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Bearden v. State

Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals

August 11, 2017

Mollie M. Bearden and Donald Terry Bearden
v.
State of Alabama

         Appeal from Talladega District Court (DC-16-329; DC-16-330)

          BURKE, Judge.

         Mollie M. Bearden and Donald Terry Bearden were convicted of reckless endangerment, a violation of § 13A-6-24, Ala. Code 1975, following a bench trial in the Talladega District Court. The Beardens were sentenced to six months in jail. However, their sentences were suspended, and each was ordered to serve six months of unsupervised probation. Additionally, the Beardens were each ordered to pay a $500 fine and court costs.

         This appeal follows.[1]

         The evidence at trial indicated that the Beardens' neighbor, Jill Hyner, left her home in the early morning hours of April 21, 2016, to go to work. Hyner testified that someone shined a bright spotlight from the Beardens' property into her vehicle as she pulled out of her driveway and drove to a stop sign at the end of her street. Hyner stated that the beam of light was initially a single beam but that, at some point, changed to a "strobe light." (R. 24.) The light, according to Hyner, blinded her and hindered her ability to see other vehicles on the road. Hyner testified that this type of incident had happened on other occasions when she left her home in the mornings. A few days before the incident in question, Hyner contacted police who advised her to change her schedule to see if the incidents would stop. However, Hyner testified that someone on the Beardens' porch continued to shine a spotlight into her car despite her altered schedule. Based on that allegation, two police officers set up surveillance in front of the Beardens' house on the morning of April 21, 2016.

         Jason Murray, an officer with the Talladega County Drug Task Force, testified that he and another officer sat in the woods across from the Beardens' house in the early morning hours of April 21, 2016. Officer Murray testified that, at approximately 5:15 that morning, Hyner got into her car and left for work. According to Officer Murray, someone from the Beardens' porch then began to shine a light across the fence toward Hyner's house. Officer Murray stated: "As soon as [Hyner] got into the car and pulled out of her driveway, they turned the flashlight back on at the corner of the fence and followed her all the way down to the stop sign until she turned to go out of sight." (R. 74-75.) Officer Murray testified that the beam of light was shining into the driver's side window of Hyner's car and alternated between a single beam of light and a strobe light. Officer Murray and his partner then came out of the woods and approached the Beardens' porch, where they discovered Mollie M. Bearden holding a flashlight. Officer Murray placed Mrs. Bearden under arrest for reckless endangerment.

         Further testimony revealed that, on the morning following Mollie Bearden's arrest, Hyner again left for work early in the morning. Hyner stated that, as she drove to work, Donald Terry Bearden followed her in his vehicle for approximately 10 miles. According to Hyner, Donald Bearden followed her very closely and continuously shined his high beams into her car. Hyner stated that the lights caused her to have difficulty seeing road signs and oncoming traffic. Hyner also testified that, at one point, Donald Bearden pulled his vehicle alongside her car causing her to believe that he might try to run her off the road. Additional testimony revealed that the road on which they were traveling was a two-lane road; thus, Bearden was driving in the wrong lane when he pulled alongside Hyner. He was later arrested and charged with reckless endangerment.

         I.

         On appeal, the Beardens first argue that the trial court erred when it denied their motion to dismiss the cases against them. According to the Beardens, the complaints charging them with reckless endangerment was insufficient because, they claim, it failed to state particular facts regarding the offense. Specifically, the Beardens claimed that the complaint did not disclose the essential facts of the "reckless conduct" they were charged with. Therefore, the Beardens say, they lacked notice of the charges against them. "'[T]his court has held that a complaint that substantially tracks the language of the statute is sufficient to inform the defendant of the charges against which he must defend.'" Gentile v. City of Guntersville, 589 So.2d 809, 810 (Ala.Crim.App.1991), quoting State v. Franklin, 541 So.2d 593 (Ala.Crim.App.1989). The complaint against Mollie Bearden alleged that, "on or about the 21st day of April, 2016, one [Mollie M. Bearden] did engage in reckless conduct, which created a substantial risk of injury to another person to-wit: [Jill Hyner], in violation of § 13A-6-24(a), of the Code of Alabama." (C. 37.) The complaint against Donald Bearden alleged that, "on or about the 22nd day of April, 2016, one [Donald Terry Bearden] did engage in reckless conduct, which created a substantial risk of injury to another person to-wit: [Jill Hyner], in violation of § 13A-6-24(a), of the Code of Alabama." Section 13A-6-24(a), Ala. Code 1975, provides: "A person commits the crime of reckless endangerment if he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person." Thus, the complaints against the Beardens substantially tracked the language of the statute they were charged with violating along with the date the conduct was alleged to have occurred and the victim's name. Accordingly, the complaint was sufficient to put the Beardens on notice of the charges they were called to defend.

