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JOHN MICHAEL SIGNER v. STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

DECEMBER 07, 1988

JOHN MICHAEL SIGNER
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI



BEFORE DAN LEE, P.J., ANDERSON AND ZUCCARO, JJ.

ZUCCARO, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

This appeal is from John Michael Signer's conviction in the Circuit Court of DeSoto County on a charge of sexual battery. We reverse and remand for a new trial because of a violation of Rule 609 (a) of the Mississippi Rules of Evidence.

 FACTS

 On November 13, 1985, the appellant John Michael Signer was indicted by the DeSoto County Grand Jury on a charge of sexual battery. Signer's trial began on February 18, 1986. At trial, Signer filed a motion in limine to preclude the State from offering, for impeachment purposes, evidence of his prior convictions. The trial court overruled Signer's motion in limine, and also overruled Signer's objection to the introduction of this evidence when he later took the stand in his own defense. Subsequently, the jury found Signer guilty of sexual battery under Miss. Code Ann. 97-3-95 (Supp. 1985). On April 11, 1986, Signer was sentenced to twenty years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Signer has perfected this appeal and specifies two assignments of error, only one of which requires discussion.

 DID THE TRIAL COURT ERR IN OVERRULING APPELLANT'S MOTION IN LIMINE TO PRECLUDE THE STATE FROM OFFERING, FOR IMPEACHMENT PURPOSES, PROOF OF SIGNER'S PRIOR CONVICTIONS AND IN OVERRULING SIGNER'S OBJECTIONS TO THE INTRODUCTION OF THIS EVIDENCE?

 The appellant had been convicted in United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee on February 25, 1977, of the crimes of bank robbery, assault with a dangerous weapon in the commission of bank robbery, and unlawful use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

 Signer, who at the time of his convictions was only nineteen years old, had been sentenced under 5010 (b) of the Federal Youth Corrections Act, 18 U.S.C. 5005 et al. (repealed October 1984). The court's sentencing order committed Signer to the custody of the Attorney General" until discharged by the United States Parole Commission as provided in 18 U.S.C. 5017. "Section 5017 (c) provided that" [a] youth offender committed under section 5010 (b) . . . shall be discharged unconditionally on or before six years from the date of his conviction. "(Emphasis added).

 Furthermore, 5021 (a) of the Youth Corrections Act provided:

 Upon the unconditional discharge by the Commission of a committed youth offender before the expiration of the maximum sentence imposed upon him, the conviction shall be automatically set aside and the Commission shall issue to the youth offender a certificate to that effect.

 (Emphasis added).

 In support of his motion in limine to preclude the State from offering evidence of his prior convictions, Signer argued that under the provisions of the Youth Corrections Act, those convictions had been expunged. If Signer's prior convictions had been expunged, they indeed would have been inadmissible, as Rule 609 (c) of the Mississippi Rules of Evidence prohibits the admission of evidence of a prior conviction if the conviction has been the subject of a pardon, annulment, expungement, or certificate of rehabilitation. However, Signer presented no proof that his prior convictions had been expunged. Instead, he argued that under 5017 (c) and 5021 (a) of the Youth Corrections Act, his convictions were automatically expunged six years from the date of his conviction. See United States v. Arrington, 618 F.2d 1119 (5th Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 1086 (1981).

 The trial judge denied Signer's motion in limine, finding that an offender sentenced under the Youth Corrections Act would receive an automatic set-aside only if he were unconditionally released prior to the expiration of the maximum sentence allowed under 5017 (c). The judge's finding in this regard comports with the ruling of the United States Supreme Court in Tuten v. United States, 460 U.S. 660 (1983). In Tuten, the question before the Court was whether a conviction upon which a youth offender was sentenced to probation under the Youth Corrections Act was automatically set aside after the offender had served his full term of

 probation. The Supreme Court held that the plain language of the Youth Corrections Act required a finding that where an offender is not unconditionally discharged from probation or parole prior to completion of the maximum term to which he was sentenced, but instead completes the full term of his sentence, his conviction is not set aside under 18 U.S.C. 5021. Although the sentence in question in Tuten involved only probation, while the sentence in the instant case involved the appellant's commitment to the custody of the Attorney General, we believe that Tuten would control the instant case had the appellant been required to complete the maximum six-year term allowed under 5017 (c). At the time of the motion in limine, the information available to the trial court indicated that Signer had served a full six-year term; based on this information, the trial judge's ruling was correct as to the application of Rule 609 (c). However, the appellant actually had been unconditionally discharged from supervision prior to the expiration of the term of his sentence. He had, in fact, been issued a Certificate of Early Termination. The" Final Disposition Report "from his file ...


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