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State v. Molett

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, First Division

September 26, 2017

DARRYL P. MOLETT, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Adair County, Missouri The Honorable Russell Ellis Steele, Judge

          Before: James Edward Welsh, P.J., Lisa White Hardwick, and Gary D. Witt, JJ.


         Appellant Darryl Molett ("Molett") appeals from the judgment of the Circuit Court of Adair County convicting him of domestic assault in the second degree, section 565.073, [1]felonious restraint, section 565.120, and violation of an order of protection, section 455.010. The convictions arise out of the relationship between Molett and his former girlfriend (the "Victim"), [2]with whom Molett has a child. Molett raises two points on appeal challenging evidentiary rulings by the circuit court. We affirm.

         Factual Background [3]

         The Victim and Molett met each other in late 2007 and eventually resided together. They had a child who was born in May of 2013. After the birth of their child, Molett and the Victim's relationship deteriorated. Towards the end of November 2014, an incident occurred in their shared home in which Molett hit the Victim, pushed her to the floor, and displayed a pocket knife. Law enforcement was called, and Molett was removed from the home. The Victim sought and obtained a full order of protection against Molett because she was afraid that Molett would hurt her or their child. The full order of protection was granted by the court on January 12, 2015.

         After the full order of protection was granted, the Victim and Molett continued to have contact to try to provide a stable environment for their child. In the third week of January 2015, Molett and the Victim met at Cash Advance, a short term loan company, so that the Victim could make a payment on Molett's behalf. The Victim did not have the necessary funds, which angered Molett. Molett followed the Victim to her car and berated her. Molett hit the Victim in the head a couple of times and grabbed a piece of luggage and threw it at the Victim, hitting her in the face. The incident was investigated by the Kirksville Police Department.

         The Victim discovered that Molett had a new girlfriend and tried to end their relationship on March 6, 2015, which again angered Molett. On March 17, 2015, after returning home from a family event, the Victim found Molett at her residence uninvited. Molett met the Victim at her car and immediately took her keys and cellphone. Molett took the child and led the Victim inside her residence. The Victim testified that she could not call for help because she did not have her phone and she was not willing to flee because Molett had the child. Molett expressed his desire to be a family and tried to hug the Victim, but she refused. Molett spun the Victim around so that she was facing him and head-butted her in the face. The Victim collapsed onto the floor and lost consciousness.

         The Victim regained consciousness shortly thereafter, around 3:00 p.m., and discovered that she had blood on her face and on her hands. The Victim was terrified. Molett did not call for help, take the Victim to the hospital, or take any other action to help the Victim. The Victim convinced Molett to take her to the hospital around 5:00 p.m., but Molett told the Victim that she had to report that she received her injuries from falling down the stairs.

         Molett drove the Victim and the child to the hospital, but when they arrived Molett insisted on keeping the child in the car. The Victim refused to leave the child in the car with Molett. A security guard arrived who was followed by a police officer, Officer Tami O'Haver ("Officer O'Haver"). The Victim told Officer O'Haver that she received her injury when Molett head-butted her. Molett told the police officer that he did not hit the Victim and, while he was at her residence when the injury occurred, he did not know how the Victim got injured but thought she may have fallen down the stairs.

         The Victim was seen by a nurse and doctor in the hospital emergency room, both of whom observed a laceration and bruising around the Victim's left eye. The Victim did not stay for treatment, however, as she did not have health insurance and knew the cost would be expensive.

         Based on this evidence, the jury returned guilty verdicts for domestic assault in the second degree, felonious restraint, and violation of an order of protection. Molett received consecutive sentences of five years in the Department of Corrections for domestic assault and felonious restraint, and a concurrent sentence of one year in the county jail for violation of a protective order.

         Molett's two points on appeal both pertain to evidentiary rulings at trial regarding testimony by Officers O'Haver and Juan Chairez ("Officer Chairez"). Both officers testified about relationships involving a "cycle of violence", and Officer O'Haver testified that the Victim was a "battered spouse" in that the Victim had "suffered physical and emotional abuse over time." Additional information regarding these objections will be detailed under their relevant points on appeal below.

         Point One

         In Point One on appeal, Molett argues the circuit court abused its discretion in permitting Officers O'Haver and Chairez to testify over his objections that his relationship with the Victim included a "cycle of violence" in that in the context of the trial the testimony was particularized evidence commenting on the credibility of the Victim's allegations against Molett, thereby invading the province of the jury.

         Prior to addressing the substance of the arguments on appeal, we must first address whether the issue has been properly preserved for appellate review. The testimony, and objections thereto at trial, are provided below.

         Both Officers O'Haver and Chairez testified regarding relationships that include a "cycle of violence." Officer O'Haver testified as follows:

Q. And how many domestic violence investigations have you conducted?
A. I couldn't tell you the number. Several.
Q. Are you then familiar with what is called a "cycle of violence"?
A. Yes.
Q. And isn't part of that cycle of violence that sometimes domestic violence victims change their story?
A. It has been known to happen, yes.
Q. And is part of the reason that a victim might change their story is that they are scared of the suspect?
A. That can be.
THE COURT: I'm sorry.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Objection, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Counsel, approach.
[Proceedings at bench:]
THE COURT: What is your ...

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