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Jefferson v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

October 18, 2017



          Dusti Standridge, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Amanda Jegley, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.


         Appellant Tony L. Jefferson, Jr. was convicted by a jury of possession of methamphetamine with purpose to deliver, possession of cocaine with purpose to deliver, possession of clonazepam with purpose to deliver, and driving while intoxicated. For these convictions, Mr. Jefferson was sentenced as a habitual offender to a total of forty-eight years in prison. Mr. Jefferson now appeals from his convictions, and his sole argument for reversal is that the trial court erred in allowing the State to present testimony regarding his flight from the police as evidence of his guilt. We affirm.

         The point raised by Mr. Jefferson involves an evidentiary ruling of 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. Hopkins v. State, 2017 Ark.App. 273, 522 S.W.3d 142. 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, 515 S.W.3d 625. 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.

         The testimony at trial showed that on the night of February 27, 2015, the Conway Police Department received a call about a man sleeping in his car at a gas station parking lot. When the police arrived, they found Mr. Jefferson asleep at the wheel in a car with its engine running and parked about a car length from the gas pump. The police turned off the vehicle and were eventually able to awaken Mr. Jefferson. When he awoke, Mr. Jefferson was disoriented and confused.

         After Mr. Jefferson was removed from the car, he was unsteady on his feet and was speaking incoherently. It was clear that Mr. Jefferson was too impaired to be in control of a vehicle, and he was placed under arrest for driving while intoxicated. The police searched Mr. Jefferson's person and found a cell phone and $8205 in cash in his pockets. During an inventory search of the car, police found a baggie containing methamphetamine[1] and another cell phone. Mr. Jefferson was then transported to the police station.

         While Mr. Jefferson was being booked at the police station, the police found a baggie containing three clonazepam[2] pills hidden in his hat. Mr. Jefferson became unconscious, and out of increasing concern for his safety, the police called an ambulance. Ambulance personnel determined that Mr. Jefferson needed to go to the hospital for further care, and he was transported to the hospital by ambulance.

         When Mr. Jefferson arrived at the hospital, it was determined that he would need to be admitted. While Mr. Jefferson was being bathed by nurses, the nurses found a baggie containing cocaine[3] that had been concealed in his buttocks area and turned it over to the police. Due to his physical condition caused by apparent high-dose drug ingestion, Mr. Jefferson was in the intensive-care unit and remained in the hospital for about three days.

         Mr. Jefferson left the hospital on his own accord. Meanwhile, a warrant was issued for his arrest at about the same time on March 2, 2015. According to Officer Tom Kennedy, he and other officers immediately began looking for Mr. Jefferson pursuant to the warrant. Officer Kennedy made phone calls to informants, contacted a hotel where Mr. Jefferson was supposed to be working, and conducted surveillance on Mr. Jefferson's apartment. Officer Kennedy located Mr. Jefferson on March 23, 2015.

         Over appellant's objection, the State was permitted to question Officer Kennedy about Mr. Jefferson's flight from the police upon being found. Officer Kennedy testified that he saw Mr. Jefferson drive out of his apartment-complex parking lot on March 23, 2015. Officer Kennedy followed Mr. Jefferson in an unmarked car and contacted officers in marked patrol cars to execute the arrest warrant. When officers in a marked patrol car caught up with Mr. Jefferson and turned on the blue lights to initiate a traffic stop, Mr. Jefferson drove away at a high rate of speed. The pursuit led to a location where Mr. Jefferson stopped his car and fled on foot. The police set up a perimeter and began searching for Mr. Jefferson. According to Officer Kennedy, the police located and apprehended Mr. Jefferson a few hours later in a woman's apartment.

         In this appeal, Mr. Jefferson argues that his conviction should be reversed because the trial court erroneously allowed testimony about his flight from law enforcement as evidence of his guilt.[4] Mr. Jefferson contends that this testimony violated Arkansas Rule of Evidence 404(b), which provides:

Other Crimes, Wrongs, or Acts. Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show that he acted in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, ...

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