Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

State v. Blanton

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fourth District, Adams

April 3, 2018

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
DENNY W. BLANTON, JR., Defendant-Appellant.

          RELEASED 03/27/2018

          Dennis C. Belli, Columbus, Ohio, for defendant-appellant.

          David Kelley, Adams County Prosecuting Attorney, and Kris D. Blanton, Adams County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, West Union, Ohio, for plaintiff-appellee.

          DECISION AND JUDGMENT ENTRY

          Marie Hoover, Presiding Judge

         {¶1} Denny W. Blanton, Jr. ("Blanton") appeals his conviction and sentence entered in the Adams County Court of Common Pleas on September 20, 2016. Following a jury trial, Blanton was found guilty of two counts of rape and two counts of kidnapping. Following a separate hearing, the jury also specified that Blanton was a sexually violent predator as to each of the four felony counts. On appeal, Blanton contends that he is entitled to a new trial for several reasons: (1) the trial court made several rulings that resulted in constitutional violations; (2) the trial court erred in making other evidentiary rulings; and (3) he received ineffective assistance from his trial counsel. Alternatively, Blanton contends that several sentencing errors exist necessitating a re-sentencing hearing. Having reviewed the record, we find no merit in any of Blanton's assignments of error. Furthermore, where the trial court did commit error, such error is harmless and did not affect the outcome of the proceedings. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

          I. Facts and Procedural History

         {¶2} Blanton was indicted on four counts: Count 1 - rape in violation of R.C. 2907.02(A)(2), with a sexually violent predator specification, a felony of the first degree; Count 2 - kidnapping in violation of R.C. 2905.01(A)(4), with a sexual motive specification and sexually violent predator specification, a felony of the first degree; Count 3 - kidnapping in violation of R.C. 2905.01(A)(2), with a sexual motive specification and sexually violent predator specification, a felony of the first degree; and Count 4 - rape in violation of R.C. 2907.02(A)(2), with a sexually violent predator specification, a felony of the first degree. Various pre-trial hearings were held, and on August 22, 2016, a five-day jury trial commenced. The State presented several witnesses, including the accuser, J.S.; and the defense presented Blanton in his own defense. The following facts are adduced from the trial.

         {¶3} It is undisputed that on February 22, 2016, in Adams County, Ohio, sexual conduct occurred between Blanton, then an eighteen-year old male, and J.S., a fifteen-year old female. The State contends that Blanton used his overwhelming size and strength to overpower, kidnap, and brutally rape J.S. On the other hand, Blanton acknowledges that sexual relations occurred, but contends that the relations were consensual.

         {¶4} At the time of the incident, Blanton was a high school senior, played linebacker and offensive line on his high school's football team, and held the school record for bench press. J.S., a high school freshman, was slight in stature; yet, she was an accomplished track and cross country athlete.

         {¶5} J.S. testified that on the day of the incident she was running her usual 6-7 mile training route after school along Tater Ridge Road when Blanton pulled up next to her in his pick-up truck and lured her nearby by asking for directions. According to J.S., Blanton then got out of his truck, shoved her to the ground, hit her in the face with his fist, tied her arms together with his belt, and threatened to kill her if she screamed or resisted. He also told her he had a gun. He then threw J.S. in the back seat floorboard of his truck and drove her to an isolated cemetery where he forced her to perform oral sex on him and then vaginally raped her.

         {¶6} J.S. testified that after Blanton raped her she engaged in conversation with Blanton in an effort to calm him down. Blanton asked her "if [she] enjoyed it", to which she replied "yes" because she was afraid if she did not respond "something worse could happen." She also told him that all her friends do things like this. Blanton then dropped her off on the side of Wheat Ridge Road. As he was dropping her off he told her not to tell anyone what had occurred. Before leaving, J.S. exchanged "knuckles, " i.e. fist bumps, with Blanton because she wanted it to "seem" like they were friends.

         {¶7} Blanton, on the other hand, told the jury that he was traveling on Tater Ridge Road following his purchase of lumber from a nearby sawmill when he observed J.S. standing in the road appearing to be in some sort of distress. When she waved at him, he stopped to check on her condition. Blanton testified that they then had a brief conversation; and J.S. accepted his invitation to give her a ride home. During the trip, Blanton claims that J.S. requested that he pull off the side of the road in the vicinity of the cemetery. After he stopped the truck, J.S. allegedly invited him to join her in the back seat. Blanton claims that J.S. then began rubbing his leg, which led to oral and vaginal sexual relations between the two of them. Blanton recalled, "we were laughing, having a good time."

