Yes!

[A] rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of domestic violence proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

 

State v. Monfort

2023 – Ohio – 1024

Ninth District Appellate Court

Summit County, Ohio

March 29, 2023

Father was in his bedroom on the evening of April 14, 2022 when his adult son, Mr. Monfort, knocked on the door. An argument arose over marijuana. According to Father, Mr. Monfort’s rage was showing through again and Mr. Monfort became aggressive, combative, and loud. Mr. Monfort punched the wall near his mother’s head.

Father testified that he called the police because he was afraid, fearful, and concerned that his son would cause physical harm. He felt afraid because Mr. Monfort’s rage was increasing in frequency and severity. Father testified at trial that his son could cause physical harm as his son is a lot younger and does not have the ailments he suffers with. He also expressed concerns about his son’s mental health.

Sergeant James Curtin and Officer Paul Ondecker were the responding officers. Sergeant Curtin, who prepared the complaint, testified that Father appeared very fearful of Mr. Monfort and he believed that Father was in fear of his life. Officer Ondecker testified that, before any discussion of a pink slip, Father appeared fearful of Mr. Monfort.

Pink Slip Explained but Not Utilized

A pink slip orders someone to be committed involuntarily for a mental health evaluation. Father expressed a desire to the officers that Mr. Monfort be pink slipped, but the officers did not feel that Mr. Monfort met pink slip criteria.

Mr. Monfort was charged with domestic violence in violation of O.R.C. §2919.25(C), a misdemeanor of the fourth degree. Mr. Monfort was arraigned, and a bench trial was held. Mr. Monfort never filed a jury demand. A public defender represented Mr. Monfort at trial. Mr. Monfort was found guilty and sentenced according to law. Mr. Monfort’s jail sentence was suspended on the condition he obey all laws and there are no further disturbances for two years.

Mr. Monfort appeals from that judgment of conviction, citing three assignments of error for review, though only one will be evaluated in this article.

Appeal

Domestic violence is “[T]o cause or attempt to cause physical harm to a family or household member.” O.R.C. §2919.25(A) Mr. Monfort was found guilty of domestic violence in violation of O.R.C. §2919.25(C). It is a crime under O.R.C. §2919.25(C) to, “[B]y threat of force … knowingly cause a family or household member to believe that the offender will cause imminent physical harm to the family or household member.”

The Revised Code does not define “threat” or “threat of force” as used in O.R.C. §2929.25(C). The Supreme Court of Ohio established the following definition of threat: The term ‘threat’ represents a range of statements or conduct intended to impart a feeling of apprehension in the victim, whether of bodily harm, property destruction, or lawful harm, such as exposing the victim’s own misconduct. State v. Cress, 2006-Ohio-6501

Mr. Monfort argues that the state failed to prove that he engaged in conduct that constitutes a threat of force and that made Father believe that he would cause imminent physical harm. We disagree.

Father testified that he called the police because Mr. Monfort’s rage was showing through; Mr. Monfort was aggressive; Mr. Monfort punched the wall close to his mother; and Father was afraid that Mr. Monfort was going to hurt him. Other courts have addressed the issue of whether similar conduct constitutes a threat of force. In a case where the defendant’s demeanor included yelling and banging on windows, the court held that such conduct was sufficient to cause the victim to believe the defendant was going to cause the victim imminent physical harm. State v. Cooper, 2020-Ohio-3559

Totality of the Circumstances

The domestic violence statute is not limited to specific verbal threats; it includes action that amounts to a threat of force. Punching a wall in rage is an implied threat of force and was sufficient to cause Father to believe that Mr. Monfort was going to cause imminent physical harm.

Father also testified that Mr. Monfort became “aggressive” by leaning forward and taking an aggressive posture which is another potential threat of force as it imparted “a feeling of apprehension in the victim.” Cress, 2006-Ohio-6501 When asked whether he was afraid Mr. Monfort was going to cause him physical harm, Father responded “yeah.” This Court noted in Simcox that the standard is whether, because of the defendant’s conduct, “a reasonable person would have been placed in fear of imminent physical harm.State v. Simcox 2007-Ohio-1217  Sergeant Curtin testified that Father appeared very fearful of Mr. Monfort and he believed that Father was in fear of his life that night. Sergeant Curtin prepared the complaint because Father seemed to be in fear of Mr. Monfort. Officer Ondecker testified that Father seemed fearful of Mr. Monfort. Father talked about the threats and his fear of Mr. Monfort before the pink slip discussion occurred.

Holding

Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the state, a rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of domestic violence proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Appellant’s first assignment of error is overruled.

Information for this article was obtained from State v. Monfort, 2023 – Ohio – 1024.

This case was issued by the Ninth District Appellate Court and is binding in the following Ohio Counties: Lorain, Medina, Summit and Wayne.

Lessons Learned:

  1. The specific Domestic Violence statute at issue in this case is; [B]y threat of force … knowingly cause a family or household member to believe that the offender will cause imminent physical harm to the family or household member. O.R.C. §2919.25(C).
  2. In this case Mr. Monfort was convicted under O.R.C. §2919.25(C) however, he appealed based on that his conduct was not threatening or that he would cause imminent physical harm. However, Mr. Monfort father testified that his son was threatening toward him and punched a wall near where Mr. Monfort’s was seated.  This behavior began over a dispute over marijuana.  The key to this case is that none of Mr. Monfort’s actions was viewed singularly but rather as a totality of the circumstances.
  3. Domestic Violence calls for service are some of the most dangerous calls law enforcement responds. Not only can there be physical danger but also legal challenges.  In this case both Sergeant James Curtin and Officer Paul Ondecker did well to document the father’s statements and testify to that Mr. Monfort’s behavior comported to O.R.C. §2919.25(C).  Well done Sergeant James Curtin and Officer Paul Ondecker!

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Robert H. Meader Esq.