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Jefferson v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

October 4, 2017



          James Law Firm, by: Michael Kiel Kaiser and William O. "Bill" James, Jr., for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Valerie Glover Fortner, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          RITA W. GRUBER, Chief Judge.

         On June 20, 2015, the Conway Police Department responded to a 911 call about domestic violence in the apartment where Jolanda Young lived with her son and daughter, five-year-old TY and eight-year-old SY. The officers observed damage to the apartment's front door; multiple marks and "whelps" on TY; and blood on Jolanda's t-shirt from a small cut on his thumb. The children's biological father, Trenton Lamont Jefferson, was initially charged with residential burglary and second-degree domestic battering. An amended information added a sentence enhancement for committing the domestic battering in the presence of a child.

         Jefferson was convicted by a jury and was sentenced to serve a total of 216 months in the Arkansas Department of Correction: 60 months for residential burglary and 120 months for domestic battering, to be served consecutively, with a 36-month enhancement for committing domestic battering in the presence of a child. Jefferson appeals, contending that (1) his convictions were not supported by substantial evidence, (2) the circuit court erred in denying his motion for new trial, (3) the circuit court abused its discretion in admitting certain testimony under the excited-utterance exception to the hearsay rule, and (4) the circuit court erred in restricting his attempts "to explain the black perspective to white jurors" during closing argument. We affirm.

         I. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         Jefferson moved for a directed verdict at the close of the State's case-in-chief. He contended that the State's evidence was insufficient to prove residential burglary or second-degree domestic battering and insufficient to prove that the domestic battering had been committed in the presence of a child. The circuit court denied the motion. Jefferson rested without presenting a case for the defense in the guilt phase of the trial. He renewed his directed-verdict motion, which the court again denied.

         Jefferson repeats the arguments that he made at trial, again challenging the sufficiency of the evidence for his convictions and sentence enhancement. First, he contends that there was insufficient evidence of residential burglary because there was no substantial evidence that he unlawfully entered or remained in Jolanda's apartment. Second, he contends that there was insufficient evidence of domestic battering because there was no substantial evidence that his acts fell outside the realm of reasonable parental corporal punishment. Third, he contends that there was insufficient evidence of committing domestic battering in the presence of a child because there was no substantial evidence that SY was physically present or that Jefferson was aware that she may have been able to hear or see the battering.

         A motion for a directed verdict is a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. Lewis v. State, 2016 Ark.App. 257, at 2, 492 S.W.3d 538, 540. When the sufficiency of the evidence is challenged on appeal, we will view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and will consider only the evidence supporting the verdict. Id. Moreover, it is the function of the jury, not the reviewing court, to evaluate the credibility of witnesses and to resolve any inconsistencies in the evidence. Beaver v. State, 2014 Ark.App. 188, at 2. When doing so, the jury is entitled to draw any reasonable inference from the evidence and is not required to abandon common sense. Bridges v. State, 46 Ark.App. 198, 202, 878 S.W.2d 781, 784 (1994). The verdict will be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence, which is evidence forceful enough to compel a conclusion without resorting to suspicion or conjecture. Lewis, supra.

         Under these standards, we review the evidence presented at trial. The State's case included the testimony of Hayden Schmidt, David Short, and Lois Spencer-all personnel of the Conway Police Department; Jolanda Young; her father, Morgan Young; and Dolan Ellis, Jolanda's next-door-apartment neighbor.

         Ellis testified that he and his wife heard sounds of a loud bang, adults and a child yelling, and whipping; the sounds were coming from his neighbor's adjacent apartment, the "room in the back . . . directly next to ours across the wall." He described what he heard as a five- to ten-minute "beating." He testified that he called 911 when he heard a woman say, "You're going to kill him." He testified that he and his wife went to the front after hearing a knock at the neighbor's door, and they saw that it was his neighbor's father (Morgan Young) who had knocked. Ellis testified that a man who appeared to be "extremely angry" came out of the apartment holding a belt and almost started fighting with Morgan. According to Ellis, the two men were "right in each other's faces, " and Morgan told the other man, "You need to pick on somebody your own size." Morgan then threatened to call the police, and Ellis told them that he had already called. At that point, the man with the belt got in his car-which "was parked right outside of the apartment not even in a space"-and drove off.

         Officer Hayden Schmidt arrived at the residence four minutes after he had received the 911 call from dispatch. Schmidt described the apartment's damaged door as having been forced open, evidenced by splinters of wood and pieces of the doorframe on the ground.[1]Schmidt testified that just inside the front door was a trembling young female, SY, "standing with her shoulders hunched over and her head down" and with tears running down her face. Schmidt testified that in a bathroom down the apartment's hallway he found Jolanda coddling and holding her son. She "was squatted down . . . on his level." TY "obviously was distraught, " was crying, and was not wearing any underpants. Schmidt testified that TY had visible one- to two-inch lashings and overlapping, raised red welts randomly wrapping around his body from the middle of his shoulder blades, across his torso, and "down his backside wrapping around his legs in the front of his body and going down to his calves."[2] A small cut on his finger had bled onto his mother's shirt.

