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High court reviewing perjury charge after denial of lawyer

The Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District has asked the Missouri Supreme Court to review a case of alleged perjury after the appellate panel issued a splintered ruling.

The Eastern District on March 4 upheld a woman’s conviction for committing perjury during a juvenile court proceeding, even though she had asked for an attorney and was illegally denied one.

In 2011, the juvenile court in Monroe County held a hearing on whether a child believed to be Brenda Churchill’s son was in need of protection from the court. According to court records, some of Churchill’s relatives identified the boy in question as hers, but Churchill denied the child’s existence and said she had no children living at her home.

A few weeks later, Churchill admitted the child was hers and brought him to juvenile authorities. She was charged with perjury and sentenced to four years in prison.

Churchill had requested a lawyer several times at the hearing, but the judge allowed the juvenile officer to question Churchill without giving her a chance to contact an attorney. Missouri statutes and Supreme Court rules say any party in juvenile court has an “unconditional right” to a lawyer at any stage of the proceeding.

Judge Kurt S. Odenwald, joined by Judge Angela T. Quigless, said Churchill still could be held responsible for having given false testimony. Quigless, however, concurred only in the result. The dissenting judge, Mary K. Hoff, said Churchill’s testimony should have been suppressed.

The panel said no prior Missouri court decisions had addressed the issue. Churchill’s lawyer asked the court to rehear the case or to transfer it to the Supreme Court. On May 20, the Eastern District agreed to send the matter to the higher court, which is currently accepting briefs. No argument date has been set.

The case is State v. Churchill, SC94226.