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Sanford v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

January 16, 2019



          Jason A. Hutcheson, for appellant.

         One brief only.


         LaFrancis Sanford, Jr., was convicted by a Benton County Circuit Court jury of residential burglary, a Class B felony, and theft of property, a Class A misdemeanor. He was sentenced as a habitual offender to thirty years in the Arkansas Department of Correction. Pursuant to Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967), and Rule 4-3(k) of the Rules of the Arkansas Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, Sanford's counsel has filed a motion to withdraw on the basis this appeal is wholly without merit. The motion is accompanied by an abstract and addendum of the proceedings below, which addresses all objections and motions decided adversely to Sanford, and a brief in which counsel explains why there is nothing in the record that would support an appeal. The clerk of our court provided Sanford with a copy of his counsel's brief and notified him of his right to file a pro se statement of points for reversal; Sanford has submitted no points. We affirm Sanford's convictions and grant counsel's motion to withdraw.

         Sufficiency of the Evidence

         At trial the victim, Belinda Christopher, testified she left her residence around 2:10 p.m. on May 18, 2016, to pick up her niece's children from school, and she left the front door unlocked when she left. When she returned between 2:40 and 2:50 p.m., she noticed a man walking away from her residence on her driveway; she thought it was "weird" because the man would not look at her when she saw him. Christopher said as she pulled into the driveway, the man looked scared and nervous, would not make eye contact, and began removing what looked like batting gloves; he then began jogging up the street and around the corner. She testified the man would not look at her, he did not stop and talk to her in the driveway, and he never explained what he was doing in her driveway. Christopher followed the man in her car; when she caught up to him, she took pictures of him with her cell phone while he pretended to be talking on his phone. She said the man kept grabbing the left pocket of his pants, and she could clearly see there were items in his pocket. Christopher identified Sanford as the man who had been in her driveway.

         She immediately returned to her residence after taking pictures of Sanford and noticed her dog was agitated and upset, which was not normal; she further discovered that five to seven one-dollar bills were missing from the kitchen counter that were there before she went to pick up the children. She determined that medication was missing from the kitchen windowsill; on further inspection, she realized medicine had also been taken from the medicine cabinet in her niece's bathroom. Additionally, she concluded that the passport application she had been completing with personal information, along with her birth certificate, were also missing. After verifying that none of her family members had removed the items, and after making sure Sanford was not simply delivering advertising flyers or had been coming from her house for some other legitimate reason, Christopher called the Bentonville Police Department and made a report. She testified she had never seen Sanford prior to May 18, 2016, and he did not have permission to be in her home on that day.

         Bentonville police officer Michael Alexander testified he responded to Christopher's residential-burglary report, at which time she advised him that she had observed a black male, approximately five feet, four inches tall, with short hair, and wearing a gray jacket, gray shorts, black shoes, and gloves that were light on one side and darker on the other side, walking down her driveway from her house toward the street as she was returning home. According to Officer Alexander, Christopher reported she had discovered items missing from her house; the man she saw in her driveway was acting suspiciously; and his pockets were bulky, leading her to believe something was in them. She provided a copy of the photo she had taken of the man to Officer Alexander, who circulated the photo by email to the entire police department. He received responses from two officers, both of whom immediately identified the subject as Sanford.

         Officer Alexander testified that a search warrant was issued for Sanford's address, which was approximately two miles from Christopher's house, but none of the stolen items were located at Sanford's house. However, Sanford's roommate informed Officer Alexander that Sanford had not been home from the time the burglary was committed to the time the search was conducted, and Officer Alexander surmised it was therefore unlikely to find the stolen items at Sanford's house. After receiving information that Sanford might be at a different address, Officer Alexander and Officer Nick Brown went to that address, where they found Sanford in the garage at the house. Sanford ran inside the house when he saw the officers. The officers entered the house and ordered Sanford to the ground at gunpoint. Sanford's girlfriend told the officers he was not fleeing but was just bringing a child inside and putting his shoes on; however, Sanford failed to take the child, who was in the garage with him, when he ran inside the house. Officer Brown's testimony regarding Sanford's apprehension was the same as Officer Alexander's testimony.

         Detective Mark Jordan testified that when Officer Alexander circulated the photo of the suspect in the Christopher residential burglary, he confidently recognized the person as Sanford; he identified Sanford in open court as the defendant. According to Detective Jordan, he said he called Sanford the day after the residential burglary and asked him why he would go into that lady's house; Sanford hung up on him and would not answer the phone when Detective Jordan called him back. After his arrest, Sanford admitted to Detective Jordan that he was the man in the picture, but he denied burglarizing Christopher's house or even being in her driveway. Sanford told Detective Jordan he had run out of gas at a Kentucky Fried Chicken and that was why he had been walking, but Detective Jordan said his statement was inconsistent with where he was in Christopher's neighborhood.

         At the close of the State's case, Sanford moved for a directed verdict, which was denied. He rested without calling any witnesses and renewed his directed-verdict motion, which was again denied. In his directed-verdict motions, with regard to residential burglary, Sanford argued the State failed to prove he entered or remained unlawfully on the premises of another with the intent to commit a crime punishable by imprisonment; with regard to theft of property, Sanford argued the State failed to prove a theft had occurred, much less that he was ever in the house he was alleged to have burglarized.

         A directed-verdict motion is a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. Holland v. State, 2017 Ark.App. 49, 510 S.W.3d 311. Our test for determining the sufficiency of the evidence is whether the verdict is supported by substantial evidence, direct or circumstantial. Wells v. State, 2017 Ark.App. 174, 518 S.W.3d 106. Evidence is substantial if it is of sufficient force and character to compel reasonable minds to reach a conclusion and pass beyond suspicion and conjecture. Id. The law makes no distinction between circumstantial and direct evidence when reviewing for sufficiency of the evidence. Fronterhouse v. State, 2015 Ark.App. 211, 463 S.W.3d 312. Circumstantial evidence may constitute substantial evidence to support a conviction if it excludes every other reasonable hypothesis other than the guilt of the accused. Holland, supra. The question of whether circumstantial evidence excludes every reasonable hypothesis consistent with innocence is a determination for the finder of fact; on review, we must determine whether the fact-finder had to resort to speculation and conjecture to reach its decision. Davis v. State, 2015 Ark.App. 234, 459 S.W.3d 821.

         On appeal, the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the State, and only the evidence supporting the verdict is considered. Wells, supra. Weighing the evidence, reconciling conflicts in testimony, and assessing ...

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