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Bates v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

March 1, 2017



          Chet Dunlap, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Ashley Priest, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          LARRY D. VAUGHT, Judge.

         Appellant George Bates appeals his conviction by the Circuit Court of Poinsett County of domestic battering in the third degree. We affirm.

         At the bench trial, the victim, Karen Goans, testified that she had lived with Bates for eleven years prior to an incident in January 2016 that resulted in her hospitalization. However, she denied that the hospitalization was due to injuries inflicted by Bates, stating instead that she had "messed up on [her] pills" and awakened in the hospital. She denied having suffered any head trauma but admitted that she had "a hole in [her] lung." She testified that, for the past three months, she had lived with her mother in Cherry Valley but now lives on her own in Wynne.

         Karen's adult daughter, Jamie Lewis, testified that Bates was her mother's "ex-boyfriend or current boyfriend." Jamie testified that, in January 2016, her mother was in the hospital in a coma for four days. Jamie stated that she and other family members walked in to her mother's hospital room as her mother woke up from the coma. She testified that when Karen's mother went to Karen's bedside, Karen began to cry. At that point, the testimony drew a hearsay objection, to which the State argued that the testimony it was about to elicit qualified as an excited utterance or present-sense-impression exception to the hearsay rule.

         The court said it needed to hear more to decide the issue and allowed the State to continue with its line of questioning. Jamie testified that she and four other people were there as her mother began regaining her consciousness and started to cry. They all went to her bedside to hug her, and Karen said to her mother "He did this to me, he did this to me." Jamie then testified, "[A]nd when we said, 'Who?' She said, 'George Bates. George did this to me. He beat me. He put me here, momma, he did this.'" She stated that they then went to the nurse's desk and asked that Bates not be allowed to see Karen. Bates's attorney again objected that the statement was inadmissible hearsay. He argued that it didn't qualify as an exception to the hearsay rule because it was made days after the alleged beating. After a brief exchange regarding the law related to the excited-utterance exception, the court permitted Bates's attorney to voir dire the witness. During voir dire and follow-up questioning, Jamie testified inconsistently about how long her mother had been awake before she spoke, what exactly she said, and whether it was in response to questioning. Ultimately, the court admitted Jamie's initial testimony ("He did this to me, he did this to me." "Who?" "George did this to me.") as an excited utterance but excluded the remainder of Jamie's testimony regarding her mother's description of how Bates had caused her injuries.

         Detective Joey Martin of the Poinsett County Sheriffs Department testified that he had responded to a call at St. Bernard's Hospital and investigated Karen's injuries. He was unclear of the date she was admitted but said he arrived to investigate on January 5, 2016. He spoke to Jamie Lewis as part of his investigation, although the court ruled that any of Jamie's statements to the detective were inadmissible hearsay and could not be introduced to establish the truth of the matter asserted. The court allowed Detective Martin to testify to Jamie's statement but ruled that the testimony would be considered only to explain the detective's steps in investigating.

         Detective Martin offered a recording of Karen's statement given at the hospital regarding the cause of her injuries. Following a hearsay objection, the State argued that it should be admitted for the limited purpose of impeaching Karen's testimony, which the court allowed. In the recording, Karen told Detective Martin that Bates had pushed her off the porch, causing her to hit her head. Detective Martin testified that when he met Karen in the hospital, she was in a significant amount of pain, had trouble breathing, and was hooked up to an IV.

         Bates made a motion for directed verdict, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction and that the court erred in admitting the part of Karen's statement in which she identified Bates by name. The State responded, in part, by reciting Karen's statements that Bates had pushed her off the porch and kicked her. The court noted that it had excluded that testimony for purposes other than impeachment. However, the court denied the motion for directed verdict, stating that it had properly admitted the initial excited-utterance exchange, including the identification of Bates, and that the evidence was sufficient to go forward. The defense then rested and renewed its motion. This time the defense also argued that the State had failed to establish that Poinsett County had jurisdiction over the case. The court again denied the motion. When the jurisdiction issue was raised again in closing arguments, the court reviewed the record and the case law, and ruled that it had jurisdiction to hear the case because the defense had not presented any affirmative evidence that the crime had been committed elsewhere.

         The court found Bates guilty of domestic battering in the third degree[1] and sentenced him to six months in the county jail followed by six months' suspended imposition of sentence (SIS). During the SIS, Bates was ordered to have no contact with Karen and to attend anger-management classes. This timely appeal followed.

         Bates's first point on appeal is a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. In reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence in a criminal bench trial, this court determines whether the verdict is supported by substantial evidence, direct or circumstantial. Stevenson v. State, 2013 Ark. 100, 426 S.W.3d 416. Substantial evidence is evidence forceful enough to compel a conclusion one way or the other beyond suspicion or conjecture. Id., 426 S.W.3d 416. This court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, and only evidence supporting the verdict will be considered. Id., 426 S.W.3d 416.

         A person commits domestic battering in the third degree if, with the purpose of causing physical injury to a family or household member, the person causes physical injury to a family or household member. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-26-305(a)(1) (Supp. 2015). Domestic battering in the third degree is a Class A misdemeanor. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-26-305(b)(1). Physical injury is defined as impairment of the victim's physical condition, infliction of substantial pain, ...

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