         {¶8} When they were done, Blanton proceeded to take her home. On the way, Blanton claims that J.S. suggested they stop for a donut at Miller's Bakery. Blanton declined; then, he told J.S. he needed to get home to meet his girlfriend. Blanton claims that J.S.'s "whole demeanor [then] changed" and she directed him to "just drop [her] off here [on the side of Wheat Ridge Road]."

         {¶9} There is some disparity as to what happened after J.S. was dropped off on the side of the road. J.S. testified that although she was dropped off near a house, she decided to run almost a third of a mile to Miller's Bakery to seek assistance. However when she got there she thought it might be closed, and instead approached a nearby house and immediately asked the resident if she could use the phone so she could call her mom. The resident, however, testified that she observed J.S. sit on the blocks at the end of her driveway for a period of time before making the call.

         {¶10} Upon learning of the incident, J.S.'s mother came and got J.S., contacted 911, and drove J.S. to the emergency room at the Adams County Regional Medical Center. The hospital medical staff performed a sexual assault evidence collection kit and examination of J.S. Blanton's DNA and seminal fluid were found on vaginal and anal swabs taken from J.S. and Blanton's DNA and semen was found on J.S.'s shorts. There was bleeding coming from her genitalia; and further medical evaluation revealed that her hymen was bruised and torn. She also had abrasions on her vaginal tissue. In addition, she had a red swelling on her left cheek and various red markings, a scratch, and dirt on her back, arms, and legs. Following her discharge, J.S. was referred to the Mayerson Center of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital in Cincinnati, where she was interviewed by a social worker and examined by a physician. A video recording of the interview was played for the jury and admitted as an exhibit. The social worker and physician also testified at trial.

         {¶11} Blanton was picked up by police and transported to the police station for questioning on February 23, 2016. Blanton was read his Miranda rights and was questioned about the incident. Blanton admitted that he gave J.S. a ride in his truck, but repeatedly and adamantly denied that he touched her. He claimed they had no physical contact whatsoever. In addition to the evidence obtained from the rape kit examination, the police investigation also revealed the presence of J.S.'s blood on the back seat of Blanton's vehicle. At trial, Blanton explained that he initially told law enforcement he did not have sex with J.S. because he did not want to openly admit that he had cheated on his girlfriend.

         {¶12} Ultimately, the jury rejected Blanton's version of events and found him guilty of all charges. At a subsequent hearing, the jury also found that Blanton was a sexually violent predator as to each of the four felony counts. Thereafter, the trial court merged the two kidnapping convictions for the purposes of sentencing, and sentenced Blanton to three mandatory terms of 10 years to life in prison, running consecutively, for a total term of incarceration of 30 years to life. Blanton filed a timely notice of appeal.

         II. Assignments of Error

         {¶13} On appeal, Blanton assigns the following errors for our review:

         Assignment of Error I:

THE TRIAL COURT'S REFUSAL TO PERMIT DEFENSE COUNSEL TO CROSS-EXAMINE THE ALLEGED VICTIM ABOUT A MOTIVE TO FABRICATE A RAPE ACCUSATION VIOLATED HIS RIGHT OF CONFRONTATION UNDER THE SIXTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION AND ARTICLE I, SECTION 10 OF THE OHIO CONSTITUTION.

         Assignment of Error II:

THE TRIAL COURT'S RESTRICTIONS ON THE DIRECT TESTIMONY OF DEFENDANT-APPELLANT AND ITS INTERFERENCE WITH DEFENSE COUNSEL'S PROFESSIONAL JUDGMENT WERE CONTRARY TO THE RULES OF EVIDENCE AND THE RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT, AND DEPRIVED HIM OF HIS RIGHT UNDER THE FIFTH, SIXTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS TO PRESENT A COMPLETE DEFENSE.

         Assignment of Error III:

THE ADMISSION OF THE HOSPITAL SOCIAL WORKER'S OPINION THAT THE ALLEGED VICTIM'S VERSION OF EVENTS WAS CONSISTENT WITH SEXUAL ASSAULT VIOLATED EVID. R. 702, AND, COUPLED WITH THE TRIAL COURT'S IMPLICIT REPRESENTATION TO THE JURY THAT THE WITNESS WAS QUALIFIED TO RENDER SUCH AN OPINION, DEPRIVED DEFENDANT-APPELLANT OF HIS SIXTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT RIGHTS TO DUE PROCESS AND A FUNDAMENTALLY FAIR JURY TRIAL.

         Assignment of Error IV:

DEFENDANT-APPELLANT WAS DENIED HIS RIGHT TO THE EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL, AS GUARANTEED BY THE SIXTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION, DUE TO THE COMBINED PREJUDICIAL EFFECT OF MULTIPLE INSTANCES OF DEFICIENT PERFORMANCE.

