State v. Ronald E. Wright

Decision Date06 December 2001
Docket Number00CA39,01-LW-4868
Citation2001 Ohio 2473
PartiesSTATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee v. RONALD E. WRIGHT, JR., Defendant-Appellant Case
CourtOhio Court of Appeals

COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT:(fn1) Carol A. Wright, 61 East Lincoln Street Columbus, Ohio 43215

COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Michael Spahr and Alison L. Cauthorn, 205 Putnam Street, Marietta, Ohio 45750

OPINION

ABELE P.J.

This is an appeal from a Washington County Common Pleas Court judgment of conviction and sentence. The jury found Ronald Wright, Jr., defendant below and appellant herein, guilty of four counts of rape, in violation of R.C. 2907.02(A)(1)(b) with a specification that appellant purposely compelled the victim to submit by force or threat of force. See R.C 2907.02(B).(fn2)

Appellant raises the following assignments of error for review:

FIRST ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR:

"THE TRIAL COURT ERRED TO THE PREJUDICE OF THE DEFENDANT'S SUBSTANTIAL RIGHTS BY ADMITTING UNDULY PREJUDICIAL TESTIMONY ABOUT OTHER ACTS AND UNCHARGED MISCONDUCT BY THE DEFENDANT, THE ONLY PROBATIVE VALUE OF WHICH WAS TO ESTABLISH THE DEFENDANT'S BAD CHARACTER AND CONDUCT IN CONFORMITY THEREWITH. THE ADMISSION OF THIS TESTIMONY VIOLATED THE APPELLANT'S RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS UNDER THE FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT."

SECOND ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR:

"THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FAILING TO COMPLY WITH CRIM.R. 24(F) BY FAILING TO GRANT THE DEFENSE AN OPPORTUNITY TO EXERCISE A PEREMPTORY CHALLENGE TO THE ALTERNATE JURORS."

THIRD ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR:

"APPELLANT WAS DENIED THE EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL AS GUARANTEED BY THE FIFTH, SIXTH, EIGHTH, AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS TO THE U.S. CONSTITUTION."

On December 17, 1999, the Washington County Grand Jury returned an indictment that charged appellant with four counts of rape, in violation of R.C. 2907.02(A)(1)(b) and (B), which involved his girlfriend's eleven-year-old daughter, Samantha.

On July 10, 2000 and continuing on July 11, 2000, the trial court held a jury trial. At trial, the following evidence was adduced.

Samantha testified that appellant, with whom her mother lived, typically was the disciplinarian. She explained that her punishments ranged from performing exercises, to grounding or spankings. Samantha stated the appellant administered the spankings in the bathroom.

Samantha explained that beginning in May of 1999, appellant instituted a new type of punishment that she called "the option." Samantha stated that for her punishment appellant offered her the option of either receiving a spanking or performing oral sex upon appellant. Samantha testified that the first time appellant "offered" her this alternative discipline, she refused and received a spanking instead. To avoid the pain of the spankings, however, Samantha, on four or five occasions, chose "the option" instead of the spankings. Samantha stated that in mid- to late-December she finally told Melayne Pritchett, a family friend, because she worried that the same thing was happening to her brother or sisters.

Pritchett testified that she sometimes was present when appellant punished Samantha. Like Samantha, Pritchett stated that the spankings occurred in an upstairs bathroom. Pritchett testified that on some occasions, Samantha's punishment lasted approximately ten minutes. On other occasions, however, the punishment lasted up to one-half hour. Pritchett stated that on some occasions after Samantha had received her punishment, Samantha walked downstairs with a dazed look.

Over appellant's objection, the trial court permitted appellant's eighteen-year-old daughter, Briana Nunn, to testify about instances when appellant forced her to perform oral sex upon him. Nunn testified that beginning at the age of five or six, and continuing until the age of fifteen, appellant made her perform oral sex. She stated that he would state different reasons for why she had to do it: "If you do this, then you can go here, you can go there," or "if you do this, I won't cheat on your mother," or "I will tell her that I'm not cheating." Nunn stated that sometimes appellant would not let her go out with her friends unless she performed oral sex.

Nunn stated that the oral sex encounters ended when she was fifteen. Nunn explained that as her father drove her to her boyfriend's house, he stated that if she wanted him to continue driving, she must perform oral sex. Nunn stated that she refused, they argued, and appellant finally took her to her boyfriend's house. Appellant never again made Nunn perform oral sex.

