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Collins v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

April 18, 2019



          William R. Simpson, Jr., Public Defender, by: Clint Miller, Deputy Public Defender, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Rebecca Kane, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          COURTNEY HUDSON GOODSON, Associate Justice.

         Appellant Ronnie R. Collins appeals from his conviction for capital murder, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment. For reversal, Collins argues that the circuit court abused its discretion in not allowing him to impeach a prosecution witness's credibility with extrinsic evidence of her mental disorder. We affirm.

         On June 17, 2015, Collins was charged with the premeditated and deliberated capital murder of Jonathan Brown. Collins was also charged with employing a firearm during the commission of the offense. The State filed an amended information on October 17, 2017, asserting that Collins was a habitual offender with four or more prior felonies. Although Collins does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence, a brief recitation of the facts and the evidence presented at the October 2017 jury trial is helpful to understand the issue presented on appeal.

         In the early morning hours of May 8, 2015, Brown was shot and killed inside Larry Bailey's residence. Bailey testified that he often let homeless persons stay at his home, and he indicated that on the night of the murder, there were five others sleeping there- Brown, who was sleeping in the living room on the floor; Preston Hopkins, who was sleeping on the living-room couch; a female identified as "Toledo," who was sleeping in the bedroom with Bailey; Collins, who was sleeping on a pallet in the kitchen area; and Collins's girlfriend, Lakeesha Jackson, who was sleeping next to Collins. Bailey stated that he heard Brown and Collins, whom Bailey knew as "N.O.," arguing that morning and that he got up and was standing at the bedroom doorway looking into the living room when he saw Collins shoot Brown three times with a black pistol. According to Bailey, Collins and the other individuals then left the house, and Bailey went across the street to use his neighbor's phone to call 911. Bailey indicated that while he was across the street on his neighbor's front porch, he witnessed Collins go back inside the house, heard a fourth gunshot, and then saw Collins exit the house and walk down the alley. Bailey testified that he did not see Collins again after the shooting.

         Lakeesha Jackson testified that she had been dating Collins for approximately one month at the time of the shooting. She stated that on May 8, 2015, she arrived at Bailey's home around 3:00 a.m. to find Collins asleep on his pallet in the kitchen with a black .45 semiautomatic pistol on his chest. Jackson put the gun on the floor, laid down beside Collins, and went to sleep. She testified that a couple of hours later, Brown was getting ready for work and asked Collins what time it was. According to Jackson, Collins and Brown began arguing. Collins walked into the living room, and Jackson then heard multiple gunshots. Jackson stated that she did not actually see Collins shoot Brown. She indicated that everyone left the house after the shooting, including Collins, although she remembered seeing Collins return to the house and hearing one more gunshot.

         The medical examiner testified that Brown had been shot twice in his right arm, once in his right thigh, and once in his chest and that he died from multiple gunshot wounds. Jennifer Floyd, the firearm and tool-mark examiner, indicated that all four of the bullets and all of the cartridge cases were .45 caliber and were fired from the same gun, which was never recovered. Megan Buchert, the crime-scene specialist, further testified that additional rounds of .45-caliber bullets were found in a black bag near the pallet where Collins had been sleeping.

         The jury found Collins guilty of the premeditated and deliberated capital murder of Brown and of using a firearm during the commission of the offense. Because the State waived the death penalty, Collins was sentenced by the circuit court to life in prison. He also agreed to have the circuit court sentence him on the firearm enhancement, for which he received a sentence of zero years' imprisonment. The sentencing order was entered on November 17, 2017, and an amended sentencing order was filed on December 4, 2017. Collins timely appealed from his conviction and sentence.

         In his sole point on appeal, Collins contends that the circuit court abused its discretion by not allowing him to impeach Lakeesha Jackson's credibility with extrinsic evidence that she suffered from a mental disorder, specifically, schizophrenia. Prior to trial, Collins filed a motion requesting that the circuit court issue an order directing the release of Jackson's mental-health records from July 1, 2014, to September 20, 2017. Collins argued that evidence of Jackson's mental state, both currently and at the time of the alleged offense in 2015, was relevant due to the nature of her anticipated testimony at trial. The State argued that Jackson's patient-psychotherapist privilege under Arkansas Rule of Evidence 503 (2017) barred discovery of these records. The circuit court denied Collins's motion.

         Prior to the start of trial, defense counsel indicated that it had obtained certified circuit court documents from several unrelated cases involving Jackson in 2011 and 2016 that contained information pertaining to her schizophrenia. The State asserted that there was no evidence that Jackson was suffering from a psychotic disorder either currently or at the time of the murder and asked that the circuit court exclude this evidence as irrelevant. Collins responded that the court records in his possession indicated that Jackson's mental health was an ongoing issue, and he requested that he be allowed to use these documents to impeach her on cross-examination if the matter was brought up during her direct examination. The circuit court reserved ruling on this issue until Jackson testified.

         During Jackson's direct-examination testimony, she indicated that she had spent time at a certain psychiatric facility in connection with a prior criminal charge. Collins renewed his request to impeach Jackson's credibility with the court documents pertaining to her mental disorder, arguing that she had opened the door to admission of this evidence. The circuit court denied this request. Collins later proffered the relevant court records into the record.

         Circuit courts have broad discretion on evidentiary issues, and we will not reverse a circuit court's ruling on the admission of evidence in the absence of an abuse of discretion. Friar v. State, 2016 Ark. 245. An abuse of discretion is a high threshold that does not simply require error in the circuit court's decision, but requires that the circuit court act improvidently, thoughtlessly, or without due consideration. Hortenberry v. State, 2017 Ark. 261, 526 S.W.3d 840. Furthermore, we will ...

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