State v. Guthrie

Decision Date25 June 1999
Docket NumberNo. 25790.,25790.
Citation205 W.Va. 326,518 S.E.2d 83
CourtWest Virginia Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of West Virginia, Plaintiff Below, Appellee, v. Charles Barry GUTHRIE, Defendant Below, Appellant.

Darrell V. McGraw, Jr., Attorney General, Barbara H. Allen, Managing Deputy Attorney General, Scott E. Johnson, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Charleston, West Virginia, Attorneys for the Appellee.

Gregory J. Campbell, Campbell & Turkaly, Charleston, West Virginia, Attorney for the Appellant.

DAVIS, Justice:

Charles B. Guthrie, appellant herein and defendant below, (hereinafter "Mr. Guthrie"), appeals his conviction of sexual assault of his spouse.1 The Circuit Court of Kanawha County sentenced Mr. Guthrie to two to ten years' imprisonment in the State penitentiary. On appeal to this Court, Mr. Guthrie makes several assignments of error. Mr. Guthrie first argues that the trial court erred by granting the State's motion in limine to exclude the results of certain DNA testing. Additionally, Mr. Guthrie asserts that the trial court erred by admitting certain custodial statements. Finally, Mr. Guthrie argues that the State committed prosecutorial misconduct by seeking and obtaining an indictment with the felony offense of second degree sexual assault even though the parties were married at the time of the assault. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the conviction of Mr. Guthrie.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Mr. Guthrie, and the victim, Stephanie Guthrie (hereinafter "Mrs. Guthrie"), were married in 1991.2 One child was born to the couple.3 Mr. Guthrie was a self-employed brick mason. Mrs. Guthrie was not employed outside of the parties' home. The record shows that the couple had marital problems centered around household finances. Although the couple separated briefly as a result of financial problems, they subsequently reconciled.

On April 14, 1996, Mrs. Guthrie returned home from a week long visit with her father in Ohio.4 The testimony at trial indicated that Mr. Guthrie started an argument with Mrs. Guthrie upon her return. The argument involved household finances, as well as Mr. Guthrie's belief that Mrs. Guthrie was being unfaithful to him. Mrs. Guthrie testified that Mr. Guthrie began beating her. Mr. Guthrie denied the allegations. Testimony by the couple's oldest child corroborated that Mrs. Guthrie was beaten by Mr. Guthrie. Additional testimony by Mrs. Guthrie indicated that Mr. Guthrie forced her to engage in sexual intercourse. While Mr. Guthrie denied having intercourse, the couples oldest child nevertheless testified to seeing Mr. Guthrie half-clothed and lying on top of Mrs. Guthrie.

Mr. Guthrie eventually left the home.5 Mrs. Guthrie reported the beating and nonconsensual sexual intercourse to the local police. A warrant was issued for Mr. Guthrie's arrest. On April 15, 1996, Mr. Guthrie was arrested at his mother's home. Mr. Guthrie was informed that he was under arrest for sexual assault. The arresting officer, Trooper Michael Oglesby, testified that he did not read Mr. Guthrie his Miranda rights prior to transporting him to the South Charleston State Police Headquarters because he did not plan to interrogate Mr. Guthrie. Trooper Oglesby testified further that while en route to State Police Headquarters, Mr. Guthrie voluntarily stated that he had beaten Mrs. Guthrie and engaged in sexual intercourse with her.

Mr. Guthrie was eventually indicted by a grand jury on one count of second degree sexual assault and one count of sexual assault of a spouse. The trial was held on October 27 and 28, 1997. At the close of the State's evidence, the circuit court dismissed, sua sponte, the second degree sexual assault charge finding that the applicable statute defines that specific offense as involving persons not married to each other.6 The jury returned a verdict of guilty against Mr. Guthrie as to Count II of the indictment, alleging sexual assault of a spouse. By order entered April 9, 1998, Mr. Guthrie was sentenced to an indeterminate term of imprisonment of not less than two, nor more than ten, years.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

As numerous issues are raised in this appeal and each requires the application of a separate and distinct standard of review, we will incorporate such standards into our discussion of the issues to which they pertain.

III. DISCUSSION

On appeal to this Court, Mr. Guthrie raises three primary assignments of error. First, Mr. Guthrie complains that the trial court erred by excluding DNA evidence obtained from the victim. Second, Mr. Guthrie contends that the lower court improperly admitted into evidence certain statements he made while he was being transported to police headquarters. Third, Mr. Guthrie claims that prosecutorial misconduct tainted his criminal trial. We will consider each of these assignments in turn.

