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State v. Hartfield

April 14, 1997

STATE OF WASHINGTON, RESPONDENT,
v.
RONNIE HARTFIELD, APPELLANT.



Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 95-1-05817-1. Date filed: 01/12/96. Judge signing: Hon. George T. Mattson.

PER CURIAM. Ronnie Hartfield appeals from the judgment and sentence entered following a bench trial for robbery in the second degree. He argues the trial court erred in admitting statements of the victim under the "excited utterance" exception to the hearsay rule. We disagree and affirm the conviction.

FACTS

A witness testified that as she was driving on a Seattle street, she saw Hartfield pinning an older man against a wall and attempting to remove a ring from the man's finger. She also saw Hartfield swing at the man, but could not tell if he hit him. She honked her horn in an attempt to stop him, then proceeded to a telephone to call police.

Police responded to the location and found Hartfield nearby within 2-3 minutes after receiving the radio broadcast of the witness's report. The police retrieved the witness, who identified Hartfield as the man she saw attempting to rob the man. After talking to people in the area, police eventually contacted the victim, Mr. Barksdale, approximately 15-20 minutes after stopping Hartfield.

At trial, Officer Ron Leavell testified Barksdale was very angry and agitated and appeared to have been drinking. Talking very fast and pacing around, Barksdale said his head was hurting. When the officer asked him what happened, Barksdale said "Ronnie," his girlfriend's son, had hit him in the head and taken his ring. Barksdale told the officer Hartfield was angry at Barksdale for the way he had treated Hartfield's mother. Over defense objections, the trial court admitted Barksdale's statements to the police officer as excited utterances.

Barksdale also testified at trial. On the day of trial the prosecutor informed the court that because of Barksdale's substance abuse problem he was "not in a condition" to come to court that morning. He testified at about 2:00 in the afternoon, admitting that he had drunk one-half of a fifth of whiskey at 6:00 a.m. that day.

Barksdale testified that he had previously lived with Hartfield and his mother. He testified that on the day of the incident he was "half drunk," but he remembered the events well. After Barksdale went to a store to buy some wine, Hartfield approached him on the street, "slapped" his head against a brick wall and took off Barksdale's ring. Admitting he was an alcoholic, Barksdale stated he went home after the incident and "passed out." *fn1

Hartfield testified in his own behalf that they met on the street.

Barksdale wanted money to buy wine, but Hartfield refused, saying Barksdale already owed him $20. Hartfield testified Barksdale reached into his pocket and Hartfield grabbed his hand. He denied taking the ring.

The court found Hartfield guilty as charged and sentenced him to a standard range sentence.

DECISION

Hartfield contends the trial court erred in admitting Barksdale's hearsay statements to the officer under the excited utterance exception, ER 803(a)(2): "A statement relating to a startling event or condition made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by the event or condition." The exception is based on the principle that under the stress of nervous excitement, a person's utterance is "a spontaneous and sincere response" to external events. State v. Chapin, 118 Wash. 2d 681, 686, 826 P.2d 194 (1992). An excited utterance requires three elements: a startling event or condition, a statement made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by the event, and a statement related to the startling event. Chapin, at 686. The second element is the essence of the rule, the key to which is spontaneity. Chapin, at 688. The determination whether a statement is admissible under the rule will not be disturbed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion. State v. Strauss, 119 Wash. 2d 401, 417, 832 P.2d 78 (1992).

Hartfield argues that Barksdale's statements were not spontaneous. We do not agree. A relatively short period of time, approximately 20-25 minutes, had passed since the attack on Barksdale. The officer's testimony that Barksdale was agitated, angry, pacing and complaining of pain in his head support the Conclusion that Barksdale spoke under the stress of the event. The mere fact that the officer began asking general questions about what happened does not preclude admissibility. State v. Hubbard, 37 Wash. App. 137, 146, 679 P.2d 391 (1984), reversed on other grounds, 103 Wash. 2d 570, 693 P.2d 718 (1985). See also State v. Majors, 82 Wash. App. 843, 848-49, 919 P.2d 1258 (1996) (no error in admitting statements to police 20 minutes after the event where declarant was visibly shaken). The statements met the requirements for an excited utterance.

We find no abuse of discretion in admitting the statements, particularly because this was a bench trial, in which the court is presumed to give the evidence its proper ...


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