Easlick v. State

Citation90 P.3d 556,2004 OK CR 21
Decision Date03 May 2004
Docket NumberNo. F 2003-70.,F 2003-70.
PartiesRodney Eugene EASLICK, Appellant, v. STATE of Oklahoma, Appellee.
CourtUnited States State Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma. Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma

90 P.3d 556
2004 OK CR 21

Rodney Eugene EASLICK, Appellant,
v.
STATE of Oklahoma, Appellee

No. F 2003-70.

Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma.

May 3, 2004.


90 P.3d 557
Anthony McKesson, Assistant Public Defender, Oklahoma City, OK, attorneys for defendant at trial

Ashley Altshuler, Assistant District Attorney, Oklahoma City, OK, attorneys for the State at trial.

Wendell B. Sutton, Assistant Public Defender, Oklahoma City, OK, attorney for appellant on appeal.

W.A. Drew Edmondson, Oklahoma Attorney General, Jennifer J. Dickson, Assistant Attorney General, Oklahoma City, OK, attorneys for appellee on appeal.

SUMMARY OPINION

LILE, Vice Presiding Judge.

¶ 1 Appellant, Rodney Eugene Easlick, was convicted, after a jury trial, of Trafficking in Illegal Drugs (Cocaine Base), after former conviction of one felony, in Oklahoma County Case No. CF-2001-1430, before the Honorable Susan P. Caswell, District Judge. Judge Caswell sentenced Appellant to forty-five years imprisonment after the jury failed to agree on a sentence. Appellant has perfected his appeal of the Judgment and Sentence to this Court.

¶ 2 Appellant raises the following propositions of error in support of his appeal:

1. Mr. Easlick's conviction for Trafficking in Illegal Drugs must be reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss because the State presented insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the essential elements of knowledge and possession.

2. Mr. Easlick's rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments, article II, §§ 7 & 20 of the Oklahoma constitution, and Okla. Stat. Tit. 22, §§ 583, 912 (2001), were violated when, prior to the impaneling and swearing of the jury, the trial court held his trial in abstentia over objection.

3. Mr. Easlick's 45-year sentence was based on irrelevant and/or improper factors thus requiring a sentence modification.

¶ 3 After thorough consideration of the entire record before us on appeal, we have determined that Appellant's convictions should be AFFIRMED.

¶ 4 In reaching our decision, we find, in proposition one, that there was sufficient evidence to exclude every reasonable hypothesis but guilt. Jackson v. State, 1998 OK CR 39, 964 P.2d 875. We also take this opportunity to reexamine our antiquated dual testing procedure on the sufficiency of the evidence depending on the type of evidence relied on; circumstantial or direct. We find it is time that we abolish the "reasonable hypothesis" test and adopt a unified approach in examining sufficiency issues.

¶ 5 Thirty-two states and all of the federal circuits utilize a unified approach when examining the sufficiency of the evidence.1

90 P.3d 558
These tests are based on the test found in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1970)
Whether after reviewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the State, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt.

¶ 6 The reasonable hypothesis test was formed at a time when circumstantial evidence was universally distrusted. See Commonwealth v. Webster, 59 Mass. 295, 296 (1850) (first reference to a reasonable hypothesis test). However, given the current instructions defining direct and circumstantial evidence, the equal footing on which both types of evidence stand, along with the strength of the reasonable doubt standard, the fear of circumstantial evidence becomes unfounded.

¶ 7 In Holland v. United States, 348 U.S. 121, 139-40, 75 S.Ct. 127, 137-38, 99 L.Ed. 150 (1954), the Supreme Court held, if a proper reasonable doubt instruction is given, a jury need not be instructed that circumstantial evidence must be so strong as to exclude every reasonable hypothesis other than guilt.

¶ 8 The Supreme Court reasoned that:

[I]n both instances the jury is asked to weigh the chances that the evidence correctly points to guilt against the possibility of inaccuracy or ambiguous inference. In both, the jury must use its experience with people and events in weighing probabilities. If the jury is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, we can require no more.

Holland, 348 U.S. at 140, 75 S.Ct. at 137. The Court admits that circumstantial evidence may point to a wholly incorrect result, but they point out that the same could be said of testimonial evidence. Id. Direct evidence, whether in the form of eye witness testimony, or exhibits may point to an incorrect result.

