Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Divorce, Domestic Violence and the Laptop

After being convicted of domestic violence in violation of Ohio Revised Code § 2919.25(A), which makes it a crime to “knowingly cause or attempt to cause physical harm to a family or household member”, Christopher M. Normal appealed.  State v. Norman, 2012 WL 3984653 (Ohio Court of Appeals 2012). 

The prosecution arose from an incident involving Christopher and Deanna Norman.  State v. Norman, supra.  They were “married in 2002 and divorced in 2008.”  State v. Norman, supra. They “have no children.” State v. Norman, supra.

According to Deanna, Christopher “often drank and got violent during their marriage” and she had contacted the police “as a result of some of these incidents.”  State v. Norman, supra.  He had “a prior domestic violence conviction and a conviction for violating a protection order.”  State v. Norman, supra.  

While the divorce was pending, Deanna obtained a protection order against Christopher but in April of 2011, after the divorce was granted, they “moved back in together.” State v. Norman, supra. They rented “a house in exchange for refurbishing it” and “lived there with her two dogs.” State v. Norman, supra. Christopher worked as a glass repairman; Deanna did not work, but was “receiving social security payments for borderline bipolar and dyslexia issues.”  State v. Norman, supra.  

On July 27, 2011, “after Christopher finished work, they went to a coworker's house to drink beer and play foosball.” State v. Norman, supra.  They formed a team against Christopher’s “boss and the boss's son.”  State v. Norman, supra.  Christopher was  “upset they were losing,” so “they eventually quit playing” and “left around 11:00 P.M., having each consumed three twenty-four ounce cans of beer.”  State v. Norman, supra.

When they got home, they “continued drinking beer from a 30–pack in the refrigerator” and “began arguing about the remodeling work around the house.”  State v. Norman, supra.  Christopher called Deanna “a fat, fucking, lazy bitch” and told her that her “dogs were useless fucking commodities.” State v. Norman, supra.  At some point, Christopher “started throwing beer cans at Deanna's dogs, and she yelled at him to leave the dogs alone.” State v. Norman, supra.  He “told her to get out, so she called her nephew to come and get her.” State v. Norman, supra.  

The next day, Deanna “got up around 11:00 a.m. and called her daughter to take her back to the house to get the dog food, her clothes, and her truck.”  State v. Norman, supra.  She waited until afternoon, “but when she got there, she saw” Christopher’s car.  State v. Norman, supra.  

Deanna went to the back door and used her key to get into the house, even though Christopher had stacked some remodeled kitchen cabinets in front of the back door. State v. Norman, supra.  She “noticed the words `fuck you’ written on the door just above the lock” and also noted that “the remaining beer from the night before was gone.” State v. Norman, supra.  

As Deanna entered the house, Christopher “came towards her from the front room.” State v. Norman, supra.  She said “was not there to start anything, she just wanted to get her things.”  State v. Norman, supra. Christopher “accused her of breaking into the house and told her to leave.” State v. Norman, supra.  Deanna “ignored him and went about gathering her clothes and the dog food.” State v. Norman, supra.  

Christopher “again told her to get out of the house and pushed her `full force’ from behind, causing her to fall onto the bed.”  Deanna went “back to the front room” and saw that Christopher’s “laptop computer was on the coffee table and was plugged into the wall.” State v. Norman, supra.   She “accused him of communicating with other women online” but Christopher said “it was none of her business.”  State v. Norman, supra.  

According to Deanna, as she walked away from the area, she tripped over the computer wires and almost knocked the laptop off the table. [Christopher] caught the laptop and responded by kicking her stereo.

Deanna retaliated by grabbing the laptop and trying to throw it at the wall. [Christopher] grabbed her by the arms to stop her and they fell back onto the couch. [Christopher] told her he would `stomp [her] f–––ing face in.’ . . . [Deanna’s] glasses came off during the fracas; at that point [Christopher] got off of her.

State v. Norman, supra.  

Deanna called the police.  State v. Norman, supra.  At trial, she testified that as she made the call, Christopher “took the coffee table and rammed it into her knees, pinning her between the table and a loveseat.”  State v. Norman, supra. 

According to Deanna, he “was `between myself and any exit other than the windows and he wouldn't let me pass.”  State v. Norman, supra.  Eventually, he “grabbed some of his belongings and left the premises before police officers arrived.”  State v. Norman, supra.  

