The board was taken to the Public Defender office for keeping. There they soon received a telephone call from the prosecutor who claimed the board as State's evidence and demanded possession. The attorneys refused on the ground that the evidence was relevant to the defense. After some discussion (and threat of forcible entry and prosecution, according to the testimony of the attorneys) the prosecutor agreed to treat the board as defense evidence, but demanded immediated possession so that the board could be tested for blood. The prosecutor offered to submit the evidence to the State Highway Patrol Laboratory for tests on behalf of both parties, but the Public Defender was adamant that the board was defense evidence and that the board would be relinquished only as required by the rules of criminal discovery. At the conclusion of this telephonic conversation, after some reflection (and the contended threat of entry and prosecution), the attorneys relinquished the board to police sent by the prosecutor for that purpose.

The board was returned to the Public Defender within three or four days and has not since been in the possession or custody of the State. The defendant neither accepted the prosecution offer for joint testing of the evidence nor initiated its own examination.

At the trial, the court issued a subpoena duces tecum to the Public Defender which commanded the production of the green plank. The defendant moved to quash the subpoena on grounds that to compel his counsel to testify or produce evidence in the criminal prosecution violated the attorneyclient privilege and his Fifth Amendment right to be free from self-incrimination, and that the State was otherwise not entitled to the use of the plank because the evidence was the product of an illegal search and seizure. The defendant also moved the quashal of the information.

The court heard evidence (already related) on both motions, suppressed the subpoena duces tecum, but denied quashal of the information. The cause proceeded to trial and a conviction was returned.

It is the contention on appeal that the mere suppression of the evidence on these circumstances was not an adequate remedy, that nothing short of dismissal of the prosecution can deter the State from illegal activity of the kind perpetrated against him. The defendant acknowledges that the traditional remedy available to a person for the invasion of his personal security by an unlawful search and seizure is the suppression and exclusion of the illegal evidence. Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 389, 34 S.Ct. 341, 58 L.Ed. 652 (1914). The defendant contends, however, that the application of this exclusionary rule presupposes that the evidence unlawfully seized will damage the defendant, whereas the evidence taken from him was favorable to the defense. The evidence, he contends, was discovered by his attorney as the result of disclosures made by the defendant in confidence, thus lawfully in his possession and not subject to the demand of the prosecution. What was seized in actuality (he continues in argument) was not merely a board but four invaluable days of preparation for defense wrested from his without sanction of law, and the additional advantage of a basis for rebuttal of evidence of self-defense.

The motion to suppress the subpoena was sustained without statement of grounds; we assume the ruling was responsive to the legal arguments made to the trial court on the motion and iterated here. We assume also, for the purpose of decision, the soundness of those contentions. 1 Even so, the discovery of evidence by government through illegal means gives...

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20 cases
  • Scott v. Jones
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Missouri
    • June 22, 1988
    ...discovery are not mere etiquette nor is compliance to be at discretion. The obligation to make answer is peremptory. State v. Stapleton, 539 S.W.2d 655, 659 (Mo.App. 1976). Where the state has failed to respond promptly and fully to the defendant's disclosure request, the question is whethe......
  • State v. Scott
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • February 25, 1997
    ...of discovery provided criminal defendants by Rule 25 have constitutional underpinning rooted in due process," and in State v. Stapleton, 539 S.W.2d 655, 659 (Mo.App.1976), "... the rules of criminal discovery are not a mere etiquette but the festoons of due process." The remedy for violatio......
  • State v. Wilkinson
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • October 15, 1980
    ...v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 87, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963); United States v. Agurs, 427 U.S. 97, 110 (1976); State v. Stapleton, 539 S.W.2d 655, 659 (Mo.App.1976). Discovery is critical for both defense and prosecution. Against this, the importance of the privilege against self-incr......
  • State v. Smothers, 61299.
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • October 15, 1980
    ...The duty to disclose is a continuing one, State v. Curtis, 544 S.W.2d 580 (Mo. banc 1976); it is not discretionary, State v. Stapleton, 539 S.W.2d 655 (Mo.App. 1976). The question remains, however, whether the failure to disclose resulted in fundamental unfairness or prejudice to defendant.......
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