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State v. Anderson

Supreme Court of Idaho

September 12, 2017

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
DAROL KEITH ANDERSON, Defendant-Appellant.

         2017 Opinion No. 99

         Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Hon. John T. Mitchell, District Judge.

          The district court's judgment is vacated in part and affirmed in part. This case is remanded to the district court for future proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, attorney for respondent. Theodore S. Tollefson argued.

          Eric D. Fredericksen, State Appellate Public Defender, Boise, attorney for appellant. Jenevieve C. Swinford argued.


          JONES, Justice.

         I. Nature of the Case

         In a case arising out of Kootenai County, Darol Keith Anderson ("Anderson") appeals his convictions for felony domestic battery and misdemeanor domestic battery. Anderson asserts that the district court erred when it admitted the preliminary hearing testimony of his alleged victim, Erica Messerly ("Messerly"), after finding that she was unavailable to testify at his trial due to mental illness. Anderson also asserts that the district court abused its discretion when it allowed Officer Spencer Mortensen ("Officer Mortensen") to testify that the injuries that he had observed on Messerly's person were consistent with her allegations against Anderson. He argues that Officer Mortensen's testimony constituted impermissible vouching for Messerly's truthfulness.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         On the evening of September 7, 2014, Officer Mortensen was dispatched to investigate reports of a physical domestic dispute. On arriving at the scene, Officer Mortensen encountered Messerly, whom he described as appearing to be nervous. Officer Mortensen noted that Messerly had bruises and cuts on her neck and face. Messerly proceeded to describe the following events.

         Shortly after midnight on the morning on September 6, 2014, Messerly and Anderson, her husband of three months, were lying in bed. Messerly was angry because she had found explicit photographs of another woman on Anderson's cell phone. Messerly kicked Anderson in the back, causing him to partially fall out of bed. Anderson jumped back onto the bed, straddled Messerly, and squeezed her trachea until she was unable to breathe. Anderson choked Messerly for approximately five minutes, but she did not lose consciousness. While Anderson was choking her, Messerly attempted to scratch his face with her fingernails. After Anderson stopped choking Messerly, he walked downstairs. Messerly followed him downstairs and grabbed his cell phone out of his hands. She proceeded to drop his cell phone into a toilet. Anderson punched her in the face with his right fist. Messerly fled her home, and Anderson locked the doors behind her. On discovering that the doors were locked, Messerly sought help from a neighbor to gain reentry. When she returned with the neighbor, the door was unlocked. She entered her home with the neighbor and found Anderson hiding in the laundry room holding a metal pipe. Anderson proceeded to threaten the neighbor with the pipe and accuse him of sleeping with Messerly. When Messerly and the neighbor attempted to leave, Anderson grabbed her by the hair and pulled her back inside. Inside the home, Anderson punched Messerly one time in the face, briefly knocking her unconscious. She fell to the floor. While Messerly was on the floor, Anderson punched her in the back of the head and neck. After regaining consciousness, Messerly stood up, walked to a couch, and sat down. She begged Anderson to return to bed, but he refused. Anderson grabbed a steak knife and held it to her throat. Messerly grabbed Anderson by the abdomen and he dropped the knife. Anderson then bit Messerly on the neck and shoulder. Anderson left the room and returned with the metal pipe. He swung the pipe at Messerly's head, but stopped the swing before it hit her. He then jabbed the pipe into Messerly's left side. Messerly attempted to flee to the garage, and Anderson punched her in the back of the head twice. Messerly finally escaped from the residence and walked back to the neighbor's residence. The neighbor drove Messerly to the home of Melissa Watts ("Watts").

         In corroboration of her statements to Officer Mortensen, Messerly showed him a mark on the right side of her nose where she was allegedly punched, a small cut on her throat allegedly caused by the knife, bite marks on her neck and shoulder, and a deep purple bruise on her right side where she was allegedly jabbed with the pipe. Messerly took Officer Mortensen into her residence, but was unable to locate the knife or the pipe.

