Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton
Criminal Appeal From Hamilton County Municipal Court Trial
Appealed From Is: Reversed and Cause Remanded.
Boggs Muething, City Solicitor, Natalia Harris, City
Prosecutor, and Jennifer Bishop, Assistant City Prosecutor,
Raymond T. Faller, Hamilton County Public Defender, and David
Hoffman, Assistant Public Defender, for Defendant-Appellant.
In this aggravated menancing case, a critical witness failed
to show up for trial, so the state opted to present her
"testimony" via the expediency of a police
body-camera interview. This interview occurred well after the
incident at hand and can only be characterized as
"testimonial" in our Confrontation Clause lexicon.
The court accordingly erred, both on constitutional and
hearsay grounds, in admitting this evidence, and the error
cannot be brushed aside as harmless because the court
specifically relied on this interview to convict the
defendant. We accordingly reverse the decision below and
remand for a new trial.
On New Year's Day 2018, William Jeffreys and his
girlfriend, Nadia Faulk, spent the day together running
errands and planned to attend a concert later that night. At
the same time, defendant-appellant Tyrone Smith (Ms.
Faulk's former beau), arrived at Ms. Faulk's home
with his own notion that the two would be spending time
together that evening. When Mr. Smith arrived at Ms.
Faulk's home, however, she was not there. While waiting,
Mr. Smith's friend, Bryant Wilson, arrived at the house
to join him, and shortly thereafter Mr. Jeffreys showed up to
drop off Ms. Faulk.
According to Mr. Jeffreys, upon arriving at her house, he
pulled into the driveway next door and another car pulled up
behind him, blocking his car. With the car blocked, Mr. Smith
approached Mr. Jeffreys's car window and began
threatening to kill Mr. Jeffreys with a gun. At some point,
Ms. Faulk exited from the vehicle, imploring Mr. Smith to
stop. Eventually, the vehicle blocking Mr. Jeffreys's car
moved, and he left the scene.
Upon returning home, Mr. Jeffreys testified that he called
the police, and officers responded at 1:34 a.m., arriving to
his house a few minutes later. After speaking with Mr.
Jeffreys and gathering details about the incident, the
officers and Mr. Jeffreys proceeded to Ms. Faulk's
residence, approximately a mile away. Upon arriving at Ms.
Faulk's house, the two officers approached the house and,
once inside, began talking to Mr. Smith (who, notwithstanding
the earlier altercation, succeeded with his plan to hang out
with Ms. Faulk). Realizing that Mr. Smith was the alleged
perpetrator, the police handcuffed him, and Mr. Jeffreys
confirmed his identity as the pepetrator. The police then
attempted to speak more with Mr. Smith, but he proved
unwilling to cooperate, and thus the officers turned their
attention to Ms. Faulk. Though she initially hestitated in
responding, upon prodding and a directive to "tell the
truth," Ms. Faulk stated that "I can't really
even explain what really happened," but then conceded
that "it happened." One of the officers then
clarified: "[Mr. Smith] pulled a gun on you?" and
Ms. Faulk confimed. The police then asked her about the
location of the gun, and she responded that Mr. Smith's
friend, Mr. Wilson, took the gun away from the premises. Ms.
Faulk also asked rhetorically: "I swear why would I be
lying?" and stated that she had tried to go to a
neighbor's house to call the police. Ms. Faulk also
reminded Mr. Smith that she had told him that she would call
the police on him because it "was not cool." The
police then formally placed Mr. Smith under arrest.
At a bench trial, Ms. Faulk never appeared to testify,
despite being subpoenaed. Because she was not present at
trial to testify, and over the objections of defense counsel,
the judge admitted into evidence the police body-camera
footage of the officers' interview with her. The court
deemed the video statements admissible in light of the
"ongoing emotional situation that occurred and that
qualifie[d] as an exception to the hearsay rule."
The admission of Ms. Faulk's corroborating testimony
would prove decisive at trial, as credibility issues plagued
Mr. Jeffreys's testimony. At trial, Mr. Jeffreys
maintained that the incident took place sometime between 5:00
p.m. and 7:00 p.m., when there was still daylight. Describing
the interaction between himself and Mr. Smith, Mr. Jeffreys
maintained: "I believe it was around 6:00, 6:30 or so,
5:30 - - between 5:00 and 7:00 in the evening, I know
that," and "day was starting to get dark. But it
wasn't all the way dark [i]t was still enough daylight to
see." On cross-examination, he explained: "It was
still light out, yes. * * * Just starting to get dark. I
don't know what time it was to be sure, but I know it
happened." But Mr. Jeffreys also testified that he drove
directly home and called the police immediately, and the
police received the dispatch at approximately 1:30 a.m. on
January 2 and arrived at his home a few minutes later.
Furthermore, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Smith both maintained that
the incident occurred much later in the evening. Mr. Wilson
testified that he arrived at the house to meet Mr. Smith at
11:00 p.m. and that Mr. Jeffreys and Ms. Faulk arrived
approximately 20 minutes later. Similarly, Mr. Smith
described Mr. Jeffreys and Ms. Faulk's arrival to have
occurred around 11:30 or 11:40 p.m. The conflict on the
timeline matters because if it had still been daylight, Mr.
Jeffreys's testimony about seeing a gun would have been
During closing arguments, defense counsel drew the
court's attention to the discrepencies in Mr.
Jeffreys's testimony regarding the timeline of events.
Defense counsel implied that he could not keep his facts
straight because he was lying to incriminate Mr. Smith:
[Mr. Jeffreys] knows how the system works; he's a
convicted felon, violent felon. * * * And so he's got
this story he is going to tell the police. You have two
people that are interested in the same person; same woman,
two men. So he's going to make sure * * * ...