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Date: 11-02-2020

Case Style:


Case Number: SD36445


Court: Missouri Court of Appeals

Plaintiff's Attorney: Not Listed

Defendant's Attorney:

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Springfield, MO - Criminal defense lawyer represented defendant Kevin Darnell Coaston for appealing from his conviction after a bench trial of the class A misdemeanor of domestic assault in the fourth degree of his son.

Viewed in the light most favorable to the judgment, the following facts were
adduced at trial. Mother and Defendant met in Missouri and had two children together,
K.C., born in 2000, and Victim, born in 2002 (collectively, "the children").3 The family
moved for a time to Pennsylvania. Mother and the children moved back to Missouri in
2004. Defendant was incarcerated in Pennsylvania from 2007-2017 after being

Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and article I, sections 10, 17, and 18(a) of the
Missouri Constitution[.]"
3 Mother also has other children not related to Defendant.
convicted of third-degree murder and possession of a controlled substance. In 2017,
Defendant returned to Missouri to live with Mother and the children.
The incident in question occurred between Defendant and Victim on November
5, 2017. An argument ensued where Defendant began loudly yelling at Victim until
Victim put a blanket over his head. Defendant ripped the blanket off Victim's head,
forcefully grabbed Victim by his shirt and pinned him to the cushion-less couch
screaming that Victim needed to respect Defendant. Mother heard Victim screaming,
"[g]et off of me, let me go, I can't breathe[.]" When Mother entered the room and began
videoing the scene, she saw Defendant holding Victim by the shirt, swinging him
around, and screaming profanities at him. One of her sons pulled Defendant off Victim.
The next day, Mother and Victim filed a police report with the Springfield Police
Department and an officer photographed a cut on Victim's arm and bruises located on
Victim's neck and chin.4
Defendant was charged under section 565.076 for "knowingly caus[ing] physical
contact with [Victim] by pushing [Victim] and holding [Victim] down, knowing that he
would regard such conduct as offensive, and they were family or household members in
that [Victim] and [D]efendant were related by blood or marriage." After a bench trial
was held on September 23, 2019, the trial court found Defendant guilty. Defendant was
sentenced to one year in the county jail with the execution of sentence suspended and
was given supervised probation for two years with conditions. This appeal follows.

4 Though the record reflects these photographs and video were admitted into evidence by the trial court,
these exhibits have not been submitted to our Court.
Defendant's point on appeal challenges the admission of Mother's testimony
regarding Defendant's alleged past domestic abuse involving Mother as "neither
logically nor legally relevant to the charged offense[,]" and further that the evidence
prejudiced Defendant by allowing an impermissible inference that he had a propensity
to commit domestic assault offenses.
Relevant to Defendant's point, Mother, the first witness at trial, testified she
moved back from Pennsylvania to Missouri in 2004 when "things got pretty bad."
When the State asked what she meant by this, Defendant objected that the information
being elicited was not "relevant as far as past bad acts or alleged bad acts[.]" The State
argued it was "just trying to get a little bit of background[.]" The trial court stated it
would allow in the evidence "only for laying a foundation for the -- their current
relationship." Mother then testified Defendant had physically abused her causing
Mother to obtain orders of protection in both Pennsylvania and Missouri and resulting
in her moving back to Missouri with the children.
Defendant's point fails because Defendant has not shown reversible error. A
defendant's decision to try his case before a judge and without a jury has "fundamental
evidentiary implications[,]" State v. Taylor, 504 S.W.3d 116, 122 (Mo. App. E.D.
2016), which Defendant fails to acknowledge.5 "[W]e presume that the trial judge was
not prejudiced by inadmissible evidence" and was not influenced by such evidence
"unless it is clear from the record" the trial court "considered and relied upon the
inadmissible evidence." Id. at 122-23 (internal citation and quotation omitted). Here,

5 When discussing prejudice, Defendant refers this Court to the standard from a jury-tried case, State v.
Grant, 810 S.W.2d 591, 592 (Mo. App. S.D. 1991).
Defendant has not shown prejudicial or reversible error because he has not
demonstrated the challenged evidence "inflamed the fact-finder or diverted its attention
from the issues to be resolved[.]" State v. Ernst, 164 S.W.3d 70, 75 (Mo. App. S.D.
2005) (internal citation and quotation omitted).
Defendant's brief states, without citation to the record, that the trial court
"affirmatively stated it would consider this evidence in determining [Defendant's] guilt
or innocence, [and that] the record does not demonstrate that the trial court disregarded
this evidence or was not influenced by this improper evidence." First, despite reviewing
the record, we are unable to find anywhere the trial court relied upon this testimony for
a determination of guilt. It is the responsibility of Defendant to prove the trial court
relied on inadmissible evidence in making its determination of guilt beyond a
reasonable doubt, which he does not do. See State v. Hood, 521 S.W.3d 680, 685 (Mo.
App. S.D. 2017) (finding no basis to conclude the trial court in a bench-tried case
considered or relied on challenged testimony when determining guilt when a defendant
"omit[ted] any citations to the record" purporting to support or demonstrate the trial
court's reliance). Defendant has failed to show this evidence played a "critical role in the
trial court's decision." Ernst, 164 S.W.3d at 75.
The testimony presented to the trial court regarding the incident itself clearly
established the elements required for domestic assault in the fourth degree without any
need for the trial court to rely on this allegedly inadmissible evidence.6 Absent a clear
showing of reliance on allegedly inadmissible evidence for the trial court's

6 As pertinent here, a person commits the crime of domestic assault in the fourth degree if the act involves
a "domestic victim," defined as a "household or family member[,]" and "[t]he person knowingly causes
physical contact with such domestic victim knowing he or she will regard that contact as offensive[.]" See
565.076; 565.002.
determination of guilt, no reversible error resulted. See id. (finding inadmissible
evidence was not "outcome-determinative" when other evidence in the record was
sufficient to support the trial court's decision finding defendant guilty of the offense
charged); see also State v. Dixon, 495 S.W.3d 812, 820 (Mo. App. S.D. 2016)
(presuming no prejudice resulted when a trial court reserved ruling on allegedly
inadmissible evidence, did not indicate reliance on the evidence during the proceedings
or in the court's judgment, and the evidence was "not necessary to support any element
of the crime" of which defendant was convicted). Defendant's brief concedes that "the
trial court could fully judge the credibility of each witness's narrative of the incident
with the admissible evidence presented at trial and without consideration of the
impermissible evidence." We agree that it could, and it did, and we find no reversible
error. Point 1 is denied.

Outcome: The trial court's judgment is affirmed.

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