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Williams v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

March 30, 2017

HAROLD EUGENE WILLIAMS
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

          Arthur, Reed, Zarnoch, Robert A. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned) JJ.

          OPINION

          ARTHUR, J.

         Appellant Harold Eugene Williams had an altercation with his girlfriend, Angela Swan, after reading a series of text messages between her and other men. An Anne Arundel County jury convicted Williams of second-degree assault, but he was acquitted of first-degree assault, reckless endangerment, a number of weapons offenses, and posting revenge porn in violation of Md. Code (2002, 2012 Repl. Vol., 2016 Supp.), § 3-809 of the Criminal Law Article.

         In Williams's timely appeal, he complains of the trial court's admission of his prior conviction for battery on cross-examination of his character witnesses and of the court's response to a jury question. Finding no error or abuse of discretion, we affirm.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY[1]

         Williams and Swan were involved in an intimate relationship from 2012 to October of 2015. Although they did not live together, Swan had a key to Williams's house, often stayed overnight, and kept her belongings there. Swan testified that in the last few months of their relationship they had argued frequently.

         On October 23, 2015, Swan stayed at Williams's house at his request. The next morning, while Swan was in the bathroom, wearing only a shirt, her cell phone started ringing.

         Williams was near her phone at the time. He noticed a text message from a man whom Swan had denied knowing only days earlier. Williams read the man's text messages, along with messages from three other men. He saw that Swan had sent a nude photograph to someone. Williams grabbed Swan's cell phone and confronted her in the bathroom.

         Swan claimed that Williams called her a "bitch, " accused her of cheating on him, shoved her against the bathroom wall, threw her phone towards her, hit her upper body, pushed her to the floor, and kicked her while she was on the floor on her back, all the while demanding that she leave. According to Swan, she said that she would leave, and Williams backed away, but continued yelling at her. After a few moments, she went upstairs to gather her clothes and belongings. She claimed that Williams threw her pants down the stairs and held a gun to her head while he was using her phone to tell someone to come and get her before he killed her. She also claimed that he pushed her down the stairs as she begged him to let her leave. After Williams allegedly pushed her into a closet and took her purse, she claimed that she was able to escape, with a towel wrapped around herself, and with some of his possessions (which she said she intended to trade for hers). She said that she found her pants and some of her belongings outside of the house.

         After the confrontation, Swan drove to a nearby convenience store to call 911. She told the operator that Williams had attacked her and held a gun to her head, but that she did not need medical attention.

         A police officer arrived. He spoke to Swan, who was "visibly upset, " "shaking, " and "crying a lot." She told the officer that Williams had physically assaulted her, pulled a gun on her, and pushed her down the stairs. The officer requested emergency medical services, but Swan refused treatment.[2]

         The officer went to Williams's house and retrieved Swan's phone. After he returned it to her, Swan received a call on her cell phone from a friend. The friend told Swan to check her Facebook account because nude photographs of her had been posted on her Facebook page. The officer showed Swan how to delete the posting.

         Testifying in his own defense, Williams denied punching or kicking Swan or threatening her with a gun. He claimed that after looking at the information in her phone and discovering evidence of her infidelity, including the nude picture that she had sent to another man, he had ordered her out of his house. He admitted that he had "tried to grab the towel" that she had around her waist and that he "tried to push her out the front door." Williams denied that he owned a gun.

         Williams called Arkina Taylor, his former neighbor, as a character witness. Taylor said she had known Williams for ten years and that he was her "best friend." Taylor offered her opinion that Williams was a "hard-working fun-loving guy that just likes to have a good time." She testified that he had a reputation in the community as being a "[p]eaceful" person and that she had "never" seen him with a firearm or become violent.

         When given the opportunity to cross-examine Taylor, the State asked to approach the bench, and the following colloquy occurred:

[STATE]: . . . Now that she has said he's a peaceful person --
[COURT]: Uh-huh.
[STATE]: -- the State is entitled to rebut that by asking her if she's aware that he has a prior conviction for battery.[[3]
[COURT]: Uh-huh. I think you are, too. Do you want to say anything about it?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: I do. I think that the State should not be allowed to do that. If the State knew the specific facts of what that battery is, they --
[COURT]: Well, why would that be, because I don't think the State is allowed to get into the facts; all they're allowed to do is ask that single question. Remember, they're not allowed to say or ask for their --
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: I would think at this point, that they're referring to a conviction back in 1990 and I think it's certainly more prejudicial than probative and I don't think the State should be allowed --
[STATE]: It is 1990, Your Honor.
[COURT]: 1990. If she's known him for 10 years --
[STATE]: But they're -- it's her best friend, so it's very relevant if she [sic] ever told him if she is aware of his prior convictions --
[COURT]: Uh-huh.
[STATE]: -- that he's a peaceful and non-violent man. I mean it's completely relevant, Your Honor.
[THE COURT]: Uh-huh. I think it is, too.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: And I would just argue that this is a conviction that ...

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