A. Exclusion Of DNA Evidence Obtained From The Victim

The first issue presented by Mr. Guthrie is whether the circuit court erred when it granted the State's motion in limine to exclude the results of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing. Mr. Guthrie sought to introduce DNA testing for the purpose of impeaching the victim. Concerning our standard of review of the circuit court's exclusion of the evidence at issue, we note that " `[r]ulings on the admissibility of evidence are largely within a trial court's sound discretion and should not be disturbed unless there has been an abuse of discretion.' State v. Louk, 171 W.Va. 639, [643,] 301 S.E.2d 596, 599, (1983)." Syl. pt. 2, State v. Peyatt, 173 W.Va. 317, 315 S.E.2d 574 (1983). However, "to the extent the circuit court's ruling turns on an interpretation of a West Virginia Rules of Evidence, our review is plenary." State v. Quinn, 200 W.Va. 432, 435, 490 S.E.2d 34, 37 (1997) (citing State v. Sutphin, 195 W.Va. 551, 560, 466 S.E.2d 402, 411 (1995)). With this standard in mind, we consider the DNA issue before us. Mr. Guthrie has made four arguments directly relating to the DNA issue concerning the (1) rape shield statute; (2) W. Va. R. Evid. 404; (3) W. Va. R.Evid. 612; and (4) his constitutional right to due process. We now proceed to analyze each argument separately.

(1) Rape shield statute. Mr. Guthrie sought to present evidence at trial that Mrs. Guthrie, pursuant to her examination at the hospital, informed medical personnel that the last time she engaged in sexual intercourse was approximately two months earlier. However, the test results proved her statement to be false. Specifically, spermatozoa was discovered on Mrs. Guthrie during her physical examination. The spermatozoa was compared with Mr. Guthrie's DNA, and the test comparisons revealed that the spermatozoa included a mixture of DNA from two or more individuals. These results further revealed that Mr. Guthrie was excluded as a contributor to the mixture. In its motion to exclude such evidence, the State argued that this evidence is prohibited by W. Va.Code § 61-8B-11 (1986) (Repl.Vol.1997), more commonly known as the rape shield statute. The circuit court granted the State's motion.7

Under the relevant provision of our rape shield statute, W. Va.Code § 61-8B-11(b) states:

In any prosecution under this article evidence of specific instances of the victim's sexual conduct with persons other than the defendant, opinion evidence of the victim's sexual conduct and reputation evidence of the victim's sexual conduct shall not be admissible: Provided, That such evidence shall be admissible solely for the purpose of impeaching credibility, if the victim first makes his or her previous conduct an issue in the trial by introducing evidence with respect thereto.

Consistent with this language, we hold, as a general matter, W. Va.Code § 61-8B-11(b) (1986) (Repl.Vol.1997) bars the introduction of evidence, in a sexual assault prosecution, concerning (1) specific instances of the victim's sexual conduct with persons other than the defendant, (2) opinion evidence of the victim's sexual conduct and (3) reputation evidence of the victim's sexual conduct. We agree with the State that the evidence at issue comes within the scope of our rape shield statute. This evidence constitutes "evidence of specific instances of the victim's sexual conduct with persons other than the defendant." W. Va.Code § 61-8B-11(b). Accordingly, such evidence was properly excluded from consideration at trial unless it is included in one of the enumerated exceptions to the rape shield law.

In keeping with this statutory language, we hold further that, W. Va.Code § 61-8B-11(b) (1986) (Repl.Vol.1997) provides an exception to the general exclusion of evidence of prior sexual conduct of a victim of sexual assault. Under the statute, evidence of (1) specific instances of the victim's sexual conduct with persons other than the defendant, (2) opinion evidence of the victim's sexual conduct and (3) reputation evidence of the victim's sexual conduct can be introduced solely for the purpose of impeaching the credibility of the victim only if the victim first makes his or her previous sexual conduct an issue in the trial by introducing evidence with respect thereto. In the instant case, the record is clear. Mrs. Guthrie did not make her previous sexual conduct an issue at trial because she did not testify about her prior sexual conduct. Therefore, the evidence was properly excluded under W. Va.Code § 61-8B-11.

(2) W.Va.R.Evid. 404. Mr. Guthrie next contends that the circuit court should have admitted the DNA evidence pursuant to Rule 404(a)(3) of the West Virginia Rules of Evidence. Rule 404(a)(3) provides in relevant part:

Evidence of a person's character or a trait of character is not admissible for the purpose of proving that he or she acted in conformity therewith on a particular occasion, except:
In a case charging criminal sexual misconduct, evidence of the victim's ... prior sexual conduct with persons other than the defendant [is
...

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