ST. LOUIS • Jennifer Joyce, the city’s top prosecutor, believes a state Supreme Court rule that requires disclosure of names and addresses of victims and witnesses to defendants is unconstitutional.
Mary Fox, the city’s head public defender, believes Joyce’s policy of withholding such information from defendants violates their constitutional rights.
Their arguments clashed Thursday at the Missouri Court of Appeals in St. Louis as lawyers for each debated whether a 1979 pretrial disclosure rule goes far enough to protect crime victims while guaranteeing defendants’ rights to a fair trial. No decision is expected for some time.
The Missouri Supreme Court rule requires the disclosure but Joyce’s policy, for at least a decade, has been to redact dates of birth, Social Security numbers, telephone numbers and addresses from police reports before providing them to defense lawyers. The St. Louis public defenders office says Joyce’s practice clearly violates the rule.
The argument before the appeals court Thursday was whether St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael K. Mullen was right to deny requests by prosecutors for protective orders in 14 recent cases whose defendants have public defenders.
The fight has been brewing for more than a year in St. Louis Circuit Court, since Fox sued Joyce to protest the long-held policy providing redacted police reports to defense lawyers. The two sides have been wrangling all summer in Mullen’s courtroom over protective orders for victims and witnesses in dozens of other cases.
The 14 criminal cases cited in the appeal include charges of robbery, theft, burglary, illegal guns, drug trafficking and sex crimes filed since 2014. Nine are still pending; five defendants have already pleaded guilty.
Representing Joyce on Thursday was Assistant Circuit Attorney Morley Swingle, who said the issue has “life and death” consequences and cited two recent killings of witnesses set to testify in murder cases. Swingle argued that a 1992 state constitutional amendment that affords crime victims the “right to protection” from a defendant outweighs the rule requiring disclosure of personal information.
“It’s wrong that we have to show a specific threat in any given case,” Swingle said. “They should have to show a specific need for it.”
Deputy District Defender Rick Kroeger argued that the appeals court should order Joyce’s office to comply with the disclosure rule and find that Mullen correctly denied her office’s request for protective orders.
“It is a matter of life and death,” Kroeger said. “It’s also a matter of liberty.”
Swingle said witnesses are routinely made available to the defense for interviews. But Kroeger argued that defense attorneys should be able to interview witnesses without prosecutors “infecting” their statements.
Joyce’s focus on protecting victims and witnesses has become a central issue for her in the waning months of her fourth term as circuit attorney.
While her assistants have clashed in St. Louis Circuit Court over the same issue in some 170 cases, Joyce has steadily staged a social media blitz on Facebook and Twitter — hash-tagged, #VictimsCount — warning of the importance of protecting victims and witnesses in prosecutions.