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Matlock v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

October 23, 2019

WILLIE ANTONE MATLOCK APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE MISSISSIPPI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, CHICKASAWBA DISTRICT [NO. 47BCR-16-281] HONORABLE RALPH WILSON, JR., JUDGE

          Richard Rhodes, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Michael L. Yarbrough, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          BART F. VIRDEN, Judge

         A 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 victim's prior written statement, (2) the trial court erred in refusing to grant his motion for a continuance because the victim's 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 Matlock's conviction.

         I. Admission of Victim's Prior Written Statement

         The victim, S.S., is the daughter of Matlock's 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 mother's 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 court's 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.

         Here, 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 State's 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 note over defense counsel's objection to lack of authentication and lack of proof of chain of custody.

         Matlock contends for the first time on appeal that the victim's statement could have been manufactured after the allegations in order to bolster the case given the lack of physical evidence. He also suggests a motive for fabrication, stating that Clay was angry at Matlock for breaking up with her and seeing other women. Because these arguments were not raised below in connection with the admissibility of the note, we decline to address them. Threadgill v. State, 347 Ark. 986, 69 S.W.3d 423 (2002). Similarly, Matlock argues that the trial court erred in admitting S.S.'s note because it contained inadmissible hearsay. Matlock did not raise an objection to hearsay below. In order to preserve a hearsay objection, a defendant must make a timely, specific objection stating that ground. Winkle v. State, 374 Ark. 128, 286 S.W.3d 147 (2008). Matlock's argument is not preserved for review.

         II. Denial of Motion for Continuance

         The standard of review for alleged error resulting from the denial of a motion for continuance is abuse of discretion. Green v. State, 2012 Ark. 19, 386 S.W.3d 413. When evidence is not disclosed pursuant to pretrial discovery procedures, the burden is on the appellant to establish that the omission was sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome of the trial. Burton v. State, 314 Ark. 317, 862 S.W.2d 252 (1993). The key in determining if a reversible discovery violation exists is whether ...


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