COA upholds felony domestic battery conviction for man who made wife ‘see stars’

A man convicted of felony domestic battery against his wife failed to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that his wife did not suffer “moderate bodily injury” raising his crime to a felony level.

The case of Jeffrey Allen Smith v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-2066,  began in April 2020, when Jeffrey and Tiffany Smith began arguing about Tiffany’s children. When Tiffany attempted to walk away, Jeffrey wrapped a phone charger cord around her neck, then wrapped his arm around her neck to the point where she was having trouble breathing. Jeffrey threatened to kill Tiffany, and she lost consciousness for a time.

Tiffany told Jeffrey the next day that she wanted a divorce, prompting another argument. He shoved her into the sink and, once outside, punched the back window of her car. Tiffany tried to pack her things and leave, but Jeffrey used her “as a battering ram” and repeatedly hit her head against a doorframe. He also repeatedly kicked her, knocked her into a dog cage and again threatened to kill her.

Tiffany was eventually able to call 911. Though she declined to go to the hospital, she said she suffered from “massive migraines” and other related pain and illness after the attacks.

Jeffrey was later convicted of Level 6 felony domestic battery resulting in moderate bodily injury and was sentenced to an aggregate sentence of 7½ years, enhanced because he was found to be a habitual offender. He appealed his conviction, arguing the state did not prove Tiffany suffered moderate bodily injury, but the Indiana Court of Appeals disagreed.

The appellate panel pointed to Tiffany’s various injuries, including lumps, scratches and redness on her head as well as scratches and bruises on other parts of her body. Also, the doorframe was dented from the attack and a piece of siding had come loose after Jeffrey hit Tiffany’s head against it.

“While there may be no bright line to differentiate levels of pain, the State’s evidence demonstrated that Tiffany’s pain was above the threshold to show bodily injury,” Judge James Kirsch wrote. “… (T)he State presented evidence that Tiffany described her pain at around an eight or nine out of ten after the attack, that she saw stars and little red dots as the attack was happening, and that, in the week following the attack, her physical condition was impaired because she suffered from ‘massive migraines,’ could not move her neck quickly without pain or vomiting, and continued to see stars. … The evidence presented was sufficient to show that the result of Smith’s attack on Tiffany was ‘an impairment of physical condition that include[d] substantial pain.’ Ind. Code § 35-31.5-2-204.5.

“Smith’s argument is an invitation to reweigh Tiffany’s testimony as to the level of pain that she experienced and to judge witness credibility in violation of our standard (of) review,” Kirsch concluded. “… We conclude that the State presented sufficient evidence of probative value from which a reasonable jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Tiffany suffered an impairment of physical condition that included substantial pain amounting to moderate bodily injury.”

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