COA affirms belt considered a deadly weapon in domestic battery case

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The belt used by a man to repeatedly strike his girlfriend qualifies as a deadly weapon and supports elevating his battery conviction to a Class C felony, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Friday.

Dee Ward was convicted of the felony battery charge and Class A misdemeanor domestic battery for hitting his sometimes girlfriend J.M. with a leather belt from her waist to her ankles. The incident occurred at Ward’s home, and he dropped her off the next morning at her mother and stepfather’s home. When they saw the severe bruising and injuries to J.M.’s body, as well as how much pain she was in, they called 911.

Paramedic Linda Hodge-McKinney, who is trained in dealing with domestic violence cases, treated J.M. at her home and decided, based on the injuries and potential for internal injuries, J.M. needed to go to the hospital. At the hospital, forensic nurse Julie Morrison treated J.M. Both women asked J.M. in the course of treatment what had happened and J.M. told them Ward was responsible for the injuries.

When it came time for Ward’s trial, J.M. was considered a missing person. Because she was not around to give a deposition, the state asked for – and the trial court allowed – the medical personnel to testify as to what J.M. told her.

In Dee Ward v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1401-CR-25, Ward claimed that his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation was violated. But the admission of the victim’s statements to Hodge-McKinney and Morrison did not violate Ward’s confrontation rights because the statements were not testimonial. The medical personnel asked J.M. about her injuries and who caused them because they wanted to make sure that J.M. was safe and that her attacker was not present.

Ward also argued that the evidence is insufficient to prove that the belt used during the battery constituted a deadly weapon. But based on the definition of Class C felony battery, the belt qualifies because J.M. suffered welts and serious bruising from her waist to her ankles, as well as severe pain. J.M. was also at risk for internal injuries as a result of the beating.

“Given the serious nature of J.M.’s injuries and the severe pain suffered by J.M., we cannot say that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the trial court’s determination that the belt used during the commission of the battery qualified as a deadly weapon. Ward’s claim to the contrary amounts to nothing more than a request for this court to reweigh the evidence, which we will not do,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote.


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