A defendant’s belief he is acting under duress must be reasonable.

 

State v. Martin

2023 – Ohio – 2631

Twelfth District Appellate Court

Butler County, Ohio

July 31, 2023

Joe Arrives Unexpectedly

Mrs. Danielle Armstrong had just finished giving her young daughter a bath when she saw Mr. Joseph Martin on her front porch. Mrs. Armstrong was acquainted with Mr. Martin, but barely so. Mrs. Armstrong recalled that about two or three years earlier her neighbors had come over to her house and Mr. Martin came with them.

Mr. Martin Shoves His Way In

Mrs. Armstrong opened the door and asked Mr. Martin what he needed. Mr. Martin asked if her husband was home. When she said no, Mr. Martin asked to come in. Mrs. Armstrong told Mr. Martin that he could not enter, but Mr. Martin came in anyway. Mrs. Armstrong testified:

And I told him no, he could not come into my house. He didn’t hurt me, but he, like, shoved [past] me into my house, which knocked into my arm. And I’m like dude, you got to go; you cannot be here. He was not listening to me.

Removes Hoodie and Paces

At one point, he took his hoodie off and started pacing around my house, telling me that these people are out to get him; they had guns; they were coming to shoot him. He asked me to call the police. I really didn’t know what to do at that point.

Danielle was Asked to Call the Police

Mrs. Armstrong stated that Mr. Martin remained in her home for 35 to 40 minutes and continued exhibiting strange behavior. He paced around the home shirtless and complained that people were after him. Mrs. Armstrong recalled:

He was pacing around like I said, saying that somebody was out to shoot him, get him; he needed help; he needed me to call the police. That’s really all he kept saying. He kept asking me for my phone. I just kept asking him to get out and leave; he couldn’t be there.

Mr. Martin’s Claims Could Not be Confirmed

Despite Mr. Martin’s insistence, Mrs. Armstrong did not observe anyone chasing Mr. Martin or posing a threat to Mr. Martin. Simply put, Mrs. Armstrong did not believe Mr. Martin’s story. She saw no one outside lurking about.

Mrs. Armstrong Calls a Neighbor for Help

Mrs. Armstrong called her neighbor, Mr. Donald Barrow, to help get Mr. Martin out of her house. Mr. Barrow ran over to help—he testified that he had known Mr. Martin almost his entire life and had been good friends with him. Mr. Barrow likewise did not observe anyone looking for Mr. Martin, and in fact saw no one in the vicinity. Mr. Barrow stated “[I]t seemed like he was scared of something, but I never seen nothing out there.” According to Barrow, Mr. Martin “was asking, you know, if I’d help him get him out of there; if I had a gun; that people are trying to shoot him. And I was like, I don’t have no gun with me.” Based upon his familiarity with Mr. Martin, having known him for decades, Mr. Barrow testified that Mr. Martin was “definitely intoxicated on something.”After talking to Mr. Martin for 15 to 20 minutes, Barrow was able to trick Mr. Martin into leaving by having Mr. Martin believe that someone was going to be coming into the house.

Deputy Cook Arrests Mr. Martin

Shortly thereafter Mr. Martin was arrested by Deputy Curtis Cook who found Mr. Martin hiding on property of a commercial establishment. Deputy Cook observed that Mr. Martin was cooperative but described him as disheveled and dirty, wearing no shirt. He further noted that Mr. Martin was making incoherent statements and simply “wasn’t making any sense.” [Much like the legal argument he made to appeal this case.]

Mr. Martin Claims to be a Victim and Needed Help

Mr. Martin did not deny entering Mrs. Armstrong’s residence but stated that he did so because he was afraid for his safety and was attempting to seek help. Mr. Martin testified that a man named “Terry” had attempted to intimidate him with a pistol two days earlier “because … one of his friends had stolen my car, and he was trying to deter me from going into court and testifying on the car theft.”

Prosecutor Unveils the Absurdity of the Duress Claim

On cross-examination, the assistant prosecutor inquired about specific details of the supposed threat. Mr. Martin stated that he saw the man hanging out at his friend’s house through a “little gap in this fence, and he was there – – he was back here. There was his truck, and he was – – that’s why I was scared to death that he was there.”  

Few other details were provided. Mr. Martin agreed that “this person” was not directly outside Mrs. Armstrong’s home. Mr. Martin vaguely stated that he ran away “once he spoke to me.”When asked by the assistant prosecutor if he was under a constant threat, Mr. Martin replied:

Martin: I don’t know. I just know that he’d (indiscernible) with a pistol before, and I’d seen him, and he told me to come here. and I ran. That’s – –

Prosecutor: So this day you’re not even saying he threatened you with a pistol. He just said, come here, correct?

Martin: Yeah.
Prosecutor: Okay. So all he said was, come here?

Martin: Yeah.

Jury Determined Mr. Martin was Guilty

Following the testimony and closing arguments, the trial court gave its jury instructions, which included an instruction on the affirmative defense of duress. As noted above, the jury found Mr. Martin guilty of trespass in a habitation. Mr. Martin timely appeals his conviction for trespass in a habitation, raising a single assignment of error for review.

Trespass in a Habitation O.R.C. §2911.12(B)

Mr. Martin was convicted of Trespass in a Habitation in violation of O.R.C. §2911.12(B). That provision states “[N]o person, by force, stealth, or deception, shall trespass in a permanent or temporary habitation of any person when any person other than an accomplice of the offender is present or likely to be present.”

