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State v. Hatchett

Supreme Court of South Dakota

March 12, 2014

STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
CHRISTOPHER HATCHETT, Defendant and Appellant

Considered on Briefs January 14, 2014.

Page 611

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT PENNINGTON COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA. THE HONORABLE JANINE KERN, Judge.

MARTY J. JACKLEY, Attorney General, JOHN M. STROHMAN, Assistant Attorney General, Pierre, South Dakota, Attorneys for plaintiff and appellee.

JEREMIAH J. DAVIS, Pennington County Public Defender's Office, Rapid City, South Dakota, Attorneys for defendant and appellant.

GILBERTSON, Chief Justice. KONENKAMP, ZINTER, SEVERSON, and WILBUR, Justices, concur.

OPINION

Page 612

GILBERTSON, Chief Justice

[¶1] Defendant Christopher Hatchett was convicted of first-degree burglary in violation of SDCL 22-32-1 and obstructing a law enforcement officer in violation of SDCL 22-11-6, after fleeing from a police officer into an occupied apartment and forcing the door closed against the officer. Hatchett appeals, alleging that obstructing law enforcement is not a sufficient predicate offense to support the charge of first-degree burglary. Hatchett also claims the trial court erred by allowing the State to exercise a peremptory strike motivated by race and that the trial court abused its discretion by not allowing Hatchett to admit into evidence at trial a letter written by Hatchett to the victims of the burglary. We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

[¶2] On April 3, 2012, at approximately 3:45 a.m., Rapid City police officer Fred Baxter responded to a call directing him to an incident at 402 Denver Street, apartment 103. The call stated that there was a male wearing a brown jacket and blue shirt kicking the apartment door and trying to light the door on fire. When Officer Baxter arrived at the apartment building, he saw Defendant Christopher Hatchett standing on the other side of an interior staircase doorway. Hatchett matched the description of the suspect. The two made eye contact through a window in the door and Hatchett immediately ran toward apartment 104.[1] Officer Baxter followed after Hatchett, but was unable to apprehend him before he disappeared inside apartment 104.

[¶3] Brittnie and Brandon Schrier lived in apartment 104. As Brittnie opened her door to leave for work that morning, Hatchett--a complete stranger to Brittnie--was standing outside the door. Hatchett pushed his way inside the apartment. Brittnie screamed and ran to the other side of the room. The screaming awakened Brandon, who came to Brittnie's aid. As Brittnie yelled at Hatchett to get out, the Schriers observed Hatchett push against the door and bolt the deadlock. Brittnie then called 911 to report the intrusion. After bolting the lock, Hatchett entered a nearby closet and attempted to conceal himself with clothes, blankets, and other items.

[¶4] From outside of apartment 104, Officer Baxter heard Brittnie screaming. Officer Baxter tried to follow Hatchett into the apartment, but could not force the door open against Hatchett's resistance.

Page 613

Once the deadbolt locked, Officer Baxter stepped back and kicked in the door. Inside the apartment, Officer Baxter saw Brittnie pointing to the entryway closet, where Officer Baxter found Hatchett lying on the floor. Officer Baxter placed Hatchett under arrest and escorted him out of the apartment. At the time of the arrest, Officer Baxter noted a strong odor of alcohol on Hatchett, but observed that Hatchett could talk clearly and could walk on his own.[2] Hatchett was charged with first-degree burglary in violation of SDCL 22-32-1 and obstructing a law enforcement officer in violation of SDCL 22-11-6.

[¶5] A jury trial commenced February 8th, 2013. During jury selection, each side exercised its ten peremptory strikes. The State used one peremptory strike to remove J.D.S., the only Native American member of the jury pool. During voir dire J.D.S. was asked, " Why do you think we have a law to prevent obstructing law enforcement?" He answered, " I don't know . . . I didn't really pay attention to the laws. The common intention ones, but just not--I never had to deal with that." In his jury questionnaire, J.D.S. also indicated that an immediate family member had been convicted of a crime other than a traffic offense. Hatchett raised a Batson challenge to the strike. The State explained that its strike was based on the jury questionnaire answer and because J.D.S. " stated that he doesn't pay attention to the laws or doesn't follow the laws except for the big ones[.]" The trial court accepted this race-neutral explanation, and J.D.S. was struck from the jury.

[¶6] While in jail awaiting trial, Hatchett wrote a letter to the Schriers. In the letter, Hatchett apologized for breaking into the apartment. He also mentioned his past criminal history and offered the Schriers tattoo work in exchange for the Schriers' refusal to testify against Hatchett.[3] Prior to trial, Hatchett filed a motion in limine to prevent the letter from being introduced into evidence. The State in response argued that the letter should be admissible, because it was highly relevant to the issue of guilt. After arguments by both sides, the trial court found that portions of the letter discussing Hatchett's prior convictions and imprisonment were too prejudicial. The trial court granted Hatchett's motion in part, approving only a redacted and typed version of the letter in which references to prior crimes and imprisonment were removed.

[¶7] At trial, the State did not offer the redacted letter into evidence. Hatchett sought to call Brittnie Schrier to the stand as a witness and offer the letter through her. However, the State objected to the evidence as hearsay. The trial court found that the letter did not fit any hearsay exception when offered by Hatchett and sustained the State's objection.

[¶8] At the close of the State's case, Hatchett moved for a judgment of acquittal, contending as a matter of law that obstructing law enforcement was an inappropriate predicate crime upon which to base the first-degree burglary charge. The motion was denied. Because the trial court denied admission of the letter as offered by Hatchett, the defense rested without calling any witnesses. The jury found Hatchett guilty on both charges. Hatchett was sentenced to seven years in the penitentiary for the first-degree burglary conviction, and 90 days in the county

Page 614

jail for obstructing law enforcement, concurrent with the ...


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