Skip Maine state header navigation

Agencies | Online Services | Help
State v. David York
Download as PDF
Back to the Opinions page

MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT					Reporter of Decisions
Decision:	2001 ME 30
Docket:	Cum-00-284
Submitted 
on Briefs:	November 21, 2000
Decided:	February 9, 2001

Panel:WATHEN, C.J., and CLIFFORD, RUDMAN, DANA, SAUFLEY, ALEXANDER, and
CALKINS, JJ.



STATE OF MAINE v. DAVID YORK


SAUFLEY, J.

	[¶1]  David York appeals from the judgment entered in the Superior
Court (Cumberland County, Crowley, J.) pursuant to a jury verdict finding
him guilty of assault, 17-A M.R.S.A. § 207(1) (1983) (Class D), for injuries
inflicted on his nine-year-old daughter.  On appeal, York contends that the
trial court erred (1) in denying his motion for a judgment of acquittal; (2) in
denying his motion for a new trial; and (3) in sentencing him to nine
months in jail.  We affirm the judgment and dismiss the sentence appeal.
I. BACKGROUND
	[¶2]  The evidence at trial, taken in the light most favorable to the
State as to whether an assault occurred, revealed the following.  In the
spring of 1999, Kelly, then nine years old, and her brother and sister were
living with their father, David York.{1}  York had told Kelly in the past not to
open more than three drawers on her dresser at a time because they made
noise.  Early one Saturday morning, Kelly awakened her father by opening
the drawers.  York came to Kelly's room, spanked her, and hit her on her
back.  He then threw her onto her bed where Kelly's head hit the wall,
causing a bruise on the side of her head.  After hitting her head, Kelly cried
and stayed alone in her room for a couple of hours.  
	[¶3]  On the following Monday, a school guidance counselor noticed a
one-inch, oval-shaped, green bruise on the side of Kelly's head and spoke to
Kelly about the origin of the bruise.  Based on Kelly's response, the guidance
counselor reported it to the Department of Human Services.{2}  
	[¶4]  David York testified at trial.  He told the jury that he did in fact
reprimand his children on some occasions by spanking them, and that
during the course of playing with his children, he would sometimes throw
them onto his waterbed.  He denied, however, that the bruise in question
was caused by him throwing his daughter onto her bed.  York testified that
Kelly's bruise was the result of her playing with the trapeze in the backyard.{3}
Alternatively, he asserted that Kelly was with his parents on what he
referred to as the "so-called night and morning in question." 
	[¶5]  At the close of the State's evidence, York made a motion for a
judgment of acquittal based largely on the parental discipline justification,
17-A M.R.S.A. § 106(1) (1983).  See also State v. Wilder, 2000 ME 32, 748
A.2d 444.  The court denied the motion.  At the close of all of the evidence,
York renewed his motion for a judgment of acquittal.  The court denied the
motion but granted York's request that the jury be instructed on his parental
discipline defense, notwithstanding York's assertions under oath that he had
had no occasion to discipline Kelly because the event did not happen.  After
deliberation, the jury found York guilty of assault, thereby implicitly
rejecting his defense of parental discipline justification. 
	[¶6]  Prior to sentencing, York renewed his motion for a judgment of
acquittal and moved for a new trial based on the grounds that he had been
unfairly prejudiced when the complaint was read to the jury at the opening
of the trial.  The complaint contained an allegation that York struck Kelly in
the temple with a closed fist, a fact which was never presented at trial.  The
court denied those motions.  After hearing arguments, the court sentenced
York to nine months in the Cumberland County jail.{4}  York filed this appeal
of the judgment and the sentence. 
II. DISCUSSION
A.  Motion for a Judgment of Acquittal

