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Harper v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

January 15, 2020

JARED HARPER APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE MILLER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 46CR-15-281] HONORABLE BRENT HALTOM, JUDGE

          Jeff Rosenzweig, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Brooke Jackson Gasaway, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          RAYMOND R. ABRAMSON, JUDGE

         This case returns to us after we remanded it on March 13, 2019. In Jared Harper's direct appeal, we affirmed in part but remanded for the circuit court to conduct an in camera review of the prosecutor's notes from a March 6, 2017 interview with the alleged victim, K.S. See Harper v. State, 2019 Ark.App. 163, 573 S.W.3d 596. Upon review, we affirm.

         We begin by providing the relevant facts and procedural history to explain our current posture. After we remanded, but prior to the issuance of the mandate, the circuit court conducted an in camera hearing and reviewed the prosecutor's notes. The circuit court entered an order on March 20, 2019, and concluded that the notes were not a substantially verbatim statement from K.S., did not contain material that required disclosure under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), and any nondisclosure was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. See Ark. Code Ann. § 16-89-115(e)(2) (Repl. 2005). The circuit court then reinstated Harper's convictions and placed the prosecutor's notes under seal.

         On March 21, 2019, Harper filed a motion to vacate the circuit court's March 20, 2019 order because the mandate had not yet issued. Harper also filed a notice of appeal from that order, and the case was assigned number CR-19-419 (the present case). The mandate in the direct appeal (CR-18-556) issued on May 23, 2019.

         On June 5, 2019, the circuit court granted Harper's motion and vacated its March 20, 2019 order. That same day, the circuit court entered another order again reinstating Harper's convictions. Harper then filed a notice of appeal from the June 5, 2019 order, which was pending before our court in Harper v. State, CR-19-566.

         On July 17, 2019, prior to filing his brief, Harper filed a motion in our court seeking access to the sealed prosecutor's notes. We granted Harper "leave to review the portion of the record under seal with direction to maintain the confidentiality of the documents pursuant to Arkansas Supreme Court Administrative Order Number 19." Harper v. State, 2019 Ark.App. 351, at 1 (per curiam). Harper also filed a motion to consolidate this case (CR-19-419) with CR-19-566, and we granted his motion and consolidated the cases on August 21, 2019. We now turn to the merits of Harper's appeal.

         Harper argues that this court should reverse his convictions based on the disclosures in the notes, or "at the very least, the court should remand for a factfinding hearing before a different judge." We disagree. After conducting an in camera review, the circuit court concluded that the prosecutor's notes were not a statement as defined by Arkansas Code Annotated section 16-89-115; the notes contained no information that probably would have changed the outcome of the trial; and the nondisclosure of the notes is harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because the information in the notes was readily available through other discovery provided in the case by the State. The circuit court's June 5, 2019 order specifically stated, "Nothing new was in the notes that was not previously disclosed."

         On March 10, 2017, prior to the first trial, [1] Harper filed a motion to produce, among other things, a copy of the prosecutor's notes from a March 6, 2017 interview with K.S. Harper, 2019 Ark.App. 163, at 9-10, 573 S.W.3d at 602. Harper alleged that during this interview, K.S. realleged sexual-abuse allegations against him. Id. at 10, 573 S.W.3d at 602. Harper stated that K.S. initially made sexual-abuse allegations against him on March 27, 2015. Id. K.S. subsequently recanted those allegations: (1) on June 10, 2015, to investigator Randall Harris; (2) on June 24, 2015, to Missy Davidson at the Child Advocacy Center; (3) on June 26, 2015, to DHS workers and/or Miller County Sheriff's deputies; and (4) in November 2016, in a three-page letter she wrote. Id. at 10 n.2, 573 S.W.3d at 602 n.2.

         Harper sought a copy of the prosecutor's notes from the March 6, 2017 interview to determine "[w]hat was said to make K.S. change her story, and what K.S. said prior to changing her story." Id. at 10, 573 S.W.3d at 602. The circuit court conducted a hearing on Harper's motion to produce the notes on March 13, 2017. Id. Harper claimed that the prosecutor's notes were not work product and explained that K.S.'s "motivat[ion] to fabricate the allegations" was "going to be key in this case." Id. at 10, 573 S.W.3d at 602- 03. The prosecutor responded and explained that K.S. came to her office on March 6, 2017, to discuss whether she wanted to proceed with the allegations against Harper since K.S. had previously recanted. Id. at 10, 573 S.W.3d at 603. The prosecutor stated that, during the two-hour interview, K.S. made no statement that would have to be disclosed to Harper. Id. The prosecutor stated that she "did not write down verbatim what [K.S.] said." Id. Rather, the notes were work product because they contained "opinions, observations of the child's behavior, and demeanor throughout the meeting." Id.

         The circuit court agreed and held that the prosecutor's notes were not subject to disclosure and that the notes were taken in anticipation of trial. Id. at 11, 573 S.W.3d at 603. The circuit court also noted that the prosecutor had already provided Harper the substance of K.S.'s interview but ordered the State to disclose to Harper any new details from K.S.'s interview that it planned on using at trial. Id.

         Harper requested that the circuit court place the prosecutor's notes from the interview with K.S. under seal for appellate review. Id. Harper also asked the circuit court to review the prosecutor's notes to determine whether they contained material the prosecutor was obligated to disclose under Brady. Id. The circuit court denied Harper's ...


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