Javier Macias-Campos appeals his judgment and sentence. We hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting testimony concerning Macias-Campos's previous acts of domestic violence. Such testimony was relevant to essential elements of the charged crimes and was not unduly prejudicial. Accordingly, we affirm.
In 2014, Macias-Campos and M.O. became friends and lived together temporarily, along with Macias-Campos's girlfriend R. Eventually M.O. decided to leave.
Later that year, Macias-Campos and M.O. reconciled and returned to living together. They also became intimate. But Macias-Campos began to abuse M.O. He became controlling and jealous. When M.O. attempted to reach out to a friend, Macias-Campos responded by hitting her and then having sex with her against her wishes. M.O. escaped for a time and then returned. Around this time, Macias-Campos told M.O. about how he had restrained R. during their relationship. He explained how he had violently hit her in the head with a gun and tied her up in the trunk of his car while he drove around.
In early 2015, Macias-Campos and M.O. booked a room at the Hillside Motel on Aurora Avenue. M.O. managed to send a Facebook message to her mother explaining that she felt she could not leave and that she was scared.
But Macias-Campos became enraged when he found out that M.O. was communicating with her mother and a friend. He told her she could not leave the motel room. She retreated to the bathroom but he followed, accusing her of cheating with a former boyfriend. He began hitting her. He threatened her with a screwdriver and a knife. He said he would "do what the cartel does with girlfriends who cheat." And he tied her hands behind her back with a twisted coat hanger.
Eventually he relented and M.O. furtively contacted her mother to alert the motel staff. Police were notified and, responding, arrested Macias-Campos. The State charged Macias-Campos with felony harassment and unlawful imprisonment, amongst other crimes, each with a domestic violence aggravator.
Pretrial, Macias-Campos moved to exclude evidence of his prior misconduct under ER 404(b). It later appeared that such evidence concerned M.O.'s testimony about what Macias-Campos had told her of how he treated R. The trial court declined to exclude such evidence but later provided a limiting instruction. It explained that it admitted the challenged testimony for the limited purpose of showing that M.O. could reasonably fear that Macias-Campos would act on his threats and that he could intimidate M.O. into remaining constrained in the bathroom against her will.
The jury found Macias-Campos guilty of fourth degree assault, felony harassment, unlawful imprisonment, and witness tampering. The jury also found these crimes occurred in a domestic relationship. The trial court entered its judgment and sentence in accordance with the jury's verdict.
PRIOR ACTS EVIDENCE
Macias-Campos argues that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence under ER 404(b) of his alleged past acts of domestic violence against R. We disagree.
ER 404(b) provides:
Thus, the rule bars admission of certain evidence when used to prove character but not when used to prove a proper purpose. In order to determine whether evidence is admissible in a particular instance, the trial court conducts a four part test.
The proponent of the evidence has the burden to prove the first three elements.
Regarding the first element, Macias-Campos does not contest whether his misconduct towards R. occurred or whether M.O. believed it had. Thus, this element is undisputed.
But regarding the second element, the parties dispute the purpose for which the evidence was proffered. Macias-Campos argues that the trial court "likely" admitted the contested evidence in order to allow the impeachment of M.O. But the State argues that the evidence was admitted because it went to elements of the charged crimes. Specifically, the State contends that it was necessary to show M.O. reasonably feared Macias-Campos in order to prove she was restrained, and that it was necessary to prove an element of the felony harassment charge.
Here, the court explained its reasoning for admitting the challenged testimony and gave a limiting instruction consistent with this purpose. Specifically, it explained that the jury could consider the testimony for "the limited assessment of whether or not [M.O.'s] purported fear of the defendant was reasonable and whether or not she felt free to leave, with regard to the unlawful imprisonment, but not for any other purpose." After M.O. testified, the trial court provided a limiting instruction. It explained:
Jury Instruction 7 is substantively identical to this oral instruction.
Thus, the record indicates that the court admitted the challenged testimony to show whether there was a reasonable basis for M.O.'s fear of Macias-Campos's threat, and whether Macias-Campos restrained her by intimidation. Contrary to Macias-Campos's argument, it was not admitted to impeach or bolster M.O.'s credibility.
The third element requires the trial court to determine whether the evidence is relevant to prove an element of the crime charged. Evidence is relevant if it has "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."
Evidence of past domestic violence is probative of a victim's state of mind.
Here, Macias-Campos does not appear to contest the relevance of this evidence. And the elements of the charged crimes demonstrates the relevance of the testimony.
To prove unlawful imprisonment, the State must show that the defendant "knowingly restrain[ed] another person."
The felony harassment statute requires the State to prove the defendant threatened the victim and, in so doing, "place[d] the person threatened in reasonable fear that the threat will be carried out."
Here, the testimony was probative of the elements in these charging statutes. As discussed above, the trial court admitted the testimony to show that any restraint was nonconsensual because Macias-Campos accomplished it by intimidating M.O. The testimony was also admitted to show the reasonableness of M.O.'s fear in regard to the threats Macias-Campos made. As such, the testimony was relevant to proof of both of these crimes.
The fourth element requires that the trial court weigh the probative value against the prejudicial effect. Macias-Campos argues that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the challenged testimony because its prejudicial effect outweighed its probative value. Not so.
We remain mindful that "`courts must be careful and methodical in weighing the probative value against the prejudicial effect of prior acts in domestic violence cases because the risk of unfair prejudice is very high.'"
Sometime later, police went to arrest Ashley and his sister for robbery and motor vehicle theft.
They asked her if Ashley was inside and she told them he was upstairs.
The State charged Ashley with unlawful imprisonment with domestic violence.
On review, the supreme court affirmed the admission, explaining that it was reasonable to conclude "that Gamble, whom Ashley allegedly abused numerous times over an eight-year period, could continue to fear or be intimidated into obeying Ashley years after the most recent incident."
Here, the State had to prove, for the felony harassment charge, that M.O. could reasonably fear that Macias-Campos would carry out his threats. And it had to prove, for the unlawful imprisonment charge, that M.O. did not consent to her restraint, perhaps out of intimidation. For both, it had to show the reasonable basis for M.O.'s fear.
Thus, it offered evidence that M.O. knew Macias-Campos had committed previous acts of domestic violence against R. This evidence "went directly to a necessary element of the crime[s]."
But Macias-Campos argues that the supreme court's decision in
In that case, the State brought a domestic violence charge against Daniel Gunderson.
The supreme court reversed, holding that prior act evidence was not admissible to impeach a victim's credibility when the victim had "neither recant[ed] nor contradict[ed] prior statements."
We affirm the judgment and sentence.
LEACH, J., and BECKER, JJ., concurs.