Battle v. State

Decision Date03 September 2021
Docket Number No. 485, Sept. Term, 2020,No. 1654, Sept. Term, 2019,1654, Sept. Term, 2019
Citation252 Md.App. 280,258 A.3d 1009
Parties Raphael BATTLE v. STATE of Maryland
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Argued by: Kristin C. Tracy (Thomas M. Donnelly, Law Offices of Thomas M. Donnelly, LLC, Baltimore, MD & Mark W. Howes, Alexander J. Sass, Law Offices of Mark W. Howes, LLC, Annapolis, MD), all on the briefs, for Appellant.

Argued by: Andrew J. Dimiceli (Brian E. Frosh, Atty. Gen., on the brief), Baltimore, MD, for Appellee.

Panel: Kehoe, Arthur, Wells, JJ.

CONSOLIDATED

Arthur, J.

Raphael Battle, a federal law enforcement officer, was charged with first-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence. A Baltimore City jury acquitted him of first-degree assault, but was unable to reach a verdict on the other charges, including the lesser-included offense of second-degree assault.

At a second trial, the jury convicted Battle of second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence. The circuit court sentenced Battle to five years’ incarceration without the possibility for parole.

Battle noted an appeal. That appeal is No. 1654 of the September 2019 Term.

While his appeal was pending, Battle moved to vacate the jury verdict on the ground of jurisdictional mistake under former Md. Rule 4-331(b)(1)(B).1 The court denied the motion, and Battle noted a second appeal. That appeal is No. 0485 of the September 2020 Term.

We consolidated the two appeals. For the reasons stated herein, we conclude that the court did not err in denying the motion to vacate the jury verdict, but that it erred in admitting inadmissible hearsay at Battle's second trial. Therefore, we reverse the convictions and remand for a new trial.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This case arises from an incident that occurred in the early morning hours at a convenience store in Baltimore City. Battle and another man, Devin King, had an altercation. Battle, claiming that he felt threatened, drew his service weapon and pushed King to the ground. Employees of the store called the police, who arrested Battle after they had interviewed both Battle and King.

A. Convenience Store Video Footage

At trial, the State submitted video evidence depicting the incident. There was no audio on either video.

A video from the interior of the store shows Devin King walking up and down the aisles and picking up groceries from the shelves at approximately 1:30 a.m. Moments later, Battle enters the store. At that point, a small crowd of customers is waiting around the cash register and the front counter, obstructing Battle's path.

Among the crowd is King, who is facing away from the check-out counter and looking at the items on display at the end of an aisle. Battle walks past him, towards an ATM. As Battle passes by the crowd of people obstructing his path, he turns his body, attempts to slide through, and appears to brush against King's back.

King immediately turns to Battle and says something to him as Battle continues to walk to the ATM. The two begin exchanging words, King standing near the front of the store and Battle in the far corner. As they continue arguing, Battle briefly moves behind the counter to get closer to King, but then moves back to the far corner of the store. King pays for his items and leaves the store. Battle exits the store immediately afterwards.

The video of the store's parking lot depicts King exiting the store and walking to the right, towards the road. Battle leaves the store and goes straight, in the direction of his car, which is parked at a gas pump. Battle walks to the front of his car and looks in King's direction. On the video, King is hardly visible, in the darkness beyond the parking lot of the convenience store.

Standing about 30 feet apart, the two are still exchanging words. Battle removes his gun from his holster, places it at his side, and walks briskly towards King, passing his car and a gas pump to reach him. King walks several feet closer to Battle until the two are only a few feet apart. King is holding a plastic bag with groceries from the store in each hand.

Battle places his hand on King's shoulder and pushes him to the ground, causing King to drop his bags. While King is on the ground, Battle raises his gun from his side and points it at King. King stands up, says something to Battle, and scampers backward as Battle continues to point the gun at him. At the end of the video, several store employees emerge from the store to investigate.

B. Battle's Testimony

Battle was a plainclothes law enforcement officer with the United States Department of Homeland Security. As such, he was authorized to carry a handgun.

Battle testified that, on the evening when the alleged assault occurred, he was on his way to his office in Baltimore, where he was going to pick up a transponder to send information that had been gathered during his investigations. He stopped at the convenience store because he needed gas.

