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State v. Sallis

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 6, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
ERIC CORTEZ SALLIS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, Linda M. Fangman, Judge.

         A defendant appeals his convictions for domestic abuse assault with intent to cause serious injury and domestic abuse assault causing bodily injury.

          Nicholas T. Larson, of Larson Law Office, P.L.L.C., Osage, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kyle P. Hanson and Tyler J. Buller, Assistant Attorneys General, for appellee.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and McDonald, JJ.

          MCDONALD, Judge.

         A jury found Eric Sallis guilty of domestic abuse assault with intent to cause serious injury, in violation of Iowa Code section 708.2A(2)(c) (2016), and domestic abuse assault causing bodily injury, in violation of section 708.2A(2)(b). The district court sentenced Sallis to two years' incarceration. Sallis appeals his convictions, contending the district court committed evidentiary error and there is insufficient evidence to support the convictions.

         At approximately one o'clock in the morning on January 31, 2016, Kavina Walker went to the Waterloo Police Department to report she had been assaulted by her live-in boyfriend, Sallis. Walker was panicking, upset, mad, and crying. Walker reported Sallis hit her and then kicked her when she fell to the ground. Walker told the interviewing officers she was in pain and needed to go to the hospital. An officer took photographs of Walker's injuries, which included significant swelling to the side of her face consistent with her report. The Waterloo Fire Department transported Walker to a local hospital for treatment of her injuries. On the same night, Walker's sister, Quinnisha Hodges, provided a statement to the police. She told the officer she witnessed Sallis kick Walker when Walker was lying on the ground. She also stated she chased Sallis away from the scene. Hodges' interview with the police was recorded.

         A different story emerged at trial. Walker testified she spent much of the day in question drinking to celebrate her birthday. She testified that late on the night of the 30th she picked up Sallis and they drove around while drinking. She testified they then drove to her cousin's house to "sit there and drink." According to Walker's testimony, there were a number of people at the house already drinking by the time she and Sallis arrived. Walker testified she was at the party for only fifteen to thirty minutes. Upon leaving the party, Walker testified, she was attacked by a pedestrian who happened to be walking by her cousin's house when she exited the house. The assault only ended when Hodges came out of the house and interrupted the fight. Walker testified she told the police Sallis attacked her only because she was mad at Sallis after the two exchanged words regarding Walker's ex-boyfriend, who was expected to arrive at the party.

         Sallis testified he and Walker drove to Walker's cousin's house but he left after only a few minutes and walked to his sister's house. He testified he left the party to avoid a confrontation with Walker's ex-boyfriend, who was expected to arrive at the party. He testified Walker was at the party when he left and he did not assault Walker.

         Hodges testified she had no recollection of the events on the night in question because she was too intoxicated. At trial, Hodges testified she was drunk when she went to the police station and could not recall her statements to the police. The recorded interview was then played for Hodges outside the presence of the jury to refresh her recollection. Hodges then testified viewing the video did not refresh her recollection of the interview. The district court then allowed the video to be played for the jury as a recorded recollection.

         The State's case consisted of the testimony of the officers who interviewed Walker and Hodges at the police station on the night in question and the video of Hodges' interview. Waterloo Police Department Sergeant Matt McGeough testified he was present at the police station when he heard a violent pounding at the back door. When he opened the door, he encountered Walker. Walker was "pretty distraught and very emotionally upset, saying she had just been assaulted." McGeough testified he interviewed Walker. Officer Walter was present during the interview. Both McGeough and Walter testified, over counsel's hearsay objections, that Walker reported Sallis had hit and kicked her. The defendant also interposed a hearsay objection to Officer Brownell's testimony regarding the same subject.

         Sallis argues the district court erred in allowing the officers to testify regarding the statements Walker made during her police interview. Specifically, he contends the testimony was hearsay.[1] We review hearsay claims for correction of errors at law. See State v. Smith, 876 N.W.2d 180, 184 (Iowa 2016). Whether a statement constitutes hearsay is a legal issue, "leaving the trial court no discretion on whether to admit or deny admission of the statement." Id. However, we give deference to the factual findings of the district court and uphold those findings if they are supported by substantial evidence. See State v. Long, 628 N.W.2d 440, 447 (Iowa 2001).

         Hearsay is a statement the declarant does not make while testifying at the current trial or hearing and which is offered into evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted. See Iowa R. Evid. 5.801. As a general rule, hearsay is inadmissible unless an exception applies. See Iowa R. Evid. 5.802. One such exception to the general rule is the "excited utterance" exception, which allows for the admission of "[a] statement relating to a startling ...

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