APPEAL FROM THE FAULKNER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. NO. CR-2013-186. HONORABLE CHARLES E. CLAWSON, JR., JUDGE.
Brian G. Brooks, Attorney at Law, PLLC, by: Brian G. Brooks, for appellant.
Dustin McDaniel, Att'y Gen., by: Kathryn Henry, Ass't Att'y Gen., and Hannah Wood, Law Student Admitted to Practice Pursuant to Rule XV of the Rules Governing Admission tot he Bar of the Supreme Court under the supervision of Darnisa Evans Johnson, Deputy Att'y Gen., for appellee.
M. MICHAEL KINARD, Judge. GRUBER and BROWN, JJ., agree.
M. MICHAEL KINARD, Judge
Stanley Ray Hunt II appeals from his conviction at a jury trial of three counts of rape, for which he was sentenced to concurrent terms of forty years in the Arkansas Department of Correction. He contends that the trial court erred in admitting evidence that he fled from police when they sought to arrest him on the charges and erred in giving a nonmodel jury instruction stating that evidence of flight could be considered as circumstantial evidence corroborative of guilt. We affirm.
In May 2012, appellant's niece, N.H., told her school principal and vice-principal that appellant had been sexually assaulting her for a number of years. N.H. was fourteen years old at the time that she first reported the abuse, and she stated that it began some five years earlier, when she was in the fifth grade. Appellant admittedly was made aware of the victim's allegations almost immediately after they had first been made. Appellant was not arrested for the alleged rapes, however, until almost one year later, in April 2013. When police officers finally located appellant and went to arrest him, he fled and escaped, eventually turning himself in a few days later. Prior to trial, appellant moved in limine to prohibit the State from introducing any evidence concerning his flight to avoid arrest. At the hearing, appellant's trial counsel argued that appellant's flight was irrelevant to the rape charges. He contended that flight to avoid arrest is simply immaterial in any way to one's guilt or innocence of any offense other than the crime of fleeing itself, something with which appellant was not charged. While at one point counsel made a passing reference to appellant's flight having occurred " almost a year after the victim" was first interviewed, he repeatedly argued that appellant's flight was probative of nothing more than that appellant did not want to be arrested for crimes that he had not committed. He insisted that flight is not probative of one's consciousness of guilt because " the state of mind of the defendant can only be known to him." At the end of the hearing, appellant's counsel also stated that appellant could have fled because of the possibility that the police would find drugs in the residence. The trial court denied appellant's motion in limine and permitted the State to introduce evidence of appellant's flight as being independently relevant to appellant's consciousness of guilt.
At trial, the State first presented evidence of the charged crimes through the testimony of the victim, school officials to whom she confided, and a pediatrician who examined the victim. The State then called Detective Melissa Smith of the Conway Police Department, who testified that the matter was first assigned to her on May 7, 2012. She began trying to contact appellant. Despite her efforts contacting other law enforcement and following several leads regarding where appellant might have been, the detective was unable to locate appellant over the next nine months. In February 2013, a warrant for appellant's arrest on these charges was obtained. At that time, Officer Chris Derrick took over the search for appellant. The officer familiarized himself with the background information in the case, spoke to the investigators, questioned his contacts in the community, and spoke to appellant's family members and friends, including appellant's girlfriend and his mother, in an unsuccessful effort to locate appellant. On several occasions in February and March 2013, Officer Derrick discussed
the case with appellant's girlfriend and mother in unsuccessful attempts to have them convince appellant to turn himself in to face the charges.
On April 11, 2013, Officer Derrick received a tip that appellant might be found at a particular address just outside the Conway city limits. After having an undercover investigator approach the residence and visually confirm that appellant was present, Officer Derrick enlisted the assistance of other police officers and members of the United States Marshals Service to go with him to the residence to arrest appellant. Over appellant's earlier relevancy objection, officers were allowed to testify that appellant ran out the back door as they approached the residence. They identified themselves as police officers and ordered appellant to stop, but he refused and escaped. Despite an intense search using additional officers, a helicopter, and police dogs, appellant could not be found. Appellant turned himself in four days later.
After the State rested its case, appellant testified in his own defense. He categorically denied having ever sexually abused the victim. He further testified, in response to his own attorney's questions on direct examination, that he had, indeed, fled and escaped when the police came to arrest him on April 11. He maintained that he was unaware that he was being sought for the rape charges, insisting that he ran because his friend had been dealing drugs from the residence and that he (appellant) was afraid of ...