Battle said that, when he attempted to get past King in the convenience store, he "said, ‘Excuse me’ to the gentleman a couple times." After the pair made the initial contact, King allegedly turned and said, "Why the fuck are you bumping into me?" Battle claimed that he "[did not] want to get into a confrontation with [King]."

According to Battle, King yelled, "Man, I should fuck you up" while the two were in the store. Battle said that he generally kept his distance from King, but that he "pretty much was standing up for [him]self, telling [King], like, ‘No, man, I'm not going to let you do that. Just go and get your stuff, go on about your business.’ "

Battle testified that King exited the store and walked to the right. Battle exited the store as well, and headed straight towards his car. There was "no conversation at that point." Battle claimed that, while walking away, King yelled across the lot, "I hope you don't think this is over, motherfucker," "Oh, I got something for you," "You ain't going to make it out of here tonight," and "I'm going to bust your fucking head."

Battle testified that, while King was yelling, he (Battle) had approached the rear of his car to take the gas pump out. At that point, Battle said that he "felt as though [King] was going to try something, and [he] didn't want to be in a vulnerable predicament[ ] being behind the gas pump."

Because of King's verbal threats, Battle said that he "believed [King] was going to harm [him]." In accordance with what he described as his federal training, Battle produced his weapon to establish "officer presence." Battle walked towards King, identified himself as a law enforcement officer, and asked King to show him his hands.

Battle testified that, as he made his approach, King tugged at his shirt, suggesting to Battle that King might have a gun. Because of the perceived threats and the possibility King was armed, Battle said that he considered his interaction with King "an emergency situation." Battle claimed to "believe[ ] that Mr. King posed a threat."

After Battle's approach, King closed the remaining space of about 10 to 12 feet between them. Battle testified:

At that point, I'm taught to create space, and this is why you see me push him away. I push him away because he makes a ... quick kind of, like, lunge at me. When he makes that lunge I push back to create that space from him.

Battle, who claimed to be acting in his accordance with his training and status as a federal law enforcement officer, testified that he had no intention of arresting King at any point before the "lunge." He believed that he did not have the right to arrest King until that point.

C. Objection to Bodycam Footage

On the second day of trial, the State questioned the arresting officer, Sergeant Degele. The sergeant testified that, upon arriving at the scene on the night of the incident, he had interviewed both Battle and King. The footage of the interviews was captured via Sgt. Degele's body-worn camera.

The State requested permission to play just the portion of the footage that showed the discussion between Sgt. Degele and Battle. The prosecutor recognized that the remainder of the footage, containing the officer's conversation with King, was objectionable, presumably because it included King's hearsay account of his encounter with Battle. Accordingly, the prosecutor informed the court that King's interview was "not going to be played." The State played the bodycam footage featuring Sgt. Degele's interview with Battle.

On cross-examination, counsel for Battle asked Sgt. Degele if he had asked King to take a drug test. Sgt. Degele responded that he had not.

At a bench conference during the re-direct examination of Sgt. Degele, the State argued that Battle had "opened the door" to the admission of the footage of King's conversation with Sgt. Degele. The State argued that the jury should be allowed to form its own opinion about King after defense counsel's insinuation that King was on drugs. The court agreed and, over Battle's objection, permitted the State to play the recording showing King's recollection of the incident. The State then played the footage of Sgt. Degele's interview with King:

[SGT. DEGELE]: All right. What happened?
[KING]: I'm in the store. Like, I just came from home. Well, I came in the store. I walked around, getting my little groceries, whatever, you feel me. I'm standing right here getting a Slim Jim.
It's like how he said it, but he's seeing me grabbing a Slim Jim. He's just being aggressive for nothing. Even on the camera, you can see. I'm being aggressive, but not -- [SGT. DEGELE]: What did he say to you?
[KING]: He said, "Move out the way. You seen me." I said, "What you doing all that for, sir? Like, what are you doing that for? Like, you see me grabbing a Slim Jim. I'm getting out of everybody's way." I said -- I even told the other people, "Excuse me." You feel me? He's being aggressive for nothing. For nothing, like. I said,
...

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