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State Supreme Court finds location not essential for convictions

Tuesday, November 20, 2007 | 10:18 p.m. CST; updated 11:56 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Supreme Court decided Tuesday that prosecutors do not have to prove where a crime happened to win a conviction.

The ruling came in the case of a man convicted of raping his stepdaughter in St. Louis.

On appeal, Leonard Taylor argued that his conviction should be overturned because the judge did not allow his attorney to argue that prosecutors had not proved the rape occurred in the city rather than St. Louis County.

The Supreme Court said in a unanimous opinion that the venue where an offense occurred is not subject to the same element of proof during trial as the crime itself.

Taylor’s attorney had claimed that the standard jury instructions approved by the Supreme Court require prosecutors to prove, as an element of the offense, that a crime occurred in the county where the trial is held.

But the Supreme Court essentially struck down its own jury instructions. The court noted that the law making rape a crime does not require the location to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

A trial generally does occur in the county where a crime occurred, unless a defendant asks for it to be moved elsewhere.

But prior court decisions have created “the misconception that proper venue is a prerequisite for a valid judgment,” Judge Michael Wolff wrote in Tuesday’s decision.

If a defendant believes the trial is being held in the wrong county, he or she should ask a judge to move the case elsewhere. But an objection to the trial location cannot wait until the trial already has begun, the court said.

Taylor was convicted of a rape that 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 St. Louis.

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