¶ 9 However, in both cases a jury is asked to consider the evidence, "draw such reasonable inferences from the testimony and exhibits as you feel are justified when considered with the aid of the knowledge which you each possess in common with other persons... make deductions and reach conclusions which reason and common sense lead you to draw from the fact which you find to have been established by the testimony and evidence in the case." OUJI-CR 2d 9-1 (1996), see Holland, 348 U.S. at 140, 75 S.Ct. at 137-38.2

¶ 10 The earliest case in Oklahoma utilizing the "reasonable hypothesis" test is Sies v. State, 6 Okl.Cr. 142, 117 P. 504 (1911). This Court set forth the test as follows:

If the facts and circumstances are of such a character as to fairly permit an inference consistent with innocence, they cannot be regarded as sufficient evidence to support a conviction. The general rule in criminal cases is that, where the evidence is circumstantial, the facts shown must not only be consistent with and point to the guilt of the defendant, but must be inconsistent with his innocence.

Id. 117 P. at 505. In Sies, the defendant was found with a marked one-dollar bill which agents gave a witness to purchase whisky. However, the witness testified that he did not directly purchase whisky from Sies. These facts only raised a mere suspicion regarding the guilt of the defendant. The same result would have been reached had this Court utilized the test found in Spuehler v. State, 1985 OK CR 132, 709 P.2d 202, 203-04.

90 P.3d 559
¶ 11 There is no difference in the weight given circumstantial evidence or direct evidence. See OUJI-CR 2d 9-4 (1996)("the law makes no distinction between the weight to be given to either direct or circumstantial evidence"); also see Gilbert v. State, 1997 OK CR 71, 951 P.2d 98, 120 (where the prosecutor told the jury that circumstantial evidence should not be considered inferior to direct evidence, this Court held that the comment was a correct statement of the law). Despite this view, this Court still utilizes two separate tests for the weighing of circumstantial evidence versus direct evidence when it comes to the sufficiency of evidence in a criminal case

¶ 12 In a more recent case, White v. State, 1995 OK CR 15, 900 P.2d 982, 994, the special concurrence points out that the "dichotomy stems from an antiquated notion" that direct evidence is more valuable than circumstantial evidence. A more uniform standard is necessary to reduce jury confusion and to underscore the belief that there is no difference in the weight to be given circumstantial evidence and direct evidence.

¶ 13 In New Jersey v. Mayberry, 52 N.J. 413, 245 A.2d 481, 493 (1968), citing People v. Sullivan, 22 Ill.2d 122, 174 N.E.2d 860, 861 (1962), the Court made an astute observation when it stated that it is clear that the standard of the "reasonable hypothesis" test excluding all theories of innocence, "was never applied literally, for if it had been it would have unreasonably defeated many legitimate prosecutions based on circumstantial evidence where it was possible to devise speculative hypothesis consistent with the defendant's innocence."

¶ 14 The Court went on to say that:

[T]he proper issue is simply whether the evidence, viewed in its entirety including the legitimate inferences there from, is sufficient to enable a jury to find that the state's charge has been established beyond a reasonable doubt.

Id. The Supreme Court of Vermont stated:

In determining whether there is sufficient evidence to convince a reasonable trier of fact that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, trial and appellate courts face a difficult task. Judicial scrutiny of evidentiary sufficiency requires courts to make complex, subjective decisions. This enterprise is ill served by reliance upon the discredited suspicion of circumstantial evidence. The proper focus of judicial review should be the quality and strength of the evidence, whether direct or circumstantial.

Vermont v. Derouchie, 140 Vt. 437, 440 A.2d 146, 150 (1981).

¶ 15 Because the "reasonable hypothesis" test is based on antiquated ideas concerning the value of circumstantial evidence and because we have a test that can be utilized in a universal manner, the "reasonable hypothesis" test should meet its demise in this State in accord with the vast majority of jurisdictions. The Spuehler test for insufficiency is broad enough to utilize when weighing evidence, both circumstantial and direct. Therefore, in the future, we will review sufficiency of evidence issues under the Spuehler standard, regardless of whether the evidence is wholly circumstantial or whether it is based in whole or in part on direct evidence.3

¶ 16 In proposition two, we find that Appellant voluntarily waived his right to be present during trial by failing to appear on the second day of trial, during voir dire proceedings. Gregg v. State, 1992 OK CR 82, 844 P.2d 867, 876-77; Bowie v. State, 1991 OK CR 78, 816 P.2d 1143, 1147.

¶ 17 In proposition three we find that the sentence does not shock the conscience of

90 P.3d 560
this court, and there is no evidence that the trial court abused its authority in determining punishment. Rea v. State, 2001 OK CR 28, ¶ 5, 34 P.3d 148, 149; Riley v. State, 1997 OK CR 51, 947 P.2d 530, 535; Freeman v. State, 1994 OK CR 37, 876 P.2d 283, 291.

DECISION

¶ 18 The Judgment and Sentence of the trial court is AFFIRMED.

JOHNSON, P.J. and LUMPKIN, J., concur.

CHAPEL and STRUBHAR, JJ., dissent.

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