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Hopkins v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

May 3, 2017

MAURICE G. HOPKINS APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE JEFFERSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 35CR-14-105] HONORABLE BERLIN C. JONES, JUDGE

          Jeff Rosenzweig, for appellant.

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

          DAVID M. GLOVER, JUDGE

         Maurice Hopkins was tried by a jury, found guilty of the offense of sexual assault in the second-degree, and sentenced to 150 months in the Arkansas Department of Correction. In his appeal, he raises two major points, with several subpoints: 1) the trial court erred in denying his introduction of the following evidence to demonstrate his accuser's bias, motive, interest, and credibility-(a) her alleged association with the Crips gang, (b) her failure to cooperate with the prosecutor, and (c) her consultation with an attorney concerning a possible civil suit; and 2) the trial court erroneously restricted Hopkins's testimony in his own defense. Finding error with the trial court's exclusion of all evidence regarding the alleged victim's (E.A.) consultation with an attorney concerning a possible civil action, we reverse and remand for a new trial.

         The sufficiency of the evidence is not challenged, so we recount the facts as they pertain to the issues raised in this appeal and for overall context. Maurice Hopkins was a police officer with the Pine Bluff Police Department. He responded to a domestic-disturbance call at an apartment complex on February 23, 2014. The domestic disturbance was between Josephine Roberson and Emanuel Foster, and it has nothing to do with the instant case other than to provide background for the events that followed.

         E.A. lived in a different building than Josephine and Emanuel but within the same apartment complex. She testified that she knew Emanuel, and although she did not witness the dispute between Josephine and him, she approached the responding police officers to let them know Emanuel had issues that she believed were causing him to "act out." She recounted that Officer Hopkins asked her to get Emanuel some water, which she did, and that she later contacted Emanuel's mother, who came to the apartments in an effort to calm him down.

         Josephine testified that Officer Hopkins returned to her apartment approximately twenty minutes after Emanuel had been taken into police custody; that Hopkins asked her where E.A. lived because he needed to get a statement from her; and that she pointed out where E.A. lived and watched him go in that direction.

         For purposes of this opinion, it is sufficient to say E.A. and Hopkins both testified at the trial and their accounts of what happened in E.A.'s apartment differ dramatically, with E.A. describing a sexual assault and Hopkins testifying about a consensual sexual encounter.

         Standard of Review

         All of the points raised by Hopkins involve evidentiary rulings by the trial court. Our standard of review for evidentiary rulings is that a trial court has broad discretion, and we will not reverse an evidentiary ruling absent an abuse of discretion. Alley v. State, 2015 Ark.App. 31. Abuse of discretion is a high threshold that does not simply require error in the trial court's decision but requires that the trial court act improvidently, thoughtlessly, or without due consideration. Owens v. State, 2017 Ark.App. 109, S.W.3d . In addition, we will not reverse absent a showing of prejudice, as prejudice is not presumed. Edison v. State, 2015 Ark. 376, 472 S.W.3d 474.

         Discussion

         As one of his arguments for reversal, Hopkins contends the trial court erred in prohibiting him from introducing evidence that E.A. consulted with an attorney about a possible civil suit against the City of Pine Bluff. It is with this issue that we find merit.

         The State filed a motion in limine prior to the trial of this matter, seeking to preclude any cross-examination of E.A. regarding whether she had sought legal advice for a civil action and intended to pursue one. At the hearing on the motion, the State recognized that case law allows a witness in a criminal case to be cross-examined for bias when that witness has filed a civil complaint, but distinguished the situation here from those cases by noting that E.A. "has not filed any civil action in this matter." The State explained the nature of her consultation related to her right to privacy because her name had been disclosed initially in the newspaper concerning this matter and that discussion with counsel then ensued about the ...


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