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McKinney v. State

Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals

July 13, 2018

William Dangelo McKinney
v.
State of Alabama

          Appeal from Etowah Circuit Court (CC-15-1449)

          PER CURIAM.

         William Dangelo McKinney[1] was convicted of murder, see § 13A-6-2, Ala. Code 1975, and domestic violence by strangulation or suffocation, see § 13A-6-138, Ala. Code 1975. The circuit court sentenced McKinney to 10 years' imprisonment for the domestic-violence conviction and to 65 years' imprisonment for the murder conviction and ordered that the sentences were to run concurrently.[2]

         McKinney does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence on appeal. Therefore, a brief recitation of the facts is all that is necessary. In January 2012, Alanna Partee and McKinney began a dating relationship after meeting in a federally operated halfway house. Sometime near the end of 2013, Partee and McKinney moved in with Partee's mother, Carolyn. Carolyn had another daughter from a previous relationship, Tracy Slaton, who was in a dating relationship with Amos Jackson. McKinney and Jackson knew each other as friendly acquaintances.

         On August 26, 2014, McKinney and Partee had a series of arguments that led to a physical altercation in which McKinney threw Partee against her bed and choked her with his hands. Following the incident, McKinney left Carolyn's house with his belongings. Partee subsequently telephoned Jackson, who drove to the house and told Partee to report the incident to police. The next morning, Partee slept through her alarm; she woke to the sound of Jackson's car horn when he arrived to drive Partee to work as he did on a daily basis. While Partee dressed in her bedroom, she could hear Carolyn and Jackson telling McKinney to leave. Jackson repeatedly asked McKinney to leave and told McKinney that he would have shot him if he had been present the night before. McKinney and Jackson began to fight, and Jackson sustained multiple stab wounds resulting in his death.

         McKinney was subsequently charged in separate indictments for murder and domestic violence by strangulation or suffocation. The State filed a motion to consolidate the two offenses for trial, and the circuit court granted the motion. After he was convicted of both offenses, McKinney filed a motion for new trial in which he argued, among other things, that his due-process rights were violated when the circuit court granted the State's motion to consolidate the offenses before McKinney had an opportunity to respond. Following a hearing, the circuit court denied the motion for new trial. McKinney appealed.

         I.

         McKinney argues that the circuit court violated his "right to due process by granting the State's motion to consolidate without first allowing [McKinney] the opportunity to be heard." (McKinney's brief, p. 9.) McKinney cites Rule 13.3(c), Ala. R. Crim. P., which states:

"(c) Consolidation. If offenses or defendants are charged in separate indictments, informations, or complaints, the court on its own initiative or on motion of either party may order that the charges be tried together or that the defendants be joined for the purposes of trial if the offenses or the defendants, as the case may be, could have been joined in a single indictment, information, or complaint. Proceedings thereafter shall be the same as if the prosecution initially were under a single indictment, information, or complaint. However, the court shall not order that the offenses or the defendants, as the case may be, be tried together without first providing the defendant or defendants and the prosecutor an opportunity to be heard."

(Emphasis added.) McKinney cites Lee v. State, 748 So.2d 904, 909 (Ala.Crim.App.1999), overruled on other grounds by Pruitt v. State, 954 So.2d 611 (Ala.Crim.App.2006), for the proposition that Rule 13.3(c) "'is mandatory and requires strict compliance. Noncompliance results in [reversible] error.' Ex parte Jones, 473 So.2d 545 (Ala. 1985)." Citing Goodman v. State, 611 So.2d 446 (Ala.Crim.App.1992), McKinney argues that when a "trial court fails to provide the opportunity to be heard by granting a written motion to consolidate the same day it is filed, that trial court acts arbitrarily, and [a denial of] due process ... occur[s]." (McKinney's brief, p. 12.)

         Here, the State filed its motion to consolidate on February 8, 2016. Within three hours of the State's filing its motion to consolidate, the circuit court granted the motion without holding a hearing. McKinney filed an objection to the merits of State's motion on February 26, 2016. The circuit court dismissed McKinney's objection as moot on February 29, 2016.