Nunn stated that when she was twelve or thirteen, she told a friend about the sexual abuse and that her friend's mother notified children services. During the investigation, however, Nunn denied that the sexual abuse occurred. Nunn explained that she decided not to tell the children services investigators about the sexual abuse because she did not want to hurt her mother.

Nunn stated that in April of 2000, she finally disclosed the sexual abuse information to law enforcement. She stated that she came forward because of Samantha's allegations against appellant.

On July 11, 2000, the jury found appellant guilty of all counts. On August 29, 2000, the trial court found appellant to be a sexual predator and sentenced appellant to four consecutive life sentences. Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal.

I

In his first assignment of error, appellant argues that the trial court erred by permitting Briana to testify about appellant's alleged prior sexual acts. Appellant asserts that the trial court erred by admitting the other acts evidence because: (1) the evidence was offered only to establish his propensity to commit the crime in question; (2) the evidence did not relate to a material issue in the trial; (3) the evidence did not tend to prove one of the elements of the crime; (4) substantial proof that appellant committed the prior acts does not exist because the evidence was unsubstantiated, was uncorroborated, and was too remote in time; and (5) the probative value of the evidence did not outweigh the prejudicial effect.

The state, on the other hand, contends that Nunns's testimony falls within the "scheme, plan, or system" exception and that her testimony helped prove a material issue in the trial, namely whether appellant used force or threat of force. Moreover, the state disagrees with appellant that the prejudicial impact of Nunn's testimony outweighed its probative force.

A STANDARD OF REVIEW

Initially, we note that the decision to admit or exclude relevant evidence is within the sound discretion of the trial court. State v. Bey (1999), 85 Ohio St.3d 487, 490, 709 N.E.2d 484, 490. The trial court's decision to admit or exclude relevant evidence cannot be reversed absent an abuse of that discretion. See, e.g., State v. Combs (1991), 62 Ohio St.3d 278, 581 N.E.2d 1071; State v. Sage (1987), 31 Ohio St.3d 173, 510 N.E.2d 343; State v. Rooker (Apr. 15, 1993), Pike App. No. 483, unreported. The term "abuse of discretion" implies more than an error of law or judgment. Rather, the term suggests that the trial court acted in an unreasonable, arbitrary, or unconscionable manner. See, e.g., State v. Xie (1992), 62 Ohio St.3d 521, 584 N.E.2d 715; State v. Montgomery (1991), 61 Ohio St.3d 410, 575 N.E.2d 167. Furthermore, when applying the abuse of discretion standard, a reviewing court is not free to merely substitute its judgment for that of the trial court. In re Jane Doe 1 (1991), 57 Ohio St.3d 135, 566 N.E.2d 1181 (citing Berk v. Matthews (1990), 53 Ohio St.3d 161, 359 N.E.2d 1301).

B ADMISSIBILITY OF OTHER ACT EVIDENCE

Generally, all relevant evidence is admissible. See Evid.R. 402. Evid.R. 401 defines relevant evidence as "evidence having 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."

The trial court must deem relevant evidence inadmissible, however, if the introduction of the evidence violates the United States or the Ohio Constitutions, an Ohio statute, the Ohio Rules of Evidence, or "other rules prescribed by the Supreme Court of Ohio." Evid.R. 402. Additionally, relevant "evidence is not admissible if its probative value * * * substantially outweigh[s] * * * the danger of unfair prejudice, of confusion of the issues, or of misleading the jury." Evid.R. 403(A).

Although evidence of an accused's character, including his prior "bad acts," in a criminal case may be relevant,(fn3) Evid.R. 404 sets forth a general bar against the use of such character evidence. Of importance to the case sub judice, Evid.R. 404(B) provides as follows:

Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show that he acted in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence or mistake or accident.

Additionally, in a case involving a rape allegation, R.C. 2907.02(D) generally prohibits evidence of specific instances of the defendant's sexual activity. The statute provides:

Evidence of specific instances of the defendant's sexual activity, opinion evidence of the defendant's sexual activity, and reputation evidence of the defendant's sexual activity shall not be admitted under this section unless it involves evidence of the origin of semen, pregnancy, or disease, the defendant's past sexual activity with the victim, or is admissible against the defendant under section 2945.59 of the Revised Code, and only to the extent that the court finds that the evidence is material to a fact at issue in the case and that its inflammatory or prejudicial nature does not outweigh...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT