Bedford v. State

Decision Date28 June 2006
Docket NumberNo. CA CR 04-706.,CA CR 04-706.
Citation237 S.W.3d 516
PartiesTheresa BEDFORD, Appellant v. STATE of Arkansas, Appellee.
CourtArkansas Court of Appeals

S. Butler Bernard, Jr., West Memphis, for appellant.

Mike Beebe, Att'y Gen., by: Brad Newman, Ass't Att'y Gen., Little Rock, for appellee.

KAREN R. BAKER, Judge.

This is the second appeal in this revocation case. On November 26, 1996, appellant Theresa Bedford pleaded guilty to forgery and received a ten-year suspended imposition of sentence. The State filed a revocation petition on February 12, 2004, and a revocation hearing was held on March 4, 2004. After the hearing, the trial court found that appellant had violated the conditions of her suspended sentence by failing to pay fines and costs, and by committing a forgery, and entered an order sentencing her to four years in prison.

In the first appeal, appellant's counsel argued that the appeal was wholly without merit pursuant to Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738, 87 S.Ct. 1396, 18 L.Ed.2d 493 (1967) and Rule 4-3(j)(1) of the Rules of the Arkansas Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. In an unpublished opinion, Bedford v. State, CACR 04-706, 2006 WL 52765 (January 11, 2006), we ordered rebriefing on the grounds that appellant was entitled to an adversarial presentation by her counsel on the issue of whether the trial court's decision to revoke was clearly against the preponderance of the evidence.

In her adversarial brief, appellant presents two arguments for reversal. First, she asserts that the trial court erred in finding that she violated her conditions by failing to pay fines and costs because the written conditions of her suspended sentence did not require such payments. The State concedes error on this point, and we agree. Second, she argues that the trial court erred in finding that she committed a forgery and subsequently violated her probation. We agree and reverse.

The disposition of this case requires the application of permissible inferences by the trial court in the context of a probation revocation based upon an accusation of forgery. The State has the burden to prove a violation of a condition of probation by a preponderance of the evidence. Lemons v. State, 310 Ark. 381, 836 S.W.2d 861 (1992). This burden is not as great in a revocation hearing; therefore, evidence that is insufficient for a criminal conviction may be sufficient for revocation. Bradley v. State, 347 Ark. 518, 65 S.W.3d 874 (2002). If a court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a defendant has inexcusably failed to comply with a condition of his or her probation, it may revoke the probation. Ark.Code Ann. § 5-4-309(d) (Repl.2006). The trial court's findings will be upheld unless they are clearly against the preponderance of the evidence; and because the determination of a preponderance of the evidence turns on the questions of credibility and weight to be given testimony, on review, the appellate courts will defer to the trial judge's superior position. Id.

The State argues that the trial court properly revoked appellant's suspended sentence for attempting to cash a check that was written on a closed account. The State cites Arkansas Code Annotated section 5-37-201(a) (Repl.2006), which provides:

A person forges a written instrument if with purpose to defraud he draws, makes, completes, alters, counterfeits, possesses, or utters any written instrument that purports to be or is calculated to become or to represent if completed the act of a person who did not authorize that act.1

In its argument, the State contends that the trial court found that appellant's presentation of a check on a closed account was a sufficient basis to revoke her suspended sentence and relies upon the principle that possession of a forged instrument by someone who seeks to utter it without any reasonable explanation of how she acquired it warrants an inference that the possessor committed the forgery. See Mayes v. State, 264 Ark. 283, 291, 571 S.W.2d 420, 425 (1978); DeShazer v. State, 94 Ark.App. 363, 230 S.W.3d 285 (2006). However, that premise does not apply on the facts of this case because the State failed to prove that the check at issue was a forged instrument.

To prove that the check issued was forged, the State relied upon the testimony of an employee of the supermarket, Bruce Avan. He stated that he is employed at a Big Star grocery store in West Memphis. He further testified that, in September 2003, appellant cashed a check made out to her in the amount of $1220 at the store. In order to cash the check, appellant presented her driver's license, a photocopy of which is on the back of the check. According to Mr. Avan, the check was returned by the bank with "Account Closed" stamped on it, and Big Star never recovered the money it paid to appellant.

The State also elicited testimony from Mr. Avan that he had previously dealt with appellant and that "we have had other forgeries from her." Mr. Avan alleged that appellant had been banned from the store but that "she comes anyway." In addition, Mr. Avan related the following incident that occurred after appellant passed the check on the closed account:

I know that she came back in our store after that and presented another check to be cashed and the assistant manager recognized the name and knew we had problems with her. We had not received the first check back yet. The assistant manager said to me, "let me look at it." [Appellant] said "no, that's okay, I'll just get it cashed somewhere else." She left without letting me see the check.

Officer Bernice Franks, employed by the West Memphis Police Department, CID Division, testified regarding the investigation of the passing of the check. Officer Franks explained that the check presented by appellant was made out to appellant, endorsed by appellant, and had superimposed upon the back of the check a picture of a driver's licensed issued by the State of Arkansas to appellant. The officer also stated that all of that information was on the check when Mr. Avan provided the check to the police. Officer Franks further described attempts to connect appellant with other fraudulent passing of checks but stated that the department could not identify her as the perpetrator. In particular, there was another check drawn on the same entity and cashed at Fidelity National Bank, although the department could never link appellant to the passing of that check.

Appellant testified on her own behalf, and asserted that she earned the $1220 check while working for Gates Cleaning Service in Memphis. Appellant gave a phone number and address for the company, and indicated that she performed cleaning work from April through early September 2003, and that the check at issue was the last paycheck she received. She stated that her boss was a man named Cedric Yates. Appellant acknowledged that she had committed forgeries in the past and that she has three previous forgery convictions, but maintained that the transaction at issue was legitimate.

Given this evidence, we cannot say that the State proved that the check was forged. While Mr. Avan testified that the check was returned stamped "account closed," there was no evidence as to when the account was closed, particularly as to whether the account was closed prior to the date the check was allegedly issued or presented by appellant to the supermarket. In fact, Mr. Avan testified that he did not know the specific date that the store received the check. The State presented no evidence to prove that the check was issued or presented for payment after the date the account was closed. Although the State argues that the evidence permitted the trial court to conclude that appellant presented a check knowing that the bank account was closed, that argument must fail when the record is void of any evidence that the account was closed prior to its issuance or its presentation by appellant to the supermarket.

While the drawing of reasonable inferences from the testimony is for the trial judge as fact-finder, not this court, DeShazer, supra, when the record contains no evidence as to when a checking account is closed in relationship to when the check was issued or passed, the record cannot support the inference that the account was closed prior to the issuance or passing of the check. In arguing that this court must defer to the trial court's determination of credibility, the State quotes the trial judge's description of appellant as a "career check passer," and asserts that the court's description suggests that the judge believed this incident to be yet another attempt by her to fraudulently obtain money. The State argues that we must defer to the trial judge's superior position to assess appellant's credibility.

We agree with the State's general proposition regarding permissible inferences from possession of a forged instrument. Possession of a forged instrument by one who offers it without any reasonable explanation of the manner in which she acquired it warrants an...

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9 cases
  • Cannon v. State
    • United States
    • Arkansas Court of Appeals
    • October 20, 2010
    ...proceeding; therefore, evidence that is insufficient for a criminal conviction may be sufficient for revocation. Bedford v. State, 96 Ark. App. 38, 237 S.W.3d 516 (2006). We do not reverse a trial court's findings on appeal unless they are clearly against the preponderance of the evidence. ......
  • Holmes v. State, CA CR 08-1274 (Ark. App. 5/20/2009)
    • United States
    • Arkansas Court of Appeals
    • May 20, 2009
    ...proceeding; therefore, evidence that is insufficient for a criminal conviction may be sufficient for revocation. Bedford v. State, 96 Ark. App. 38, 237 S.W.3d 516 (2006). We do not reverse a trial court's findings on appeal unless they are clearly against the preponderance of the evidence. ......
  • Murry v. State Of Ark.
    • United States
    • Arkansas Court of Appeals
    • November 17, 2010
    ...proceeding; therefore, evidence that is insufficient for a criminal conviction may be sufficient for revocation. Bedford v. State, 96 Ark. App. 38, 237 S.W.3d 516 (2006). We do not reverse a trial court's findings on appeal unless they are clearly against the preponderance of the evidence. ......
  • Barton v. State
    • United States
    • Arkansas Court of Appeals
    • June 28, 2006
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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