         Moreover, the record refutes any assertion that the Beardens were not aware of the specifics of the charges against them. As noted, Mollie and Donald Bearden were arrested on April 21, 2016, and April 22, 2016, respectively. Defense counsel entered a notice of appearance seven days after Donald Bearden's arrest on April 29, 2016, and subsequently filed several motions. The Beardens then filed a subpoena request with the Talladega County sheriff's office seeking "any and all incident reports filed by Jill Hyner from January 1, 2014 to present." (C. 46.) Additionally, the Beardens filed a subpoena request with Hyner's employer seeking "Jill Hyner's work hours for each day worked during the period of March 21, 2016 until May 21, 2016." (C. 60.) Further, Mollie Bearden testified that, immediately after she was released from jail, she downloaded video footage from her home-surveillance system depicting the incident in question and provided that footage to her attorney. (R. 118.) Despite being in possession of that video footage before trial, defense counsel told the trial court: "As of this day, I don't know what the allegation is. My clients don't know what the allegation is." (R. 8.) However, when defense counsel played the video for the trial court, he stated, "Judge, I think the video itself is about thirty minutes. But I know where the action starts, so I can cut to the chase." (R. 119.) These facts belie any contention that the Beardens were unaware of the charges they were called to defend.[2]

         In Bexley v. State, 705 So.2d 549, 551 (Ala.Crim.App.1997), this Court addressed a similar issue and concluded that "[t]he appellant has failed to show how his substantial rights were prejudiced by an amendment to the charge against him." In Bexley, this Court examined the record and, based on the pleadings the appellant filed, was "not persuaded by the appellant's claim that he did not have reasonable notice of the charge against him when he proceeded to circuit court." Id. Here, as in Bexley, we have examined the record, and we are convinced that the Beardens were fully aware of the charges against them and that they suffered no prejudice as a result of the trial court's denial of their motion to dismiss the complaints. See also Rule 45, Ala. R. App. P. ("No judgment may be reversed or set aside, nor new trial granted in any civil or criminal case ... for error as to any matter of pleading or procedure, unless in the opinion of the court to which the appeal is taken or application is made, after an examination of the entire cause, it should appear that the error complained of has probably injuriously affected substantial rights of the parties.").

         II.

          Next, the Beardens argue that the trial court erred when it denied their motions for judgments of acquittal because, they claim, the evidence was insufficient to sustain their convictions. This Court has held:

"In deciding whether there is sufficient evidence to support the verdict of the jury and the judgment of the trial court, the evidence must be reviewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution. Cumbo v. State, 368 So.2d 871 (Ala.Crim.App.1978), cert. denied, 368 So.2d 877 (Ala. 1979). Conflicting evidence presents a jury question not subject to review on appeal, provided the state's evidence establishes a prima facie case. Gunn v. State, 387 So.2d 280 (Ala. Crim. App.), cert. denied, 387 So.2d 283 (Ala. 1980). The trial court's denial of a motion for a judgment of acquittal must be reviewed by determining whether there existed legal evidence before the jury, at the time the motion was made, from which the jury by fair inference could have found the appellant guilty. Thomas v. State, 363 So.2d 1020 (Ala.Crim.App.1978). In applying this standard, the appellate court will determine only if legal evidence was presented from which the jury could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Willis v. State, 447 So.2d 199 (Ala.Crim.App.1983); Thomas v. State. When the evidence raises questions of fact for the jury and such evidence, if believed, is sufficient to sustain a conviction, the denial of a motion for a judgment of acquittal by the trial court does not constitute error. Young v. State, 283 Ala. 676, 220 So.2d 843 (1969); Willis v. State. A verdict of conviction will not be set aside on the ground of insufficiency of the evidence unless, allowing all reasonable presumptions for its correctness, the preponderance of the evidence against the verdict is so decided as to clearly convince this court that it was wrong and unjust. Duncan v. State, 436 So.2d 883 (Ala.Crim.App.1983), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 1047, 104 S.Ct. 720, 79 L.Ed.2d 182 (1984); Johnson v. State, 378 So.2d 1164 (Ala. Crim. App.), cert. quashed, 378 So.2d 1173 (Ala. 1979)."

Breckenridge v. State, 628 So.2d 1012, 1018 (Ala.Crim.App.1993).

         "A person commits the crime of reckless endangerment if he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person." § 13A-6-24(a), Ala. Code 1975. "A person acts recklessly with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or that the circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregard thereof constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation." § 13A-2-2(3), Ala. Code 1975. As noted above, Jill Hyner testified that someone on the Beardens' property shined a spotlight into her vehicle while she was driving causing her to become "blinded." (R. 23.) Officer Murray witnessed this event and subsequently discovered Mollie Bearden holding a flashlight on her front porch. Viewing this evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, the trial court could have concluded that Mollie Bearden shined a spotlight into Hyner's vehicle, creating a substantial risk that Hyner would wreck her vehicle causing serious physical injury. Based on Hyner's testimony that this type of incident had happened on numerous occasions, the trial court could have determined that Mollie Bearden knew that her conduct created such a risk but that she consciously disregarded it. Accordingly, the trial court did not err in denying Mollie Bearden's motion for a judgment of acquittal.

         As to Donald Bearden, the testimony at trial indicated that he followed closely behind Hyner's for approximately 10 miles with his high beams shining into the passenger compartment of Hyner's vehicle. Again, Hyner testified that the bright lights "blinded" her. (R. 27.) Accordingly, there was sufficient evidence to show that Donald Bearden's conduct created a substantial risk that Hyner would wreck her vehicle and be seriously ...


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