	[¶7]  When reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence to support a
conviction, we review the evidence in the light most favorable to the State to
determine whether the jury rationally could find beyond a reasonable doubt
every element of the offense charged.  State v. Brown, 2000 ME 25, ¶ 7,
757 A.2d 768, 770-71.  There is no question that the record contains ample
evidence satisfying the elements of the charge of assault, and York does not
challenge the sufficiency of the evidence in support of the elements of
assault.  See Wilder, 2000 ME 32, ¶ 46, 748 A.2d at 456.  
	[¶8]  Instead, York challenges the court's failure to conclude that
York's actions fell, as a matter of law, within the parental discipline privilege
set out in 17-A M.R.S.A. § 106(1), because his actions were necessary to
prevent or punish Kelly's misconduct.  In other words, York claims that
even though the jury was entitled to find that he caused Kelly offensive
physical contact,{5} the State failed to present sufficient evidence to disprove
his parental discipline defense beyond a reasonable doubt. 
	[¶9]  We first determine whether York presented sufficient evidence
to raise the parental discipline justification.  In determining whether the
facts were sufficient to raise the defense, we review the evidence in the
light most favorable to the parent.  Id. ¶ 23, 748 A.2d at 450.  It does not
matter whether the evidence was presented by the State or the defendant.  
See State v. Begin, 652 A.2d 102, 106 (Me. 1995).  Evidence from either
party may be found to generate a defense.  Wilder, 2000 ME 32, ¶ 23, 748
A.2d at 450.
	[¶10]  At trial, York denied that Kelly's explanation of the event had
ever happened.  He denied having thrown Kelly on her bed, and he
disavowed any suggestion that his disciplining of Kelly caused the injury.  He
also asserted that he would not discipline his children by throwing them.  If
York's testimony were viewed in isolation, there would have been no facts
giving rise to the parental discipline justification.
	[¶11]  Kelly testified, however, to more than just the assault itself. 
She explained that she was making noise by opening her drawers, that she
had been told by her father on an earlier occasion not to make such noise,
and that she understood that his actions were to discipline her for that
behavior.  Her testimony was sufficient to give rise to a parental discipline
defense if the defendant sought to make use of it.  See id. ¶¶ 23-24, 748
A.2d at 450-451.  Thus, the court correctly gave the instruction in response
to York's request.{6}
	[¶12]  Once the parental discipline justification is placed in issue, the
State "must disprove its existence beyond a reasonable doubt."  17-A
M.R.S.A § 101(1) (1983 & Supp. 2000).  The issue then is whether the
evidence was sufficient for the jury to have determined beyond a reasonable
doubt that York was not justified in throwing Kelly on the bed causing her to
hit her head on the wall.
	[¶13]  The Legislature has provided that parents may use a reasonable
amount of force in disciplining their children.  17-A M.R.S.A. § 106(1).{7} 
When a parent reasonably believes that force is necessary to prevent or
punish a child's misconduct, the use of force that would otherwise
constitute an assault may be excused.  See id.  When a parent's punishment
exceeds a "reasonable degree of force," however, the statutory justification
does not excuse the behavior.  See id.
	[¶14]  In order for the defense to excuse the behavior, both the force
used and the parent's belief in its necessity must be reasonable.  See id.  The
reasonableness of the force must be measured by an objective standard.  The
force may be determined to be reasonable if it caused merely transient
discomfort and minor temporary marks.  Wilder, 2000 ME 32, ¶ 36, 748
A.2d at 453.  The parent's belief in the necessity of the force is similarly
measured by an objective standard:  whether the parent's belief was grossly
deviant from what a reasonable and prudent person would believe in the
same circumstances.  Id. ¶ 34, 748 A.2d at 453.
	[¶15]  Thus, in order to obtain a conviction in light of York's assertion
of the parental control justification, the State was required to prove beyond
a reasonable doubt not only that York did commit the assault, but also that: 
(1) the degree of physical force that York used caused physical injury greater
than transient pain and/or minor temporary marks, or (2) York's belief that
the force used was necessary to control Kelly's misconduct was grossly
deviant from what a reasonable and prudent parent would believe necessary
in the same situation.  See id. ¶ 45, 748 A.2d at 455.{8}  If the State disproves
either or both of those elements, the justification is not available to the
defendant.  See 17-A M.R.S.A. § 106(1).{9}  
	[¶16]  Although we determine whether the parent has raised the
parental discipline defense by examining the evidence in the light most
favorable to the parent, when the jury has found the parent guilty of assault,
thus rejecting the defense, we review the facts relating to the defense in the
light most favorable to the State.  See Wilder, 2000 ME 32, ¶ 46 748 A.2d at
455-56. 
	[¶17]  On the first element, the evidence presented by the State was
sufficient to support a finding that Kelly sustained more than transient
discomfort and temporary marks.  After York threw Kelly against the wall,
she had a lump and a bruise on the side of her head that were visible several
days later.{10}  After the incident, she remained withdrawn, staying alone in
her room for a couple of hours.  That evidence was sufficient for the jury to
have concluded that Kelly endured more than transient pain and temporary
marks.  
	[¶18]  We turn next to York's belief regarding the necessity of using
such force.  In analyzing the reasonableness of a parent's belief, we are
guided by the statute's requirement that the force exercised by the parent
be employed for the purpose of preventing or punishing the child's
misconduct.  17-A M.R.S.A. § 106(1).  Accordingly, in using force, the parent
must maintain reasonable control over the outcome or physical
consequences to the child so that the force used is designed to prevent or
punish misbehavior.  When a parent throws a child, however, the outcome of
the initial use of force is likely to be beyond the parent's control.  Once the
child has been released with the force of a throw as significant as was
presented here, the parent cannot be certain of where the child will land or
whether the child will sustain significant pain or serious injury as a result.{11}
	[¶19]  It would, therefore, be well within the province of the jury to
conclude any belief held by York that throwing Kelly in order to discipline
her for her conduct was not reasonable.  The evidence was also sufficient for
the jury to have decided that throwing a child does not represent a method
of correction or a reasonable means to obtaining the child's attention and
compliance, but rather represents an adult who has lost control of his own
responses.{12}  Thus, the jury would have been justified in finding any belief
held by York that throwing Kelly was necessary to control her behavior to
have constituted a gross deviation from what a reasonable and prudent
parent would have deemed necessary in the same situation.
	[¶20]  Moreover, the position now asserted by York was belied by his
own testimony before the jury.  He denied having thrown Kelly in order to
discipline her because "[t]hrowing my kids into walls would cause harm and
pain."  If the jury believed Kelly's testimony that her father picked her up
and threw her onto her bed and into a wall, there was ample evidence
before them, including York's own statement, from which they could
conclude that any belief on York's part of the necessity of that action would
have constituted a gross deviation from the considerations of reasonable and
prudent parent.
	[¶21]  Accordingly, the trial court did not err in denying York's
motion for a judgment of acquittal.

