Appeals Court orders new appeal filing in domesetic violence conviction

The Arkansas Court of Appeals has denied a motion by the attorney for a Pine Bluff man who wanted to withdraw from the case, and ordered the attorney to file a new appeal of the conviction.

James Collier III, 65, was charged in 2011 with assault of a family or household member. The charge was amended in February 2012 to include a sentencing enhancement, committing the assault in front of a child, that was filed a day after Collier’s trial.

Collier was convicted by a Jefferson County Circuit Court jury on Feb. 7, 2012, and was sentenced to six years in prison on the assault charge, and an additional two years on the sentencing enhancement, with the sentences to run consecutively.

At the trial, Collier’s former wife and three children testified that Collier had argued with his daughter about dirty dishes, then grabbed a hammer and said he was “going to take care of her.”

When one of the other children tried to intervene and grab the hammer, there was a struggle and the other child, a 15-year-old boy, got a gun and shot Collier in the back. Both Collier and the son were arrested.

After Collier was convicted, prosecutors introduced four documents relating to Collier’s prior guilty pleas and convictions, including probation orders stemming from two prior convictions for violating the Arkansas Hot Check law in 1992, a judgment and disposition order from a 1999 conviction for second-degree domestic battery and a 2003 conviction for two counts of third-degree domestic battery.

While Collier’s attorney filed an appeal listing several adverse rulings during the trial — including the sufficiency of the evidence used to convict Collier and the amended charge — Appeals Court Chief Justice Larry D. Vaught said in the appeal court ruling that Collier’s attorney failed to mention other adverse rulings, including cross-examination of one of the children regarding the distance between Collier’s daughter and the group struggling with Collier over the hammer.

After the son twice said he did not know, Collier’s attorney asked a third time and when prosecutor’s said “Asked and answered,” Judge Berlin C. Jones sustained the objection.

The second adverse ruling took place during the sentencing phase of the trial when Collier’s wife was questioned by prosecutors about the prior domestic violence incidents in an effort to convince the jury that she had been the victim.

Collier’s attorney objected, arguing that it made no difference who the victim was and while that objection was sustained, prosecutors were allowed to ask the woman and her children if she had been involved in prior domestic violence incidents that her children witnessed.

Despite an objection from Collier’s attorney, the trial court ruled that the children would be allowed to testify about domestic violence incidents they had witnessed because “it’s a motive for their actions in this case.”

Vaught said that the appeals court cannot affirm a conviction or allow an attorney to withdraw without adequate discussion about why adverse decisions by the trial court could not be a reason to reverse the conviction.

According to the Department of Corrections website, Collier will be eligible to apply for parole in December 2015.