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State v. Searles

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

August 2, 2019

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
MICHAEL SEARLES, Defendant-Appellant.

          Criminal Appeals From: Hamilton County Municipal Court Trial No. 18CRB-12728

         Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed

          Paula Boggs Muething, City Solicitor, Natalia Harris, City Prosecutor, and Jon Vogt, Assistant City Prosecutor, for Plaintiff-Appellee,

          Raymond T. Faller, Hamilton County Public Defender, and Krista Gieske, Assistant Public Defender, for Defendant-Appellant.


          BERGERON, JUDGE.

         {¶1} 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.


         {¶2} 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.

         {¶3} 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.

         {¶4} 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.

         {¶5} 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 diabetic.

         {¶6} 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.


         {¶7} 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, ΒΆ 61. It merely requires foundational evidence or testimony which allows ...

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