FROM THE GARLAND C O U NT Y C IRC U IT C O U R T [NO.
26CR-16-62] HONORABLE MARCIA R. HEARNSBERGER, JUDGE
G. Brooks, Attorney at Law, PLLC, by: Brian G. Brooks, for
Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Jason Michael Johnson,
Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.
LARRYD. VAUGHT, JUDGE
Lamar Hall appeals his conviction by a Garland County jury of
negligent homicide. His only argument on appeal is that the
court violated his right to a bifurcated trial by denying his
request to strike the word "feloniously" from the
criminal information read to the jury. We affirm.
was charged with negligent homicide based on the State's
allegation that, at approximately 4:30 a.m. on January 5,
2015, the car Hall was driving veered over the center line of
the road and collided head-on with an oncoming vehicle,
causing the death of Jesse Wehling. The Garland County Circuit
Court held a jury trial on May 22, 2017. At the outset of
trial, in a hearing in chambers, the defense objected to the
court's standard practice of reading the criminal
information to the jury, specifically the inclusion of the
word "feloniously" to describe Hall's behavior.
Hall argued that using the word "feloniously" would
impermissibly indicate to the jury the possible sentencing
range for the crime during the guilt phase of the
proceedings, in violation of his statutory right to a
bifurcated trial pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section
16-97-101 (Repl. 2016). The court disagreed, stating that it
had to inform the jury of the crimes with which Hall was
court then read the charges in open court, prefacing each by
saying that "[t]he defendant is charged . . . with"
before reading each count of the information. The court
You are advised that what I have just read is an Information.
An Information is [the] method by which a person is brought
to trial. It is not evidence of guilt and must not be taken
as such by you if you are selected as a juror. It is merely a
step in the process of going to trial. The law presumes every
person is innocent unless and until his guilt is established
beyond a reasonable doubt. Are you and each of you willing
and able to give the Defendant the benefit of a doubt
throughout the trial until and unless it is overcome?
jury found Hall guilty of negligent homicide, a Class B
felony, and not guilty of battery in the second degree. Hall
was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment in the
Arkansas Department of Correction, and he filed a timely
notice of appeal.
purpose of voir dire is not to attempt to commit the jury to
a decision in advance but to discover any basis for either
party to exercise their for-cause and peremptory challenges.
Watkins v. State, 2009 Ark.App. 124, at 9, 302
S.W.3d 635, 641. We have previously acknowledged that in
order for voir dire to be properly conducted, prospective
jurors must be informed of the nature of the alleged crimes.
Id. at 10, 302 S.W.3d at 641- 642. Rule 32.2(a)(iv)
of the Arkansas Rules of Criminal Procedure states that the
court will initiate voir dire by "briefly outlining the
nature of the case." Ark. R. Crim. P. 32.2(a)(iv)
extent and scope of voir dire is within the sound discretion
of the court. Watkins, 2009 Ark.App. 124, at 9, 302
S.W.3d at 642. "The latitude of that discretion is
wide." Id., 302 S.W.3d at 641 (citing Isom
v. State, 356 Ark. 156, 171, 148 S.W.3d 257, 267
(2004)). We will not reverse a circuit court's decision
regarding voir dire absent a clear abuse of discretion.
Gay v. State, 2016 Ark. 433, at 9, 506 S.W.3d 851,
858. An abuse of discretion occurs when the circuit court
acts arbitrarily or groundlessly. Id., 506 S.W.3d at
sole argument on appeal is that the circuit court violated
his right to a bifurcated trial pursuant to Arkansas Code
Annotated section 16-97-101 (Repl. 2016) when it included the
word "feloniously" in its description of the
charges read during voir dire. He argues that the word
"feloniously" indicates that the alleged crime is a
felony and that felonies are differentiated from misdemeanors
based on the length of potential imprisonment, so the
court's instruction improperly indicated to the jury the
potential sentencing range during the guilt phase of the
disagree. First, it is a stretch to assume that jurors would
infer a specific sentencing range from the use of the word
"feloniously" in describing the charges against
Hall. Moreover, our rules of criminal procedure require the
court to advise the jury of the nature of the crime. Ark. R.
Crim. P. 32.2(a)(iv) (2017). In Watkins, 2009
Ark.App. 124, at 9, 302 S.W.3d at 641, we upheld a circuit
court's reading of enhancement offenses during voir dire
that clearly indicated the defendant was charged with a
felony. In Watkins, the court advised the jury that
Watkins was charged with enhancement offenses for
"commission of a felony with a firearm" and
"commission of a felony in the presence of a
child." 2009 Ark.App. 124, at 9, 302 S.W.3d at 641. We
explained that reading the enhancement charges to the jury
during voir dire was not unduly prejudicial because, unlike a
felon-in-possession charge, which would notify the jury that
the defendant had previously been convicted of a felony, the
enhancement charges only informed the jury of the nature of
the allegations in the present case. We stressed in
Watkins that the State still bears the burden of
proving those charges beyond a reasonable doubt, and the
circuit court in the present case admonished the jury that
"[an information] is not evidence of guilt and must not
be taken as such."
on our standard of review, we cannot reverse unless the
circuit court abused its discretion by acting arbitrarily or
groundlessly. Gay, 2016 Ark. 433, at 9, 506 S.W.3d
at 858. Here, the court considered the issue, decided it was
necessary to inform the jury of the nature of the charges as
required by Rule 32.2, and provided a cautionary statement