Sutton v. Mun. Court Div.

Decision Date19 May 2015
Docket NumberNo. ED 101962,ED 101962
Citation462 S.W.3d 446
PartiesLauren Elaine Sutton,Respondent, v. Municipal Court Division, Des Peres,Defendant, and Missouri State Highway Patrol Criminal Records Repository, Appellant.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Chris Koster, Attorney General, Gregory Michael Goodwin, Assistant Attorney General, P.O. Box 899, Jefferson City, MO 65102, Attorneys for Appellant.

Lauren Sutton, Pro Se, 3124 Phils Drive, High Ridge, Missouri 63049, Attorney for Respondent.

OPINION

Mary K. Hoff, Judge

The Missouri State Highway Patrol Criminal Records Repository (MSHP) appeals from the trial court's Judgment and Order of Expungement of Arrest Records in favor of Lauren Elaine Sutton (Sutton). We reverse.

Factual and Procedural Background

In April 2014, Sutton filed a petition for expungement of arrest records pursuant to Section 610.122. Sutton's petition alleged that she had been charged with petty larceny/stealing in December 2006 in Des Peres, Missouri.

MSHP thereafter filed its answer and motion to dismiss the petition. MSHP alleged that Sutton had been arrested for shoplifting in December 2006 but that she had later pleaded guilty to an amended charge of littering and paid a fine. Specifically, MSHP argued that Sutton could not prove the arrest had been based on false information or that there was no probable cause to believe she committed the offense given that Sutton pleaded guilty to littering, “which arose from the arrest [Sutton] now seeks to expunge.” MSHP further argued that Sutton's failure to prove her “actual innocence” barred expungement under Section 610.122. The trial court did not rule on MSHP's motion to dismiss, but a hearing on Sutton's petition for expungement was scheduled.

At the hearing, Sutton testified that she was arrested in December 2006 following an incident at a Macy's store. Sutton testified that she had been with “another individual” who had “appropriated some property” from the Macy's store and that the two of them had been stopped outside of the store. Sutton testified that she and the other person had been sharing a car and that property belonging to Macy's was found inside the car. When Sutton was asked whether she had taken anything from Macy's, she testified, “No, not to my knowledge.” The trial court asked Sutton to explain what she meant by, “not to my knowledge” because Sutton “would know whether or not [she] took something[.] Sutton's attorney interjected that the situation was “hard to explain” and that Sutton was “nervous to say she didn't take anything because there was ... stolen property found in the car” Sutton and the other person had been sharing. Sutton testified that she was subsequently charged with stealing but the charge was later amended to littering. Sutton testified that she pleaded guilty to the littering charge and was assessed a fine. Sutton further testified that she did not have any prior or subsequent misdemeanor or felony convictions.

On cross examination, counsel for MSHP asked Sutton whether she recalled telling police at the time of her arrest that she had taken three pairs of jeans. Sutton replied, “Yes, but there was another party involved.” Counsel for MSHP asked whether Sutton had provided police with a written statement at the time of her arrest acknowledging that she had gone into a changing room and then took the three pairs of jeans. Sutton replied that she had written the statement and had signed it on the day she was arrested. On re-direct examination, however, Sutton testified that she did not remember providing police with the written statement.

During closing arguments, Sutton's attorney argued that the record of her arrest should be expunged because the initial charge had been amended to a lesser charge and, thus, the arrest had been based on false information and there was no probable cause to believe that she committed the offense. Counsel for MSHP argued that Sutton was not entitled to expungement of the record of her arrest because there was probable cause to believe she had committed the offense of stealing.

The court thereafter granted Sutton's request to expunge the record of her arrest. In its written judgment, the court found that Sutton's arrest “was based on false information, that there is no probable cause at the time of the action to expunge to believe that [Sutton] committed the offense, that no charges will be pursued as a result of the arrest, that [Sutton] has no prior or subsequent misdemeanor or felony convictions, that [Sutton] did not receive a suspended imposition of sentence (SIS) for the offense for which the arrest was made or for any offense related to the arrest, and that no civil action is pending relating to the arrest or the records sought to be expunged.” This appeal followed.

Standard of Review

“In reviewing a court tried case, we will affirm the judgment unless there is no substantial evidence to support it, it is against the weight of the evidence, or it erroneously declares or applies the law.” Adum v. St. Louis Metropolitan Police Dep't. 423 S.W.3d 327, 328 (Mo.App.E.D.2014). Because the trial court's application of statutory requirements is a question of law rather than fact, we review the trial court's application of statutory requirements de novo . Adum, 423 S.W.3d at 328 ; Coleman v. Missouri State Criminal Records Repository, 268 S.W.3d 464, 466 (Mo.App.E.D.2008) ; see also Martin v. State, 267 S.W.3d 808, 810 (Mo.App.E.D.2008).

Discussion

MSHP presents two points on appeal; however, given our analysis and disposition of the issues presented, we need only address the first point and not the second point regarding issue preclusion.

In its first point, MSHP claims the trial court erred in granting Sutton an expungement of her December 12, 2006, arrest because she failed to establish that there was no probable cause to support the arrest in that she pleaded guilty to an amended charge and had admitted to the original charge.

Notwithstanding other provisions of law to the contrary, any record of arrest recorded pursuant to Section 43.503 may be expunged if the court determines that the arrest was based on false information and the following conditions exist: (1) there is no probable cause, at the time of the action to expunge, to believe the individual committed the offense; (2) no charges will be pursued as a result of the arrest; and (3) the subject of the arrest did not receive a suspended imposition of sentence for the offense for which the arrest was made or for any offense related to the arrest. Section 610.122.1(1)....

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