         Assignment of Error V:

THE SENTENCING OF DEFENDANT-APPELLANT AS A SEXUALLY VIOLENT PREDATOR VIOLATED R.C. 2971.03 AND DEPRIVED HIM OF HIS SIXTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT RIGHTS TO DUE PROCESS AND A FUNDAMENTALLY FAIR JURY DETERMINATION DUE TO INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT THE SPECIFICATION, DEFECTIVE JURY INSTRUCTIONS, AND ERRONEOUS ADMISSION OF EVIDENCE.

         Assignment of Error VI:

THE RECORD CLEARLY AND CONVINCINGLY DOES NOT SUPPORT THE IMPOSITION OF THREE CONSECUTIVE 10-YEARS TO LIFE PRISON TERMS.

         III. Law and Analysis

         A. Assignment of Error I - Cross-Examination of Victim

         {¶14} During cross-examination of J.S., defense counsel asked: "Your mother and father would be very upset with you would they not if you had voluntarily submitted to a sex act?" The prosecutor objected to the inquiry; and the trial court admonished defense counsel stating: "That is so inappropriate. You're asking her to read the minds of mothers and fathers on an act she alleges never had happened in her life. * * * That was fully inappropriate. Objection sustained. You'll stay away from that." The following day of trial, the trial court forewarned counsel as follows: "There was a * * * what I consider deliberate, considering the experience, an unringing of the bell question that was asked yesterday. Let me assure you the Court will not be tolerant. I know the experience and the knowledge and the preparation of these counsel. Any counsel attempt that again [sic] there will be immediate hearings on that."

         {¶15} In his first assignment of error, Blanton contends that the trial court's restriction on the cross-examination of J.S. violated his constitutional right of confrontation. Specifically, he submits that he had a constitutional right to question J.S. about the existence of a potential motive to make a false accusation of rape to avoid disclosing consensual sexual relations to her parents.

         {¶16} The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives a defendant the right "to be confronted with the witnesses against him." See also Ohio Constitution, Article I, Section 10 ("the party accused shall be allowed * * * to meet the witnesses face to face"). But this protection "guarantees only 'an opportunity for effective cross-examination[.]' " (Emphasis in original.) State v. Lang, 129 Ohio St.3d 512, 2011-Ohio-4215, 954 N.E.2d 596, ¶ 83, quoting Delaware v. Fensterer, 474 U.S. 15, 20, 106 S.Ct. 292, 88 L.Ed.2d 15 (1985). Trial courts have "wide latitude * * * to impose reasonable limits on such cross-examination based on concerns about, among other things, harassment, prejudice, confusion of the issues, the witness' safety, or interrogation that is repetitive or only marginally relevant." Delaware v. Van Arsdall, 475 U.S. 673, 679, 106 S.Ct. 1431, 89 L.Ed.2d 674 (1986).

          {¶17} Similarly, Evid.R. 611(B) requires trial courts to permit "[c]ross-examination * * * on all relevant matters and matters affecting credibility." However, under Evid.R. 611(A), a trial court "shall exercise reasonable control over the mode and order of interrogating witnesses and presenting evidence[.]"

         {¶18} When a defendant challenges a trial court's limitation on cross-examination on appeal, the standard of review turns on the nature of the limitation. "Limitations * * * that deny a defendant 'the opportunity to establish that the witnesses may have had a motive to lie' infringe on core Sixth Amendment rights" and are reviewed de novo. (Emphasis in original.) State v. Gonzales, 151 Ohio App.3d 160, 2002-Ohio-4937, 783 N.E.2d 903, ¶ 45 (1st Dist.), quoting United States v. Nelson, 39 F.3d 705, 708 (7th Cir.1994). To establish a confrontation violation, then, Blanton must show that he was "prohibited from engaging in otherwise appropriate cross-examination." Van Arsdall at 680. Accord State v. McKelton, 148 Ohio St.3d 261, 2016-Ohio-5735, 70 N.E.3d 508, ¶¶ 170-172.

         {¶19} We note that the credibility of a witness may be attacked by any party. Evid.R. 607(A). However, "[a] questioner must have a reasonable basis for asking any question pertaining to impeachment that implies the existence of an impeaching fact." Evid.R. 607(B). "This rule prevents counsel from testifying and asserting as fact mere innuendo that is included within a question when there is no reasonable belief that a factual predicate exists for the implied impeaching fact." State v. Bolling, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 20225, 2005-Ohio-2509, ¶ 64, citing Weissenberger, Ohio Evidence Courtroom Manual (2005), p. 218. Furthermore, Evid.R. 616(A) provides: "Bias, prejudice, interest, or any motive to misrepresent may be shown to impeach the witness either by examination of the witness or by extrinsic evidence."

