Daniel Nobice Peters v. State of Arkansas

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November 17, 2004





Larry D. Vaught, Judge

Daniel Nobice Peters appeals from a Lafayette County jury verdict finding him guilty of theft-by-receiving and sentencing him to forty years' imprisonment as a habitual offender. On appeal, Peters argues that the trial court erred in its failure to grant his motion to exclude certain evidence from one of his prior trials. We affirm.

In April 2003, Peters was charged and tried by a jury for rape, kidnapping, and residential burglary. Included in the information was a theft-by-receiving count, which was severed prior to trial. These charges were not filed until nearly two years after the alleged crimes took place because authorities lacked proof of the perpetrator's identity. Peters was eventually linked to the crime after authorities discovered the rape victim's white Grand Am automobile-which had been stolen the night of the assault-in Louisiana.

After Louisiana authorities learned that the abandoned vehicle was listed as stolen from Stamps, Arkansas, further investigation produced a witness that observed Peters in possession of the vehicle. The witness testified that she saw a young, black male that identified himself as "Nobice" outside of a local club. After a brief conversation, the witness learned that Nobice was from Stamps. She then accompanied him to a white Grand Am, where he inquired if she knew of anyone who could help him get the car started. At the first trial, Peters "admitted" to being in possession of the Grand Am and driving it to Louisiana. Peters stated that he found the car at an old softball field in Stamps and had reason to believe that it was stolen.

In October 2003, Peters was tried and convicted on the previously severed theft-by-receiving count. At this trial, as part of the res gestae of the entire transaction involving the theft, the State introduced testimony from the rape victim identifying Peters as the man that raped and kidnapped her, then stole her car.

On appeal, Peters argues that because he had previously admitted to the elements of theft-by-receiving all evidence of the rape and surrounding circumstances, except his admission, should be excluded. Specifically he argues that the evidence from the prior trial is unfairly prejudicial particularly in light of the fact that he "admitted" to each of the elements of theft-by-receiving.

However, Peters did not offer a guilty plea, but instead put the State to their proof on the theft-by-receiving charge. The State argues that without the entry of a plea they are allowed to prove their case with the evidence as it is and are not limited to Peters's version of the crime. Further, the State contends that the evidence from the prior trial is part of the continuous event that culminated with a theft-by-receiving.

The substance of this appeal involves the circuit court's decision to allow the introduction of evidence of the rape, kidnapping, and burglary to prove the charge of theft-by-receiving. Arkansas Rule of Evidence 403 provides that relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence. Arkansas Rule of Evidence 404(b) states:

(b) Other Crimes, Wrongs, or Acts. Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show that he acted in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.

Evidence offered under Rule 404(b) must be independently relevant, thus having a tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more or less probable than it would be without the evidence. Cook v. State, 345 Ark. 264, 270, 45 S.W.3d 820, 824 (2001). The list of exceptions to inadmissibility in Rule 404(b) is not an exclusive list, but instead, it is representative of the types of circumstances under which evidence of other crimes or wrongs or acts would be relevant and admissible. Id. A circuit court has broad discretion in deciding whether to admit evidence pursuant to Rule 404(b). Arnett v. State, 342 Ark. 66, 78, 27 S.W.3d 721, 728 (2000).

Particularly relevant to this case, evidence of other crimes is admissible under the res gestae exception to 404(b) to establish the facts and circumstances surrounding the alleged commission of the offense. Gaines v. State, 340 Ark. 99, 110, 8 S.W.3d 547, 554 (2000). Under the res gestae exception, the State is entitled to introduce evidence showing all circumstances that explain the charged act, showing a motive for acting, or illustrating the accused's state of mind if other criminal offenses are brought to light. Id. Specifically, all of the circumstances connected with a particular crime may be presented to the jury in order to illustrate the entire transaction. Id. Where separate incidents comprise one continuing criminal episode or an overall criminal transaction, or are intermingled with the crime actually charged, the evidence is admissible. Id.

We are satisfied the circuit court did not err in finding that the evidence of the rape, kidnapping, and burglary was independently relevant. Under the res gestae exception to Rule 404(b), the State was entitled to show that Peters was linked to the victim's apartment, where his semen was found, on the day that her white Grand Am was stolen. At the first trial, the victim testified that she entered her home, placed her keys and purse on the counter, and then she was assaulted, raped, and restrained. While she was restrained, the perpetrator left her home. After he left, she heard a car start up outside. She eventually managed to get her feet untied and retreated to her sister's house. As she was leaving, she did not see her car in the yard. When she returned to her home, she noticed that her purse had been moved and that her keys were missing. She did not see the missing keys again until her car was recovered in Louisiana.

The Arkansas Supreme Court has stated that the State is entitled to prove its case as conclusively as it can. Bledsoe v. State, 344 Ark. 86, 90, 39 S.W.3d 760, 763 (2001). Under the res gestae exception, the State was entitled to establish that, immediately prior to her car being stolen, Peters was present in the victim's home. Here, the DNA evidence indicated that Peters was at the residence where the car was stolen. Thus, the DNA evidence, coupled with the car being identified in Peters's presence, was offered by the State in order to conclusively prove its case. Considering that the evidence of Peters's prior crime fits squarely within the res gestae exception, we see no abuse of discretion and affirm the decision of the trial court.


Pittman and Hart, JJ., agree