Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton
Criminal Appeals From: Hamilton County Municipal Court Trial
Appealed From Is: Affirmed
Boggs Muething, City Solicitor, Natalia Harris, City
Prosecutor, and Jon Vogt, Assistant City Prosecutor, for
Raymond T. Faller, Hamilton County Public Defender, and
Krista Gieske, Assistant Public Defender, for
Moving residences is never an enjoyable endeavor, but adding
a bottle of Hennessy to the mix often causes more harm than
good. Here, three now-erstwhile friends gathered to assist
with a move and, at the end of the day, one was convicted of
assaulting another and trespassing in her apartment. The
defendant now appeals, raising sufficiency and
manifest-weight grounds, but focuses his appeal on a
challenge to the authenticity of photographs of the
victim's injuries. But his argument rests on an unduly
restrictive theory of authentication that cannot be squared
with Ohio law. We accordingly hold that the trial court did
not abuse its discretion in admitting the photographs, and in
light of those pictures and the concomitant testimony, we
reject the weight and sufficiency arguments as well and
affirm the trial court's decision.
When Lauren Lovette needed to move out of her apartment in
May 2018, she solicited the help of her then-friend and
neighbor, defendant-appellant Michael Searles. Mr. Searles
brought along a bottle of Hennessy for the occasion, which
was readily opened. Another friend, Ashley Burt, also joined
to assist with packing. The packing process eventually went
awry, however, when Mr. Searles received a call from his
sister, who needed a ride. Mr. Searles told his sister he
would go get her, but since he lacked a license himself, this
posed a dilemma and meant that he needed a ride as well.
While not exactly clear whether Mr. Searles solicited a ride
from Ms. Burt or whether she volunteered, either way Ms.
Lovette protested because Ms. Burt had joined the group
specifically to help with packing, and Ms. Lovette did not
want to be deprived of any assistance in the exercise.
This refusal, however, upset Mr. Searles, who then became
verbally abusive to Ms. Lovette, and she asked him to leave.
He demurred, and the situation escalated into a physical
altercation between Ms. Lovette and Mr. Searles, with both
sides eventually summoning the police. Ms. Lovette testified
that Mr. Searles punched her in the face and head repeatedly,
as well as landing blows on her arms, body, and back. At some
point, Ms. Lovette grabbed a pellet gun from the floor and
attempted to defend herself, clubbing Mr. Searles across the
face with it. Mr. Searles quickly disarmed her, however, and
struck Ms. Lovette repeatedly in the back of the head with
the pellet gun. Ms. Lovette testified that Mr. Searles next
began pulling her hair, bit her, and brandished a pair of
scissors at her. All the while, Ms. Lovette repeatedly
insisted that he leave her apartment and he refused. The
fight ultimately ended when Ms. Lovette left her own
apartment in order to call the police and asked a neighbor
outside to come to her aid. Mr. Searles was later arrested
and charged with assault and criminal trespass.
At trial, Ms. Lovette testified about the extent of her
injuries, referencing the state's exhibits two through
seven, which were pictures of her injuries the night of the
fight taken by Ms. Burt. Ms. Lovette testified about her
swollen face and various bruises apparent on her body after
the fight. She also testified about a bald spot and bite mark
scar permanently left from the fight.
At trial, Mr. Searles told a completely different
story-maintaining that he never hit Ms. Lovette. Instead, he
insisted that he merely pushed her out of the way once and
tried to swat the pellet gun away from her, severely injuring
his hand in the process. He claimed that he only remained in
the apartment, after being asked to leave, because he needed
to find his insulin, which he required because he was
Ultimately, the trial court found Mr. Searles guilty of both
the assault and criminal trespass. Mr. Searles now appeals,
challenging two aspects of the proceeding below. First, he
argues that the photographic evidence admitted depicting Ms.
Lovette's injuries was not properly authenticated, and
second, he challenges both the sufficiency and manifest
weight of the evidence underlying his convictions.
In considering Mr. Searles's challenge to the
authentication, we review such matters under an
abuse-of-discretion standard. See State v.
Patterson, 1st Dist. Hamilton No. C-170329,
2018-Ohio-3348, ¶ 14. Evid.R. 901(A) states that
"authentication or identification as a condition
precedent to admissibility is satisfied by evidence
sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question
is what its proponent claims." Evid.R. 901(A).
"Authentication is 'a very low threshold, which is
less demanding than the preponderance of the
evidence.'" Patterson at ¶ 13, quoting
State v. White, 4th Dist. Scioto No. 03CA2926,
2004-Ohio-6005, ¶ 61. It merely requires foundational
evidence or testimony which allows ...