Scared of Wayne

On appeal, Mr. Martin argues that he proved that he entered the Mrs. Armstrong residence under duress. In so doing, he references his own testimony that he was afraid of “Wayne” and “terrified” that “Wayne was stalking him.” He claims that he did not enter Mrs. Armstrong’s residence for an improper purpose and that he was only acting out of fear of “immediate and impending bodily harm” by “Wayne.” Mr. Martin suggests the evidence was “uncontested” and concludes that the jury’s verdict must be against the manifest weight of the evidence.

The Affirmative Defense of Duress

As we have stated previously, duress is an affirmative defense which must be proven by the preponderance of the evidence. State v. Hall, 2008-Ohio-1889, “A defendant is said to be under duress when he is compelled to commit a crime by another under threat of imminent death or serious bodily injury, and the force compelling the defendant remains constant, controlling the will of the unwilling defendant during the entire time he commits the act, and is of such a nature that he cannot safely withdraw.” Hall at ¶ 61.

Twelfth District Appellate Court Agrees with the Jury

After reviewing the record, we find Mr. Martin’s conviction for Trespass in a Habitation is supported by the manifest weight of the evidence. The state presented testimony and evidence from which the jury could have found all the essential elements of the offense proven beyond a reasonable doubt. While Mr. Martin claims he was under duress, it is well established that a conviction is not against the manifest weight of the evidence simply because the trier of fact believed the prosecution testimony.

Mr. Martin’s Behavior was Strange and Erratic

In the present case, the jury heard evidence regarding Mr. Martin’s strange and erratic behavior that challenged his credibility. Mr. Martin repeatedly claimed, without any basis in reality, that people with guns were after him. Mrs. Armstrong testified that Mr. Martin’s demeanor made him unbelievable. Moreover, neither Mrs. Armstrong nor Barrow saw anyone looking for, or stalking, Mr. Martin. Mr. Barrow, in fact, believed that Mr. Martin was “definitely intoxicated on something.” When he was arrested, Deputy Cook similarly observed that Mr. Martin “wasn’t making any sense.” Contrary to Mr. Martin’s suggestion otherwise, the evidence that he was acting under duress was not “uncontested.”

The Affirmative Defense Must be Reasonable and Mr. Martin Was Not

The witnesses may have observed Mr. Martin acting in a frenzied state, but Mr. Martin’s explanations were not reasonable in light of the totality of the circumstances. Circumstantial evidence did not support the idea that either an individual or a group of people were out to get Mr. Martin. A defendant’s belief he is acting under duress must be reasonable. The jury clearly found that Mr. Martin failed to prove his affirmative defense by a preponderance of the evidence and the jury, as trier of fact, was in the best position to make that determination.

Holding

Following a thorough review of the evidence, we find Mr. Martin’s conviction is not

against the manifest weight of the evidence. Weighing the evidence and all reasonable inferences, we find the trier of fact did not lose its way creating a manifest miscarriage of justice. Morgan, 2014-Ohio-2472 at ¶ 34. Accordingly, Mr. Martin’s sole assignment of error is overruled.

Judgment affirmed.

Information for this article was obtained from State v. Martin, 2023 – Ohio – 2631.

State v. Martin, 2023 – Ohio – 2631 was issued by the Twelfth District Appellate Court on July 31, 2023 and is binding in the following Ohio Counties: Brown, Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Fayette, Madison, Preble and Warren.

Lessons Learned:

  1. What is an Affirmative Defense? In this case Mr. Martin and his legal counsel argued the Affirmative Defense of Duress. What is an Affirmative Defense?  “[M]atter asserted by defendant which, assuming the complaint to be true, constitutes a defense to it.” Blacks Law Dictionary, 60 [6th Ed, 1990] The defendant must prove any Affirmative Defense to a Preponderance of the Evidence.  Other Affirmative Defenses courts have accepted are: Insanity, Intoxication, Self Defense, Automatism, Coercion and Alibi.
  2. Application of Affirmative Defense – In this case, the Duress argument was not believable. The victim, Mrs. Armstrong and her neighbor Mr. Barrow, not see anyone chasing Mr. Martin or lurking in the area.  Also, once Butler County Deputy Curtis Cook arrived, Mr. Martin hid from the deputy.  The court explained Shortly thereafter Mr. Martin was arrested by Deputy Curtis Cook who found Mr. Martin hiding on property of a commercial establishment. Deputy Cook observed that Mr. Martin was cooperative but described him as disheveled and dirty, wearing no shirt.”.  If Mr. Martin was in such danger, why would he hide from law enforcement?
  3. Terry, Wayne or Truth? Mr. Martin also claimed someone named Terry was chasing him and later he would claim the pursuer name was Wayne. There were no consistencies in Mr. Martin’s story and hence his legal defense failed.
  4. Pre-Sent Arms! Both Deputy Curtis Cook and the unnamed Butler County Prosecutor should be highly commended for arresting and successfully prosecuting Mr. Martin. Well done!  If Mr. Martin does this again, he may be introduced to Ohio’s Castle Doctrine – No Duty to Retreat in Residence, O.R.C. §2901.09.

Does your agency train on Laws of Arrest?

Don’t fail your training.

Don’t let your training fail you!

Be safe, smart and Objectively Reasonable!

Robert H. Meader Esq.