          {¶20} Here, the contested inquiry implies that J.S. and Blanton engaged in consensual sexual conduct, and that J.S.'s parents would disapprove of such act, even though the evidence presented up until the time of the inquiry provided no reasonable basis for such presumption. In other words, the defense failed to set forth an adequate foundation for the inquiry, as there was nothing in the record indicating that J.S. concocted the allegations out of fear that her parents would discover consensual sexual relations and disapprove of such behavior. In contrast, the record suggests that J.S. and Blanton were complete strangers, and that J.S. on her own volition reported the incident to her mother immediately after the act had occurred. It is mere hypothetical conjecture to conclude that J.S. was lying about the allegations out of fear of her parents discovering she had engaged in sexual relations. Allowing this inquiry would have run the immediate danger of confusing matters at issue in the case.

         {¶21} Furthermore, the inquiry invited J.S. to speculate about her parents' thoughts. Questions that invite a witness to speculate - i.e., to guess at an answer rather than rely on known facts - are improper. Evid.R. 602; Evid.R. 701. Ohio law specifically precludes questions that require a witness to speculate or guess about the thoughts of another. E.g., State v. Ross, 7th Dist. Columbiana No. 94-C-56, 1995 WL 763301, *6 (Dec. 22, 1995) ("Thus, a lay witness generally may not testify as to what someone else was thinking at a certain point in time."); see also State v. Forgette, 6th Dist. Lucas No. L-00-1209, 2001 WL 536832, *2 (May 18, 2001) ("[Witness] would have to speculate in order to testify as to the [thoughts of the jury]. We cannot say that it was a clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion for the trial court to exclude this line of questioning."); State v. Spivey, 3d Dist. Marion No. 9-12-27, 2013-Ohio-851, ¶ 82 ("[Witness]'s testimony regarding the thoughts of her husband [w]as speculative * * *."); State v. New, 10th Dist. Franklin No. 05AP-930, 2006-Ohio-2965, ¶ 23 ("Witnesses cannot know what is in another person's mind. Therefore, witnesses cannot venture opinions on the [thoughts] of another person * * * Witnesses may only testify to the facts they observed.").

         {¶22} Here, J.S. was asked if her parents would be upset with her if she had consented to sexual relations. Any answer from J.S. would have been speculative, because what her parents might have thought about the posed hypothetical is entirely outside the scope of her knowledge and perception.

         {¶23} For the reasons stated above, we conclude that the trial court did not improperly deny Blanton the right to cross-examine J.S. about a potential motive to lie; and thus, his confrontation rights were not violated. Accordingly, we overrule Blanton's first assignment of error.

         B. Assignment of Error II - Direct Testimony of Defendant

         {¶24} In his second assignment of error, Blanton contends that the trial court violated his right to present a complete defense because during his direct examination it: (1) sustained three hearsay objections to questions about statements allegedly made by J.S. to Blanton; and (2) warned Blanton's counsel of possible perjury and ethical violations when counsel attempted to elicit Blanton's version of events that contradicted statements Blanton had previously made to police. Blanton argues that these "unreasonable limitations" "deprived him of the ability to tell the jury his innocent account in a natural format, including the statements made by J.S. that led him to believe she wished to engage in consensual sexual relations." [Appellant's Brief at 15-16.] We conclude that the trial court did err by sustaining the hearsay objections to questions about statements allegedly made by J.S. to Blanton. However, the error was harmless and does not warrant reversal. We further conclude that the trial court's "warning" did not interfere with Blanton's right to present a complete defense.

          {¶25} A defendant in a criminal case has the due process right to take the witness stand and to testify in his or her own defense. Rock v. Arkansas, 483 U.S. 44, 51, 107 S.Ct. 2704, 97 L.Ed.2d 37 (1987); Harris v. New York, 401 U.S. 222, 225, 91 S.Ct. 643, 28 L.Ed.2d 1 (1971). The right to testify and to present a complete defense also may implicate the Compulsory Process or Confrontation Clauses of the Sixth Amendment. See Crane v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 683, 690, 106 S.Ct. 2142, 90 L.Ed.2d 636 (1986). "Whether the defendant is to testify is an important tactical decision as well as a matter of constitutional right." Brooks v. Tennessee, 406 U.S. 605, 612, 92 S.Ct. 1891, 32 L.Ed.2d 358 (1972).

         {¶26} A defendant's right to testify is not without limitation, however, and " 'may, in appropriate cases, bow to accommodate other legitimate interests in the criminal trial process.' * * * But restrictions of a defendant's right to testify may not be arbitrary or disproportionate to the purposes they are designed to serve." Rock at ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.