         Jolanda testified that she had been subpoenaed to appear in court and was testifying against her wishes. She testified that she was the primary disciplinarian but that on June 20 Jefferson had her permission to come to her home and discipline TY-who had talked back and cussed at the barber shop earlier in the day. She denied having told responding officers that Jefferson began beating on the door when he arrived and that he became enraged when she would not let him in. However, she admitted that her door had not been damaged before then, that Jefferson caused the marks on their son by "spanking" him with a belt, that TY's thumb had not been bleeding before Jefferson arrived, and that the photographs introduced into evidence accurately reflected what TY's injuries looked like after Jefferson had left. She admitted that-although she made no physical attempt to stop Jefferson from hitting TY-she verbally asked Jefferson to stop and asked her father to come to her home to "check things out." She opined that the damage to the door must have occurred because the doorstop was jammed when Jefferson tried to open the door, and she said that SY was in her room when Jefferson came and while TY got spanked.

         Morgan Young testified that, like his daughter Jolanda, he had been subpoenaed to testify. He confirmed that he went to the apartment at her request and, upon arriving, told Jefferson that he needed to leave. Morgan confirmed that TY was upset and visibly bruised. Although admitting that he and Jefferson had "a few words, " Morgan denied saying that he would call the police and could not remember telling Jefferson to pick on someone his own size.

         Detective David Short investigated the scene at the apartment and photographed TY's injuries. He testified that upon arriving, he immediately noticed that the front door had been damaged and that Jolanda was visibly upset-anxious, shaking, nervous, and crying. He rejected any suggestion that the door could have been damaged through use of the doorstop, explaining that the deadbolt apparently had been latched and that "the only way" that the door's facing could have been torn away was "by that deadbolt being forced through it."

         Officer Lois Spencer testified similarly to the other officers that, upon her arrival, the damage to the door was very evident. She testified that upon entering the apartment, she spoke with SY-who was shaking and crying, and who responded that she was not okay when asked. Spencer testified that she occupied TY by coloring with him while they waited for detectives to arrive. She observed that he was holding his right arm and ribs-which she interpreted as evidence of tenderness-and that he had visible red marks and a cut on his finger.

         A. Residential Burglary and Second-Degree Domestic Battering

         To prove residential burglary, the State must show that a defendant entered or remained unlawfully in the residence of another person with the purpose of committing an offense punishable by imprisonment while inside the residence. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-39-201(a)(1) (Repl. 2013). "To enter or remain unlawfully" means "to enter or remain in or upon premises when not licensed or privileged to enter or remain in or upon the premises." Ark. Code Ann. § 5-39-101(2)(A). Purpose can be established by circumstantial evidence, which often is the only evidence available to show intent. Holland v. State, 2017 Ark.App. 49, at 5, 510 S.W.3d 311, 314. The circumstances must be such that the requisite purpose of the accused can reasonably be inferred, and the evidence must be consistent with his or her guilt and inconsistent with any other reasonable conclusion. Id.

         Domestic battering in the second degree occurs when a person knowingly causes physical injury to a family or household member the person knows to be twelve or younger. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-26-304(a)(4). A person acts knowingly with respect to a result of his or her conduct when he or she is aware that it is practically certain that his or her conduct will cause such a result. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-2-202(2) (Repl. 2013). "Physical injury" is defined in part as the infliction of substantial pain or inflicting bruising, swelling, or a visible mark associated with physical trauma. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-1-102(14)(B) & (C) (Repl. 2013).

         Jefferson first contends that there is insufficient evidence of residential burglary. He argues that the evidence showed he entered and remained lawfully inside the home with the purpose of inflicting reasonable physical discipline on his son. Jefferson cites Jolanda's testimony that he had an open invitation to the apartment, had permission to be there that day, and had permission to discipline their son for his behavior at the barbershop. Jefferson also refers to Ellis's testimony that Jefferson yelled to TY while the discipline occurred, "You're too young to be lying to me, boy." He asserts that the fact that he damaged the door, while perhaps indicating his strength or demeanor, should not go to determining whether his entry was lawful or unlawful. He argues that even if his conduct rose to the level of domestic battering, the evidence did not exclude the possibility that his purpose was to inflict reasonable physical discipline on his son. We disagree.

         Each responding officer remarked on the extent of the damage to the door and doorframe. Detective Short explained that the damage likely occurred from the door being kicked in while the deadbolt was engaged, and Ellis testified that he and his wife heard a loud "bang" at the door. Jolanda testified that the door was not damaged previously, that she asked Jefferson to stop disciplining TY, and that she asked her father to come "check things out." The jury was free to reject her testimony that Jefferson had ...

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