FROM THE MISSISSIPPI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, CHICKASAWBA
DISTRICT [NO. 47BCR-16-281], HONORABLE RALPH WILSON, JR.,
Rhodes, for appellant.
Rutledge, Atty Gen., by: Michael L. Yarbrough, Asst Atty
Gen., for appellee.
Mississippi County jury convicted appellant Willie Antone
Matlock of rape, and he was sentenced to twenty-five years
imprisonment. Matlock raises three arguments on appeal: (1)
the trial court erred
in admitting into evidence the victims prior written
statement, (2) the trial court erred in refusing to grant his
motion for a continuance because the victims statement had
not been provided to the defense through discovery, and (3)
the trial court erred in rejecting a proffered jury
instruction on first-degree sexual assault as a
lesser-included offense of rape. We affirm Matlocks
Admission of Victims Prior Written Statement
victim, S.S., is the daughter of Matlocks former long-term
live-in girlfriend. At trial, then twelve-year-old S.S.
testified that after Matlock had broken up with her mother
and moved out of the home, she wrote a letter to her mother
and left it on her mothers dresser. The note simply read,
"I was molested."
Matlock argues that the trial court erred in admitting S.S.s
prior written statement into evidence. Trial courts are
afforded wide discretion in evidentiary rulings. Swanigan
v. State, 2019 Ark.App. 296, 577 S.W.3d 737. We will not
reverse an evidentiary ruling absent an abuse of discretion.
Id. Abuse of discretion is a high threshold that
does not simply require error in the trial courts decision
but requires that the trial court act improvidently,
thoughtlessly, or without due consideration. Id. In
addition, we will not reverse absent a showing of prejudice,
as prejudice is not presumed. Id.
Specifically, Matlock argues that the trial court erred in
admitting S.S.s statement because the State failed to
establish the chain of custody. The purpose of establishing a
chain of custody is to prevent the introduction of evidence
that is not authentic. Harris v. State, 322 Ark.
167, 907 S.W.2d 729 (1995). To prove authenticity, the State
must demonstrate a reasonable probability that the evidence
has not been altered in any significant manner. Wilson v.
State, 277 Ark. 43, 639 S.W.2d 45 (1982) (per curiam).
It is not necessary that the State eliminate every
possibility of tampering. Harris, supra. Minor
uncertainties in the proof of chain of custody are matters to
be weighed by the jury and do not render evidence
inadmissible as a matter of law. Id.
According to Matlock, there was absolutely no testimony
presented as to what had happened to the note between the
time it was allegedly given to police and when it was
admitted into evidence at trial. He also points out that no
law enforcement officer testified regarding its receipt,
review, and storage. To allow introduction of physical
evidence, it is not necessary that every moment from the time
the evidence comes into the possession of a law enforcement
agency until it is introduced at trial be accounted for by
every person who could have conceivably come in contact with
the evidence during that period. Garner v. State,
355 Ark. 82, 131 S.W.3d 734 (2003). The proof of the chain of
custody for interchangeable items like drugs or blood needs
to be more conclusive. Laswell v. State, 2012 Ark.
201, 404 S.W.3d 818.
the note was not an interchangeable item requiring more
conclusive proof. S.S., the author of the note, identified
her own handwriting and said that the States exhibit looked
"exactly like the note I wrote my mother." Sunshyne
Clay, S.S.s mother, also identified the note as the one she
had found on her dresser. We cannot say that the trial court
abused its discretion in admitting the ...