Rochelle Walton v. State of Arkansas

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SEPTEMBER 14, 2005


[NO. 2004-51]




Sam Bird, Judge

Following a bench trial, appellant Rochelle Walton was convicted of first-degree battery and sentenced to 126 months' imprisonment. On appeal, she contends that the trial court erred in denying her motion for a directed verdict because the evidence was not sufficient to show serious physical injury to the victim, Lorane Turner. We affirm.

Arkansas Code Annotated section 5-13-201(a)(1) (Repl. 1997) states as follows:

(a) A person commits battery in the first degree if:

(1) With the purpose of causing serious physical injury to another person, he causes serious physical injury to any person by means of a deadly weapon[.]

For purposes of section 5-13-201(a)(1), "serious physical injury" means physical injury that creates a substantial risk of death or that causes protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health, or loss or protracted impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-1-102(19) (Supp. 2003).

At trial on July 22, 2004, Turner testified that during the early morning hours of January 1, 2004, she encountered her boyfriend, Tony McDougal, as she was walking home from a friend's house. Turner said that she and McDougal began arguing and that Walton came over to them. Turner claimed that Walton said, "I'm tired of you," and struck her in the

face. Turner testified that she and Walton began fighting and that when the fight ended, Walton went to her car, came back, and began to cut Turner. According to her testimony, Turner did not realize that she was being cut during the fight. Turner said that she collapsed at some point and that Walton then "jumped in her car and drove off." Turner also said that she was taken inside a house to wait for an ambulance and that she was subsequently airlifted to a Memphis hospital, where she underwent a blood transfusion. She described her injuries as follows:

I got cut straight across both of my eyes, straight down the side of my face, through my ear.... I got cut five times.... I had plastic surgery.... I remember seeing a lot of blood at the scene once I realized I had been cut. I had got blood all over their furniture in their house and all over their floor. When I first got into the house, they put me in a chair.... Blood was gushing. I had to keep my hand up to my face and blood was gushing through my hand. When I let my face go, my skin was coming with my hand.

Alicia DePriest testified that she saw Turner and Walton fighting and that Turner was "holding her face" with "blood coming between her hands." According to testimony, Turner and DePriest went to DePriest's house after the fight ended. DePriest said that she gave Turner a towel to put on her face and that Turner was "crying, saying she thought her face was going to fall." According to DePriest, there was blood "all over the house."

Matthew Jackson, an officer with the Blytheville Police Department, testified that he was called to DePriest's home on January 1, 2004, and that when he arrived, he found Turner inside. According to Jackson, Turner was "holding her face; she had several cuts about her face, neck, and shoulders. There was a lot of bleeding." Jackson also stated:

She had a large cut on her right temple down to her cheek; a large cut across her right eye and both eyebrows; and there were several cuts on her neck and around the chest and shoulder.

At the close of the State's case, Walton moved for a directed verdict on the grounds that the State had not proven serious physical injury to Turner. The court denied the motion.

Jawina Edmonson, Walton's friend, testified for the defense that she observed Turner and Tony McDougal fighting during the early morning hours of January 1, 2004, and that Turner later came up to Walton and said, "I want Rochelle." Edmonson said that Turner "started the first blow," and that a "fist fight" followed. She said that she did not see Turner bleeding at any time. Lakeisha Newbern, another friend of Walton's, said that she also witnessed the fight between Turner and Walton and that she did not see any blood, other than two drops on Walton.

Walton then testified in her own defense. She said that Turner hit her in the face with her fist, and that she then began hitting Turner with her keys in "self-defense." She said that she did not see any injuries to Turner. She denied having a "blade." She also said that she did not see any blood on Turner and that she did not feel any blood during the fight. She claimed that she had a scratch on her face and "a couple of drops" of blood on her shirt after the fight ended.

Walton renewed her motion for a directed verdict at the close of all of the evidence. The court again denied the motion, and Walton was subsequently convicted of first-degree battery. In finding that Walton's injuries were "serious physical injuries" under the applicable statute, the court noted as follows:

The victim was extensively cut around her face, neck and chest area. She lost [a] significant amount of blood; she was taken by helicopter to the [hospital] in Memphis; she still suffers the scars and disfigurement, serious disfigurement of those injuries, even after plastic surgery.

It is well-settled that a motion for a directed verdict is a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. Atkinson v. State, 347 Ark. 336, 64 S.W.3d 259 (2002). For evidence to be sufficient, there must be substantial evidence to support the verdict, meaning that the evidence must be forceful enough to compel a conclusion one way or the other without having to resort to speculation and conjecture. Smith v. State, 352 Ark. 92, 98 S.W.3d 433(2003). In reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, the court will view the evidence in a light most favorable to the State and consider only the evidence that supports the conviction. Id.

To support her claim that there was insufficient evidence to show that Turner suffered serious physical injury, Walton cites Cook v. State, 2 Ark. App. 278, 621 S.W.2d 224 (1981); Bangs v. State, 338 Ark. 515, 998 S.W.2d 738 (1999); and Johnson v. State, 26 Ark. App. 286, 764 S.W.2d 621 (1989). In Cook, supra, this court affirmed the appellant's conviction for first-degree battery where a physician testified that the victim's injury was "relatively extensive" and also testified as to the length and depth of the cut which caused the injury. Furthermore, in Bangs, supra, our supreme court affirmed an appellant's conviction for first-degree battery where a surgeon testified that the victim had two lacerations on her scalp, each being approximately five centimeters in length; bruises on her head; and blunt injuries to the back of her head. The surgeon also characterized the wounds as "serious physical injuries." Id. In Johnson, supra, there was no testimony presented by a doctor, but there was "ample other testimony describing the severity of the injury," including testimony that the victim was shot at point-blank range; that the bullet was permanently embedded in his heart; and that he was unable to return to work for approximately two and one-half months.

In this case, Walton argues that no physician testified as to the extent of the injuries and that there was no testimony concerning a substantial risk of death, protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health, or loss or protracted impairment of the function of any body member or organ. Thus, Walton claims that the court was left to speculate as to whether the injuries to Turner constituted "serious physical injury" within the meaning of the statute. Whether a victim has sustained a serious physical injury, as is required for a first-degree battery conviction, is an issue for the factfinder. Harmon v. State,340 Ark. 18, 8 S.W.3d 472 (2000). Furthermore, expert medical testimony is not required to prove serious physical injury, as the finder of fact may use its common knowledge to determine whether such injury occurred. See Johnson v. State, 26 Ark. App. 286, 764 S.W.2d 621 (1989).

Here, the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the State shows that Turner was cut a number of times in the head, neck, and chest area and that she lost a significant amount of blood. Turner testified that she held her hand to her face because blood was "gushing," and that when she let go, her skin was "coming with [her] hand." She was later airlifted to a Memphis hospital, where she received a blood transfusion. Turner said that she had undergone plastic surgery, and the court noted her scars and "serious disfigurement" in reaching its decision. Considering the evidence before it, we have no difficulty in holding that there is substantial evidence to support the trial court's conclusion, without resort to speculation or conjecture, that the victim's injuries were serious physical injuries within the meaning of the statute. Therefore, we affirm.


Baker and Roaf, JJ., agree.