The Arkansas Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld the conviction and prison sentence of a Drew County man found guilty last year of breaking the window of his wife’s car, hitting her in the face, and fleeing police.
Joseph “Joe” Donaldson was sentenced as a habitual offender to one year in prison for third-degree domestic battery and six years in prison for felony fleeing with the two sentences to be served concurrently.
On appeal, Donaldson argued that there was not sufficient evidence to convict him of the crimes.
At his March 2015 trial, witnesses testified that they saw Donaldson use a metal tire tool to break the window of his wife’s car in the parking lot outside of H&R Block, where she worked. Another witness testified that he saw Donaldson get out of his Ford truck, walk over to his wife, and strike her in the face — knocking glasses off her head. Four of the woman’s co-workers testified that, when she came back into the office shortly thereafter, she was crying and had a handprint on the side of her face where her husband had hit her.
Another witness testified that she heard Donaldson threatening his wife over a speakerphone before Donaldson drove back to the parking lot and parked next to the front door. The employees had locked the door, and Donaldson stood outside the door threatening to ram his truck into the building and to kill all of them. When the police arrived, a witness saw Donaldson flee in his vehicle. Police pursued.
A police dash-cam video showed Donaldson fleeing in the heavy rainfall, police slowing to avoid hitting a car during the pursuit, and vehicles pulling over to the side of the road. Officers followed Donaldson in the rain at speeds ranging from 40 to 75 miles per hour before calling off the chase due to the dangerous conditions, including the speed at which Donaldson was traveling, the rain, and the traffic on the road at the time.
After the state rested its case, Donaldson’s attorney moved for a directed verdict on the third-degree domestic-battery charge, arguing that the state failed to prove beyond speculation and conjecture that Donaldson had any purpose to cause physical injury and that there was insufficient evidence to establish that there was actual physical injury. On the fleeing charge, Donaldson moved for a directed verdict, saying the state failed to show that he knew of his imminent arrest or that he was acting in a manner that would create a substantial risk to others.
Circuit Judge Bynum Gibson denied the motions for directed verdict.
Donaldson’s attorney did not put on any evidence and rested its case.
On appeal, Donaldson argued that there is insufficient evidence to find that he operated his vehicle in a manner that created a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person. He argued that his felony fleeing conviction should be reversed or reduced to a misdemeanor.
“Viewed in the light most favorable to the State, we hold there is substantial evidence to support Donaldson’s conviction for Class D felony vehicular fleeing,” Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge Raymond Abramson wrote. ‘The road conditions were dangerous due to the heavy rain. Donaldson traveled at such a high rate of speed that officers had to eventually call off the pursuit because it was so unsafe. Several cars had to pull over to avoid being hit. This evidence supported the jury’s determination that Donaldson purposely operated his vehicle in a manner that created a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to others.
Donaldson’s second argument on appeal is that his conviction for domestic battery in the third degree cannot be sustained because the state failed to prove that he had struck his wife or that he had caused the mark on her face.
Donaldson pointed out that his wife testified on behalf of the state and denied that her husband had hit her. Furthermore, Donaldson argued that only one of the state’s witnesses claimed to have witnessed him hit his wife, and that witness did not testify that the strike caused an injury.
“The matters emphasized and argued by Donaldson bear exclusively on the credibility of the state’s witnesses,” Judge Abramson wrote. “However, it is not the role of appellate courts to assess the credibility of witnesses. We have long held that it is within the province of the trier of fact, and we are bound by the fact-finder’s determination on the credibility of
witnesses. Likewise, it is axiomatic that the trier of fact is free to believe all or part of a witness’s testimony. Moreover, inconsistent testimony does not render proof insufficient as a matter of law, and one eyewitness’s testimony is sufficient to sustain a conviction.”
In this case, the coworkers of Donaldson’s wife identified photographs of the marks they saw on her face just after her husband had hit her, and Donaldson fled the scene when the police arrived.
“Substantial evidence supports Donaldson’s conviction for domestic battery in the third degree,” Abramson wrote. “Given the totality of the evidence submitted at trial, and taking that evidence in the light most favorable to the state as we must do, there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict. Accordingly, we affirm.”