The state presented sufficient evidence that Mr. Williams knowingly caused or attempted to cause injury by punching his wife in the chest.

 

State v. Williams

2023 – Ohio – 4456

Sixth District Appellate Court

Lucas County, Ohio

December 8, 2023

 

Mr. Williams was Charged with Felony Domestic Violence

Mr. Damar Williams was charged with committing domestic violence against his wife, B.V., in violation of O.R.C. §2919.25(A). Because Mr. Williams had two prior domestic- violence convictions, he was charged under O.R.C. §2919.25(D)(4), making the offense a third-degree felony. The following evidence was presented at trial.

Victim was Over-Served at the Campground

B.V. testified that on Sunday August 14, 2022, she and Mr. Williams visited with her cousin at a campground. The couple argued and Mr. Williams wanted to go home. B.V. took him home and went back to the campground. B.V. returned home around 1:00 a.m. She was very intoxicated and was vomiting.

Mr. Williams Punched the Victim in the Chest

Mr. Williams wanted B.V. to go fishing with him the next morning, but she was hungover and did not want to go. Mr. Williams went fishing alone. When he returned home, he and B.V. argued again. Initially, their argument was verbal, but Mr. Williams suddenly punched her in the chest. B.V. immediately left the house in her vehicle and headed to her grandmother’s house.

Picture of Chest Redness

B.V. testified that it hurt when Mr. Williams punched her, but it did not cause an injury requiring medical attention, and it did not bruise. She took photographs of her chest around 1:20 p.m., while on the way to her grandmother’s house. Those photographs were taken within five minutes of the assault and showed redness across her chest.

Investigation Begins

That evening, B.V. decided to pursue charges against her husband. She called 9-1-1 from her grandmother’s house at 6:08 p.m. Because there was no current threat to B.V., the call was deemed low priority, and police did not arrive at her grandmother’s house until after midnight on August 16, 2022. By that time, the redness on B.V.’s chest had faded, but she showed officers the pictures she took just after the incident. Toledo Police Officer Lucas Snowberger and Detective Eli McCord were among the officers who interviewed B.V. Their interaction with B.V. was recorded on body worn cameras, and recordings from those cameras were admitted into evidence. Both Officer Snowberger and Detective McCord testified at trial.

Police Report Clerical Error

B.V. testified that the assault occurred just after 1:00 p.m.; the police report indicated that it occurred at 3:00 p.m. Detective McCord testified that the time indicated in the police report was a clerical error. He said that B.V. told him that it happened at 1:00 p.m., but he mistakenly wrote 3:00 p.m. on the police report.

Motion to Suppress is Denied

After the state rested, Mr. Williams moved for acquittal under Crim.R. 29. He argued that the redness on B.V.’s chest was sunburn, and he claimed that the photograph of her chest was taken at 1:22 p.m., even though the alleged incident had not occurred until 3:00 p.m. The court denied the motion and submitted the matter to the jury. The jury found Mr. Williams guilty of domestic violence.

Total of 62 Months or Just Over Five Years in Prison

The court sentenced Mr. Williams to 36 months in prison. Because he committed the offense while on post-release control in another matter, the trial court imposed the time remaining on that sentence, 792 days, and ordered that those days be served consecutively to the sentence imposed in the present case. Mr. Williams’s conviction and sentence were memorialized in a judgment entered on January 20, 2023.

Mr. Williams appealed. He assigns the following error for our review.

Mr. Williams Appeals Claiming the Redness was a Sunburn Not the Result of His Punch

In his sole assignment of error, Mr. Williams argues that his conviction was against the manifest weight of the evidence. He argues that there was no evidence that he committed an act “that could knowingly cause harm” because B.V. admitted that she suffered no injury and Officer Snowberger and Detective McCord observed no injury.He suggests that the red mark visible on B.V.’s chest in the photographs is sunburn from the day before when she visited her cousin at the campground.

Domestic Violence Statute

O.R.C. §2919.25(A) provides that “[N]o person shall knowingly cause or attempt to cause physical harm to a family or household member.” O.R.C. §2901.01(A)(3) defines “physical harm” as “any injury, illness, or other physiological impairment, regardless of its gravity or duration.” “A person acts knowingly, regardless of purpose, when the person is aware that the person’s conduct will probably cause a certain result or will probably be of a certain nature.” O.R.C. §2901.22(B).

What is Physical Harm as Defined by the Statute and Interpreted by Established Case Law

As to the “physical harm” element, Ohio courts hold that even “[T]he slightest injury is sufficient proof of physical harm for purposes of O.R.C. §2919.25(A).” State v. Baxter, 2019-Ohio-4855, citing State v. Daniels, 2018-Ohio-1701. No visible injury is required. State v. Spade, 2009-Ohio-2004. And police need not observe any visible injury. State v. Summers, 2003-Ohio-5866. In fact, “R.C. 2919.25 does not require the state to prove that a victim has sustained actual injury” at all, given that “a defendant can be convicted of domestic violence for merely attempting to cause physical harm to a family member.” State v. Nielsen, 66 Ohio App.3d 609, (6th Dist.1990) (“R.C. 2919.25 does not require the state to prove that a victim has sustained actual injury since a defendant can be convicted of domestic violence for merely attempting to cause physical harm to a family member.”).

Established Case Law – A Victim Does NOT Need to Sustain an Injury

In City of Oregon v. Snyder, 2008-Ohio- 6537, we recognized that “[A] defendant may be found guilty of domestic violence even if the victim sustains only minor injuries, or sustains no injury at all.”. In Snyder, the defendant grabbed the victim’s shirt collar, shook him, and pushed him in the chest, causing him to lose balance. We affirmed the defendant’s domestic-violence conviction even though the defendant’s assault caused only redness on the victim’s neck, which disappeared before police arrived. Similarly, in State v. Abbasov, 2015-Ohio-5379, the Second District affirmed defendant’s domestic-violence conviction even though the victim testified that she felt no pain when her husband slapped her face, but her face was red immediately thereafter.