Two deputies from the Delaware County Sheriff's Office responded to the call, one of whom, Deputy Stephanie Shine, later testified at trial.  Shine recalled that Deanna was upset, afraid, and crying. . . . Based on the disarray in the home, the deputy thought there had been a physical altercation. . . .

The deputy found a remote control that had been smashed and an ashtray on the floor that appeared to have been thrown. . . . Deanna described her version of events to the deputy, including her allegation that [Christopher] had pushed a coffee table under her legs. . . .

Deputy Shine did not notice any physical injuries at first, but later that day she noticed a bruise on Deanna's arm. . . . Deanna told the deputy she did not know the cause of the arm bruise.

In the meantime, another deputy called [Christopher], but he did not come back home to talk to them. . . . Later that afternoon, deputies got a tip that [Christopher] had returned home, so they returned and arrested him. . . . [He] purportedly told the officers Deanna had kicked his glasses off of his face, but he did not mention pushing her or threatening her. . . .

State v. Norman, supra.  

Christopher was later charged with “two counts of domestic violence, one for causing or attempting to cause physical harm in violation of [Ohio Revised Code] § 2919.25(A), and one for threatening physical harm in violation of [Ohio Revised Code] § 2919.25(C).” As noted above, he was convicted of the § 2919.25(A) charge, which was a felony, but the jury acquitted him of the § 2919.25(C) charge, which was a misdemeanor.  After he was sentenced to “three years of community control with various additional conditions”, Christopher appealed, as also noted above.  State v. Norman, supra.  

On appeal, he argued that his domestic violence conviction “was against the manifest weight of the evidence”.  State v. Norman, supra.  As this site notes, when an appellant claims his conviction is against the manifest weight of the evidence, the court of appeals will “weigh the evidence and determine whether the findings of the trial court were so against the weight of the evidence as to require a reversal and a retrial.”  If you’d like to read more about how this works in practice, check out this prior post.

The Court of Appeals in this case began its analysis of Christopher’s argument by noting  that

[o]ur standard of review on a manifest weight challenge to a criminal conviction is stated as follows: `The court, reviewing the entire record, weighs the evidence and all reasonable inferences, considers the credibility of witnesses and determines whether in resolving conflicts in the evidence, the jury clearly lost its way and created such a manifest miscarriage of justice that the conviction must be reversed and a new trial ordered.’  State v. Martin, 20 Ohio App.3d 172, 485 N.E.2d 71 (Ohio Court of Appeals 1983). . . . 

The granting of a new trial `should be exercised only in the exceptional case in which the evidence weighs heavily against the conviction.’ State v. Martin, supra.

State v. Norman, supra.  

The court began its ruling on Christopher’s argument by noting that he

essentially maintains that the evidence merely demonstrated that accidental physical contact occurred as he and Deanna struggled over the laptop and other items in the house. We note the record additionally indicates that [Christopher] took the stand at trial and described a history of volatility and jealousy in his relationship with Deanna.

He asserted that Deanna was `severely’ bipolar and had a history of angry outbursts. . . [Christopher] testified that had to go to work the day after the foosball party, and he was worried that Deanna would come back and start breaking things while he was gone. [He] testified that Deanna had broken computers and televisions before, broken his glasses twice, and smashed his car windows. . . .

Before Deanna came back on July 28, 2011, [Christopher] attempted to barricade the back doors to the house and decided to call off going to work. . . . In his recollection, when he grabbed for his laptop during the ensuing events, Deanna fell back on the couch, at which time she kicked at the side of his body. . . .

During her cross-examination, Deanna admitted that she smashed the television remote control on the coffee table during their argument. She also admitted she knew that [Christopher] prized his television and laptop computer. . . .

State v. Norman, supra.  

The court ultimately held that

while it appears to us that either [Christopher] or Deanna could have probably avoided the confrontation of July 28, 2011 in the first place by requesting in advance the assistance of law enforcement in removing Deanna's belongings, we find the jury could have properly decided that [Christopher’s] violent and verbally abusive response to her return to the house was not defensible, and we hold upon review that the jurors, in resolving any conflicts in the evidence, did not create a manifest miscarriage of justice requiring a new trial.

State v. Norman, supra. 

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