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People v. Davis

Court of Appeals of Michigan

July 13, 2017

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JOEL EUSEVIO DAVIS, Defendant-Appellant.

         Wayne Circuit Court LC No. 15-005481-01-FH

          Before: Gleicher, P.J., and M. J. Kelly and Shapiro, JJ.

          Per Curiam

         A jury convicted defendant of aggravated domestic assault (second offense), MCL 750.81a(3), and assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, MCL 750.84. Defendant raises a meritless challenge to the admission of certain photographic evidence. He also raises a legitimate concern over his convictions for two offenses with mutually exclusive provisions. We vacate defendant's domestic assault conviction but otherwise affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant and SS were romantically involved and lived together in Dearborn Heights. At around 4:00 a.m. on June 10, 2015, defendant woke SS to ask her where their ashtray was. Defendant took offense at SS's displeasure over being roused. He pulled SS to the floor by her shirt collar and struck her about the face with his fist and open hand. SS begged defendant to stop, but he told her to "shut up" and threatened, "you're gonna make me have to kill you."

         Defendant eventually terminated the beating and SS escaped to the bathroom. She rinsed blood from her mouth, but could not examine her injuries because her eyes were swollen shut. In the meantime, defendant took SS's truck and left the house. He also carried away SS's purse containing her keys, phone, and $400 cash. Defendant did not stay gone long, however. When he pulled back into the driveway, SS ¶ed the home through a back door. She ran to a neighbor's house and called 911.

         The responding officer described SS's face as "almost unrecognizable" due to significant swelling, bruising, and bleeding. Defendant had left the couple's home again and could not be immediately arrested. SS's mother took her to the hospital, where she underwent X-rays and a CAT scan. A doctor prescribed pain medication and placed SS in a neck brace. Someone at the hospital took photographs to document her injuries.

          The following day, SS and her mother drove past the house and saw her vehicle parked in the driveway. They summoned the police, who forcibly entered and arrested defendant. The prosecution charged defendant with larceny and theft of SS's vehicle, but the jury acquitted him of those charges. The jury convicted defendant of aggravated domestic assault and assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder (AWIGBH).

         II. PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE

         Defendant first contends that the trial court should not have admitted two photographs of SS lying in a hospital bed with a severely bruised face and wearing a neck brace. Defendant contends that although these photographs otherwise accurately depict SS's condition, they were overly prejudicial because SS did not actually suffer a spinal injury requiring a neck brace.

         We review for an abuse of discretion a trial court's decision to admit evidence, including photographs. People v Mills, 450 Mich. 61, 76; 537 N.W.2d 909 (1995), mod on other grounds 450 Mich. 1212 (1995); People v Aldrich, 246 Mich.App. 101, 113; 631 N.W.2d 67 (2001). "An abuse of discretion occurs when the court chooses an outcome that falls outside the range of reasonable and principled outcomes." People v Unger, 278 Mich.App. 210, 217; 749 N.W.2d 272 (2008). Evidence is generally admissible if it is relevant, i.e., has "any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." MRE 401; MRE 402. However, 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 consideration of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence." MRE 403. The "[g]ruesomeness" of a photograph standing alone is insufficient to merit its exclusion. The proper question is "whether the probative value of the photographs is substantially outweighed by unfair prejudice." Mills, 450 Mich. at 76.

         The photographs of SS's bruised and swollen face were highly relevant and probative to establish an essential element of aggravated domestic assault-a "serious or aggravated injury." MCL 750.81a(1). The nature of SS's injuries also tended to establish that defendant acted with the intent to do great bodily harm as required by MCL 750.81(1)(a)-with the "intent to do serious injury of an aggravated nature." People v Brown, 267 Mich.App. 141, 147; 703 N.W.2d 230 (2005) (quotation marks and citation omitted). Accordingly, this evidence was admissible under MRE 402.

         And the photographs were not so prejudicial as to warrant exclusion under MRE 403. All relevant evidence "is prejudicial to some extent." Mills, 450 Mich. at 75 (quotation marks omitted). In Mills, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that photographs graphically depicting a burn victim were relevant, probative and not overly prejudicial where "[t]he photographs [were] accurate factual representations of the injuries suffered by [the victim] and the harm the defendants caused her." Id. at 77. Here, the nature and placement of SS's bruises and lacerations corroborated her testimony about the assault and depicted the seriousness of her injuries. Even if the neck brace was "precautionary" only as argued by defendant, this precaution was required by defendant's actions. It was ...


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