         Officer Mortensen next spoke with Watts. Watts told Officer Mortensen that on September 6, 2014, at 2:30 P.M., she and Messerly had returned to Messerly's residence in order to take some of Messerly's clothing. While they were there, Anderson kicked Messerly in the stomach twice. Messerly and Watts told him to leave the residence, which he did. Officer Mortensen spoke to Messerly about this second incident. Messerly confirmed that she had been kicked.

         Officer Mortensen next spoke with Lawrence Preston ("Preston"), the neighbor who had called the police on September 7, 2014. Preston stated that immediately prior to calling the police, he had observed Messerly taking Anderson's cell phone in their driveway and attempting to keep it away from him. Anderson then grabbed Messerly by the hair and pulled her into the house. At trial, Preston would testify that he had seen Anderson punch Messerly in the face during this altercation.

         While Officer Mortensen was speaking with witnesses, Officer A. Winstead ("Officer Winstead"), who had been called in to assist Officer Mortensen, made contact with Anderson over the phone. Anderson stated that Messerly and Watts were lying and that he had never touched Messerly. Anderson refused to meet with Officer Winstead to give a statement in person.

         On October 1, 2014, Officer N. Lowry ("Officer Lowry"), a third officer assigned to the case, was able to contact Anderson by phone. Anderson again denied harming Messerly, claiming that Messerly had kicked him during the altercation on the morning of September 6, 2016, and had hit him when she had returned later that day.

         On January 29, 2015, the State filed an Amended Criminal Complaint, charging Anderson with Felony Domestic Battery (regarding the allegations of battery on September 6, 2014), Aggravated Assault (regarding the allegations involving the knife), Attempted Strangulation, and Misdemeanor Domestic Battery (regarding the allegations of battery on September 7, 2014).

         On February 3, 2015, the magistrate court conducted a preliminary hearing in the case. Messerly testified at the hearing to the events that she had described to Officer Mortensen. Messerly testified that on September 6, 2014, Anderson had punched and choked her, that he had briefly knocked her unconscious, that he had swung a long metal pipe at her head and then jabbed it into her side, that he had held a knife to her throat, and that he had bitten her neck. At times during her testimony, Messerly stated that Anderson's presence in the courtroom was distressing to her. She needed to take multiple breaks in order to complete her testimony. Following her direct testimony, Anderson cross examined Messerly.

         At the close of the preliminary hearing, the State amended its complaint to add an additional count of aggravated assault (with the metal pipe). The magistrate court found that probable cause existed with respect to each of the five counts. The district court set trial for July 20, 2015.

         On June 19, 2015, Messerly checked into the Kootenai Behavioral Health Center (the "KBH"). She was diagnosed with a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Use Disorder.

         On July 16, 2015, the State filed a motion in limine seeking to declare Messerly unavailable to testify at trial and seeking to admit a transcript of her testimony at the preliminary hearing. In support of that motion, the State submitted the affidavit of Dr. Eric J. Heidenreich, M.D. ("Dr. Heidenreich"), dated July 16, 2015, which provided, in part, as follows:

Comes Now, Eric J. Heidenreich, M.D., and hereby deposes and swears:
. . . .
2. That Erica Messerly is currently, and has been, a patient at KBH since 6/19/2015;
3. That I have examined Ms. Messerly and have had multiple opportunities to observe her and interact with her over the past few days;
. . . .
6. Ms. Messerly presents as tearful and emotionally labile;
7. It has been my observation, and that of my staff, that any significant emotional distress typically is followed by Erica decompensating, which in turn, increases her risk for relapse in the context of her addiction to controlled substances;
. . . .
9.Ms. Messerly's prognosis is poor to begin with and I would anticipate having to testify would result in further deterioration of her current, already fragile condition;
10.Testifying would put Ms. Messerly at substantial risk for relapse on controlled substances and pose a significant risk to her mental health;
11.I emphatically recommend that Ms. Messerly not testify at this time or any in the near future.

         On July 20, 2015, the district court held a hearing at which it addressed the motion in limine. Lisa Bunker ("Bunker"), the clinical manager of the chemical dependency unit at KBH, testified. Bunker corroborated Dr. Heidenreich's diagnoses of Substance Use Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She stated that in her ...

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