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Wright v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

September 11, 2019

NOAH DOUGLAS WRIGHT APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE CRAIGHEAD COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, WESTERN DISTRICT [NO. 16JCR-17-461] HONORABLE PAMELA HONEYCUTT, JUDGE.

          Terry Goodwin Jones, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Chris R. Warthen, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          ROBERT J. GLADWIN, JUDGE.

         Appellant Noah Wright appeals his conviction by a Craighead County Circuit Court jury of first-degree battery. He argues that the circuit court erred when it relied on Arkansas Rule of Evidence 403 (2018) to unfairly limit his cross-examination of a material witness. We affirm.

         I. Facts

         On April 7, 2017, appellant was arguing with his girlfriend, Tiffany Painter, after she had returned to appellant's residence with her child after picking her up from the home of her estranged husband, Danny Painter. While arguing, appellant threw Tiffany down by the throat, demanded that she leave, and made various threats toward Danny. Danny responded to a phone call from Tiffany, picked Tiffany and their child up on the road as they were walking away from appellant's residence, and returned with them to appellant's residence to pick up Tiffany's clothes.

         Upon arriving, Tiffany and appellant resumed arguing. Danny exited the vehicle and stepped between the two of them. Although there is contradictory evidence as to who threw the first punch, at some point, appellant struck at Danny with a knife he had clenched in his hand, causing the knife to slash Danny's neck.[1] After telling other individuals inside the residence that he had cut Danny, appellant left the premises and disposed of the knife.

         On May 8, 2017, a criminal information was filed charging appellant with battery; aggravated assault on a family or household member; commercial burglary; theft of property (value greater than $1, 000 but equal to or less than $5, 000); and first-degree criminal mischief (damage less than or equal to $1, 000), all as a habitual offender, related to two incidents that allegedly occurred within a few hours on April 7-8, 2017. At a hearing on September 4, 2018, the charges of aggravated assault and battery related to the altercation with Danny were severed by the circuit court for separate trial, which was held on September 6, 2018.

         At trial, during the direct examination of Danny, the State introduced his medical records, and those records were admitted into evidence without objection. Danny confirmed that he was familiar with the records and subsequently testified regarding his medical diagnosis-specifying his injury as "a 10-centimeter laceration deep to the left upper neck from post-articular to anterior to left angle of mandible with rapid bleeding." The State also asked Danny to comment on his wounds and the effects of specific medical assessments.

         During cross-examination, appellant's attorney attempted to question Danny about whether (1) he had been drinking beer on the night of the incident; (2) a blood test was performed at the hospital; and (3) he was familiar with the results of any such blood-alcohol test contained in his medical records that had previously been admitted into evidence. Appellant's attorney claimed that he wanted Danny to read to the jury the results of a blood test from the hospital regarding his blood-alcohol concentration.

         The State objected, arguing that the records had been admitted and that any personal interpretation of what the report states would be inappropriate. The State suggested that the only reason to read any part of the report would be to lead the jury to draw inferences that would be based on facts not in evidence, associations, and inferences for which no foundation had been laid.

         Appellant's attorney responded that he should be allowed to question Danny about the records because Danny had already testified regarding the medical evaluations contained therein and that he should be allowed to testify regarding the results of the "tox screen." Appellant's attorney reiterated that he simply wanted Danny to read the report. Appellant's attorney further argued that he should be able to utilize the admitted medical records to impeach Danny's testimony about his level of intoxication at the time of the incident.

         The circuit court denied his request, sustained the State's objection on the basis of jury confusion, and prohibited that line of questioning relying on Arkansas Rule of Evidence 403, finding that the report had been admitted and was the best evidence of what it said. The circuit court stated, "I think that even if it is relevant or whatever, that would be so prejudicial and misleading to them-unless there is somebody on there that has some medical background-they're not going to be able to figure out what this means" in reference to a listing of "125" in the report ...


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