The Red Mark was Enough to Sustain Mr. Williams’ Felony Conviction

Here, B.V. testified that Mr. Williams punched her in the chest, it hurt when it happened, and it left a red mark that disappeared before police arrived. Mr. Williams emphasized the fact that there was no abrasion or bruise from the punch, but the case law is clear that no visible injury was required. Evidence that Mr. Williams punched her and that it hurt was certainly sufficient to support the physical-harm element of his conviction of domestic violence.

What is ‘Knowingly’ by Statute and Established Case Law?

Turning to the mens rea required to convict under O.R.C. 2919.25(A), “knowingly,” where a defendant does not testify at trial, there is often no direct evidence of mental state. In such cases, intent may be determined “from the surrounding facts and circumstances.” State v. Young, 2013-Ohio-1247.

In State v. Warner, 2022-Ohio-4742, the court held that a rational trier of fact could find that “[W]hen [the defendant] pushed his wife, he was aware his actions could cause injury, however slight.” It emphasized that “[t]he statute does not require that he know that his action would cause [the] particular injury–only that it was likely to cause injury, regardless of its gravity.”

Mr. Williams Acted Knowingly

Here, Mr. Williams punched his wife in the chest. As in the cases we have cited, we find that a rational trier of fact could conclude that he was aware that by punching his wife, he would probably cause her some injury. As such, the jury could properly conclude that Mr. Williams knowingly caused or attempted to cause physical harm to his wife when he punched her in the chest.

Review of the Facts as Applied to Established Case Law

Here, the state presented evidence that (1) Mr. Williams delivered a single punch to B.V.’s chest; (2) although lasting only a moment, B.V. felt pain; and (3) within five minutes after being punched, B.V. photographed redness on her chest, which disappeared sometime before midnight. Although Mr. Williams suggested at trial that the red mark on B.V.’s chest resembled sunburn, he also highlighted the fact that the redness had faded by the time B.V. spoke with police, arguably undermining his sunburn argument. But regardless of whether the jury believed that Mr. Williams’s punch caused a red mark, and regardless of whether it was possible that the red mark was actually sunburn, the jury obviously believed B.V.’s testimony that Mr. Williams punched her in the chest. Because the jury was in the best position to evaluate B.V.’s credibility, we decline to conclude that Mr. Williams’s conviction was against the of the evidence merely because the jury believed the state’s version of the facts over the defendant’s version.

We find Mr. Williams’s assignment of error not well-taken.

Conclusion

The state presented sufficient evidence that Mr. Williams knowingly caused or attempted to cause injury by punching his wife in the chest. Even the slightest injury can constitute “physical harm.” Moreover, O.R.C. §2919.25(A) also prohibits the “attempt” to cause physical harm, thus, evidence that the victim experienced only momentary pain and temporary redness did not render the evidence insufficient. The jury was in the best position to evaluate the victim’s credibility and Mr. Williams’s conviction was not against the manifest weight of the evidence.

Holding

We find Mr. Williams’s assignment of error not well-taken and affirm the January 20, 2023 judgment of the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas.

Information for this article was obtained from State v. Williams, 2023 – Ohio – 4456.

State v. Williams, 2023 – Ohio – 4456 was issued by the Sixth District Appellate Court and is binding in the following Ohio Counties: Erie, Fulton, Huron, Lucas, Ottawa, Sandusky, Williams and Wood.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Domestic Violence – R.C. §2919.25(A) provides that “[N]o person shall knowingly cause or attempt to cause physical harm to a family or household member.” O.R.C. §2901.01(A)(3) defines “physical harm” as “any injury, illness, or other physiological impairment, regardless of its gravity or duration.” “A person acts knowingly, regardless of purpose, when the person is aware that the person’s conduct will probably cause a certain result or will probably be of a certain nature.” O.R.C. §2901.22(B).
  2. No Injury Can Still Result in a Domestic Violence Conviction – In this case Mr. Williams punched his wife in the chest. Williams claimed that his wife sustained the red mark from a sunburn.  However, established case law has held “[A] defendant may be found guilty of domestic violence even if the victim sustains only minor injuries or sustains no injury at all.” City of Oregon v. Snyder, 2008-Ohio- 6537.  Consequently, even if the red mark was sustained from a sunburn the punch to the chest was enough to establish Mr. Williams committed Domestic Violence. The Snyder case is supported by State v. Warner, 2022-Ohio-4742, the court held that a rational trier of fact could find that “[W]hen [the defendant] pushed his wife, he was aware his actions could cause injury, however slight.” It emphasized that “[t]he statute does not require that he know that his action would cause [the] particular injury–only that it was likely to cause injury, regardless of its gravity.”  In both Snyder and Warner, the court viewed the actions of the suspect/defendant through the lens of intent to harm.
  3. Domestic Violence Calls Can be Very Violent – Domestic Violence is one of THE most violent calls to which law enforcement can respond. In this case the victim was at her grandmother’s home but that did mean the suspect could not have been at the location on arrival.  Law enforcement should always respond with two officers/deputies on domestic violence calls for service.  In some rural areas there is no choice, but if there is a choice two officers should be the standard.

Does your agency train on Domestic Violence?

Don’t fail your training.

Don’t let your training fail you!

Be safe, smart and objectively reasonable!

Robert H. Meader Esq.