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Commonwealth v. Bell

Supreme Court of Kentucky

June 20, 2013

COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY, APPELLANT,
v.
ERIC RAE BELL, APPELLEE

ON REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS CASE NO. 2009-CA-002109-MR JEFFERSON CIRCUIT COURT NO. 08-CR-002323.

COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Jack Conway, Attorney General, William Bryan Jones, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal Appeals, Office of the Attorney General.

COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Thomas More Ransdell, Assistant Public Advocate, Department of Public Advocacy.

OPINION

NOBLE, JUSTICE.

Appellee Eric Rae Bell was convicted in Jefferson Circuit Court of first-degree sodomy, tampering with physical evidence, and fourth-degree assault. Bell appealed his convictions to the Court of Appeals, which reversed the sodomy conviction on the grounds that the trial court abused its discretion by excluding statements the victim made to medical personnel about her history of drug use and addiction. On discretionary review, the sole issue before this Court is whether the Court of Appeals was correct that the victim's statements should have been admitted. Concluding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion, this Court reverses the Court of Appeals' judgment as to the sodomy conviction, and reinstates that aspect of the trial court's judgment.

I. Background

On the night of June 27, 2008, Appellee Eric Rae Bell encountered Patricia Williams, the victim, at a local convenience store. Williams and Bell knew each other from previous interactions. He offered her a ride to her daughter's house. After they got into Bell's car, he began to punch her in the face and drove to a house, got her out of the car, and pushed her into the house.

Once inside the house, Bell forced Williams to remove her clothing and perform oral sex on him multiple times. He also attempted to have intercourse with her. He was unable to fully engage in intercourse with her, however, and began hitting her in the face with his fists. She asked for permission to use the bathroom. Bell refused, and Williams defecated on the floor, [1] causing Bell to begin beating her again.

Williams was eventually able to strike Bell with a heavy ashtray and run out of the house while nude. Police arrived on the scene soon thereafter and arrested Bell. Williams was taken to the hospital.

Bell was charged with and later indicted for first-degree rape, first-degree sodomy, first-degree assault, tampering with physical evidence, and being a persistent felony offender.

Bell maintained that he and Williams traded sexual favors for crack cocaine and, thus, the sexual acts were consensual. Before trial, several issues were raised as to the proof of consent Bell would be allowed to introduce.

Several months before trial, the trial court ordered that Bell would be allowed to introduce two items of proof tending to show consent. The first was Bell's own testimony that he and Williams had engaged in a sex-for-drugs transaction once in 2007 and the night of the incident. The second was a positive drug test from the hospital showing that Williams had cocaine in her system the night of the incident.

The morning of the first day of trial, the Commonwealth moved to exclude other evidence of Williams's drug history. Specifically, the Commonwealth sought to exclude statements she made to medical personnel and recorded in medical records the night of the incident in which she admitted a twenty-year history of heavy drug use.[2] Bell argued that the statements to medical personnel were admissible as they tended to support his s defense that Williams consented in order to satisfy her drug addiction. The trial court granted the Commonwealth's motion, stating again that Bell could testify about what happened on the day of the incident and that he and Williams traded drugs for sex once in 2007, but that Williams's other prior drug use could not be mentioned because it was impermissible character evidence.

Bell was convicted of first-degree sodomy, tampering with physical evidence, and fourth-degree assault. He was sentenced to fifteen ...


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