         The case was set for trial and rescheduled multiple times over the next year. On March 2, 2017, the circuit court granted McKinney's motion to continue the trial that had been set for March 6, 2017. McKinney's trial began on April 4, 2017, and he was found guilty on April 10, 2017. In his motion for a new trial, McKinney argued, for the first time, that the circuit court's granting of the State's motion to consolidate was inconsistent with Goodman.

         In Goodman, the defendant was charged in separate indictments with two counts of second-degree theft of property by deception. The State moved, two weeks before trial, to consolidate the offenses for trial, and the circuit court granted the motion on the day it was filed. 611 So.2d at 447. On appeal, Goodman argued "that the trial court erred in granting the state's motion to consolidate the two offenses for trial without first giving him notice and an opportunity to object." 611 So.2d at 447. Although this Court recognized that "the 'opportunity to be heard' includes notice and the opportunity to object, but does not necessarily require an adversarial hearing or oral argument," 611 So.2d at 448 (quoting Sharpe v. State, 560 So.2d 1107 (Ala.Crim.App.1989)), this Court agreed with Goodman and reversed the circuit court's judgment. In doing so, this Court rejected the State's argument that affording Goodman the opportunity to file a motion to sever--which he, in fact, had filed on the date of trial--had "'cure[d] the prejudicial error resulting from violation of the rule'" requiring notice and an opportunity to be heard. Goodman, 611 So.2d at 448 (quoting Ex parte Jones, 473 So.2d 545, 546 (Ala. 1985)).[3]

         In McKinney's case, the State asserted the following "bare-bones" grounds in support of its motion to consolidate:

"1. That the offenses are of the same or similar character; or
"2. The offenses are based on the same conduct or are otherwise connected in their commission; or
"3. The offenses are alleged to have been part of a common scheme or plan[; or]
"4. That the cases herein could have been joined in a single indictment, information or complaint."

(C. 15.) McKinney's objection, filed 18 days after the State's motion had been filed and granted, was as "bare bones" as was the State's motion. It simply stated:

"1. [McKinney] avers that the cases did not occur within the same time frame. That the two alleged offenses occurred on two different dates.
"2. That the two alleged offenses are not based off the same conduct or not otherwise connected.
"3. That the alleged offenses are not part of a common plan or scheme.
"4. That by consolidated [sic] the alleged offenses [McKinney] will be unduly prejudiced.
"5. That a hearing is needed in this matter."

(C. 19.) Thus, McKinney's objection was directed to the merits of the consolidation, not the manner in which the motion to consolidate had been granted. The circuit court, as noted, denied this objection as "moot." McKinney did not mention the issue of consolidation again until more than a year later when his newly appointed counsel filed a motion for a new trial. In that motion, counsel argued for the first time that the manner in which the motion to consolidate had been granted was improper under Goodman.

         At the hearing on the motion for a new trial, the prosecutor argued that the charges against McKinney were "inextricably intertwined" and inevitably would have been consolidated based on their facts, regardless of whether there had been a hearing on the motion to consolidate.[4] In response, McKinney argued that Goodman required reversal without regard to any other circumstance. After hearing the arguments, the circuit court disagreed with McKinney's reading of Goodman. The circuit court stated:

"[I]t would seem unusual ... for the appellate court to decide this issue in a complete vacuum if there was opportunity for cure given--if there was procedural error and there was an opportunity given, seemed like they would--doesn't make--I don't understand why they wouldn't assess that.
"And also whether or not there was actually any prejudice to the defendant by the ruling of the Court, if it is acknowledged that, as [the prosecutor says], it would be a practical impossibility to have tried the case, the murder case, without discussing the res gestae, I guess, or the events leading up in the short hours before the murder or what led to the emotions of the parties or whatever the personal interaction between the parties was.
"If the appellate court acknowledged that, that is something that would have been a virtual impossibility or impact--why they would not take that into account as well. Just seemed like, well, you did that, so we're trying the case over.
"Just seems to be--without looking at some other issues, just would seem to be very unusual, I would think."

(R. 938-39.)

         We agree with the circuit court's reading of Goodman. There are, in fact, good reasons to question whether Goodman is limited in its reach or ...


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