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State v. Carter

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Third District, Seneca

September 5, 2017


         Appeal from Tiffin-Fostoria Municipal Court Trial Court No. CRB 1700074

          W. Alex Smith for Appellant.

          Charles R. Hall, Jr. for Appellee.


          PRESTON, P.J.

         {¶1} Defendant-appellant, James D. Carter Jr. ("Carter"), appeals the March 28, 2017 judgment entry of the Tiffin-Fostoria Municipal Court. For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand.

         {¶2} This case stems from events that took place on December 31, 2016. Carter traveled to the residence of Nina Williams ("Williams") in Fostoria, Ohio. Carter was intoxicated when he arrived at Williams's residence, and he eventually passed out on Williams's bed. He awoke to find Williams gone, and he called Williams several times in an effort to determine her location. During the course of these calls, Carter threatened to burn down Williams's residence. Shortly after the last of Carter's numerous calls to Williams, a fire was reported at Williams's residence. Later that same day, Williams spoke with law enforcement about her dealings with Carter, including his threats to set fire to her residence.

         {¶3} On January 17, 2017, Carter was charged with Count One of aggravated menacing in violation of R.C. 2903.21(A), a misdemeanor of the first degree. (Doc. No. 1). On February 7, 2017, Carter appeared for arraignment and pled not guilty to the count in the complaint. (Doc. No. 3).

         {¶4} A bench trial took place on March 28, 2017. (Doc. No. 38). That same day, the trial court found Carter guilty of the sole count of the complaint. (Doc. No. 17). The trial court sentenced Carter to 180 days in jail. (Id.). The trial court filed its judgment entry of sentence on March 28, 2017. (Id.).

         {¶5} Carter filed his notice of appeal on April 5, 2017. (Doc. No. 18). He brings three assignments of error for our review.

         Assignment of Error No. I

         The Trial Court Erred When It Allowed Statements Of The Alleged Victim, Who Was Not Present At Trial, In Violation Of The Confrontation Clause Of The 6th And 14th Amendments To The United States Constitution.

         {¶6} In his first assignment of error, Carter argues that the trial court erred by admitting into evidence statements of Williams despite the fact that Williams was not present at the trial in violation of Carter's rights under the Confrontation Clause of the 6th Amendment. Specifically, Carter argues that the trial court erred when it allowed into evidence the statements of Williams, who was not present at the trial, having failed to appear despite a subpoena. Carter argues that her failure to appear rendered him unable to confront his accuser and to cross-examine her. Carter further argues that the trial court erred by admitting into evidence numerous hearsay statements that fall outside any exceptions to the rule against hearsay.

         {¶7} The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that all criminal defendants have the right to be confronted with the witnesses against them. State v. Neyland, 139 Ohio St.3d 353, 2014-Ohio-1914, ¶ 172. The admission of testimonial hearsay made by a declarant who does not testify during a trial violates the Sixth Amendment unless (1) the declarant is unavailable and (2) the defendant had a prior opportunity to cross-examine the declarant. Id. at ¶ 173, citing Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 68, 124 S.Ct. 1354 (2004). In evaluating whether a statement is testimonial for Sixth Amendment purposes, we must apply the "primary-purpose test, " examining the reasons for and purpose of the record at issue and objectively evaluating the statements and actions of the parties to the encounter. State v. Maxwell, 139 Ohio St.3d 12, 22, 2014-Ohio-1019, ¶ 49, citing Michigan v. Bryant, 562 U.S. 344, 359-360, 131 S.Ct. 1143 (2011) and Williams v. Illinois, 567 U.S. 50, 82-84, 132 S.Ct. 2221 (2012). A statement is less likely to be testimonial if it is given to allow police to meet an "ongoing emergency"-a circumstance that extends beyond the initial victim and is a potential threat to the responding law enforcement and the public at large." State v. Jones, 135 Ohio St.3d 10, 37-38, 2012-Ohio-5677, ¶ 148-149, citing Bryant at 359. The presence or absence of an ongoing emergency is but one factor in the analysis of whether a statement is testimonial. Id. at ¶ 153. Other factors include the level of formality of the encounter, as well as the specific statements and actions of both the declarant and the interrogator. Id. at ¶ 154-155, citing Bryant at 366-367. A witness is not considered unavailable unless the State has made reasonable good-faith efforts to ensure the witness's attendance at trial, and the proponent of the evidence bears the burden of demonstrating that such efforts have been made. State v. Workman, 171 Ohio App.3d 89, 95, 2007-Ohio-1360, ¶ 16. The issuance of a subpoena does not, standing alone, constitute a reasonable good-faith effort to procure a witness's attendance where other methods of doing so are also available. Id. at ¶ 21, citing State v. Keairns, 9 Ohio St.3d 228, 232 (1984).

         {¶8} "Hearsay" is "a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at a trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted." Evid.R. 801(C). Hearsay is generally inadmissible "except as otherwise provided by the Constitution of the United States, by the Constitution of the State of Ohio, by statute enacted by the General Assembly not in conflict with a rule of the Supreme Court of Ohio, by these rules, or by other rules prescribed by the Supreme Court of Ohio." Evid.R. 802. The excited utterance exception to the general prohibition against hearsay provides that a hearsay statement is admissible if it is a statement "relating to a startling event or condition made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by the event or condition." Evid.R. 803(2). The Supreme Court of Ohio articulated a four-part test to determine when the excited utterance exception operates, holding that the exception is applicable when (1) there was an occurrence startling enough to create nervous excitement in the declarant sufficient to dull his reflective faculties and make his statements an unreflective and sincere expression of his impressions and beliefs, (2) the statement or declaration, even when not strictly contemporaneous with the exciting event, was made before there was time for the nervous excitement to lose its domination over the declarant's reflective faculties so that such domination continued and was sufficient to make the declarant's statements and expressions unreflective and thus sincere expressions of his actual impressions and beliefs, (3) the statement or declaration related to the exciting event or the circumstances thereof, and (4) the declarant had an opportunity to observe personally the matters asserted in his statement or declaration. State v. Taylor, 66 Ohio St.3d 295, 300-301 (1993), citing Potter v. Baker,162 Ohio St. 488, 496 (1955). The Supreme Court of Ohio elaborated on the second of those four criteria when it explained that there is no per se length of time beyond which a statement cannot be considered an ...

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