B.  Motion for a New Trial

	[¶22]  The complaint alleged that York violated 17-A M.R.S.A. § 207 by
"knowingly, intentionally or recklessly" causing "bodily injury or offensive
physical contact to 9 year old Kelly York by, striking her in the temple with
a closed fist."  The clerk read that language to the jury at the beginning of
the trial.  It is undisputed that no evidence was presented at trial regarding
a closed fist or a punch.  York therefore contends that the reading of the
errant phrase in the complaint unfairly prejudiced him and that he is
entitled to a new trial.{13}
	[¶23]  When the matter was brought to the attention of the trial court,
it correctly instructed the jury that they could not find an assault based on
striking with a closed fist because there was no evidence of any such action. 
The defendant did not object to the instruction and sought no other relief
from the court.  We presume that the jury followed the trial court's
instructions.  See State v. Bennett, 658 A.2d 1058, 1063 (Me. 1995).  
	[¶24]  Absent the closed fist language, the complaint was not
defective.  The remainder of the complaint alleges each element of the
charge.  See 17-A M.R.S.A. § 207(1).  The fact that the complaint does not
contain the particular method of assault described by Kelly at trial does not
cause the complaint to be defective.  State v. Sprague, 583 A.2d 203, 204-05
(Me. 1990).  The trial court did not err in denying York's motion for a new
trial.

C.  Sentence

	[¶25]  Finally, York challenges the nine-month sentence imposed by
the court.  A defendant who "has been convicted of a criminal offense and
sentenced to a term of imprisonment of one year or more . . . may apply to
the Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, for review of the
sentence."  15 M.R.S.A. § 2151 (Supp. 2000) (emphasis added).  York's
sentence is less than one year in length.  Moreover, even if York's sentence
exceeded a year, "no appeal of the sentence may proceed before the
Supreme Judicial Court unless leave to appeal is first granted by the
[Sentence Review Panel]."  15 M.R.S.A. § 2152 (Supp. 2000); accord M.R.
Crim. P. 40(a).  York did not file an application for leave to appeal his
sentence.
	[¶26]  There is no jurisdictional infirmity of record to be corrected,
and York's appeal does not claim that the length of the sentence exceeded
the authority of the court.  See State v. Frechette, 687 A.2d 628, 629 (Me.
1996).  Accordingly, York's appeal of his sentence is not properly before us
for review and must be dismissed.
	The entry is:
Judgment affirmed.  Appeal from the sentence
imposed by the Superior Court dismissed.

Attorneys for State: Stephanie Anderson, District Attorney Julia Sheridan, Asst. Dist. Atty. 142 Federal Street Portland, ME 04101 Attorney for defendant: Patrick H. Gordon, Esq. Strike & Gordon 400 Allen Avenue Portland, ME 04103
FOOTNOTES******************************** {1} . York received custody of his three children pursuant to a court order that followed an investigation by the Department of Human Services regarding the safety of the children in York's home and the home of his ex-wife. By the time of trial, Kelly York was ten years old. {2} . Kelly also testified that the school nurse noticed a bump on the side of her head. {3} . York testified that although he did not see the trapeze hit Kelly, the bruise was definitely caused by the trapeze. York stated, "My daughter comes crying in the house, tells me she got hit by something, I have a tendency to believe her." At trial, Kelly testified that she did not get the bruise from a swing, on the playground, from falling downstairs, or from her siblings throwing anything at her. {4} . At the sentencing hearing, the court had information that York had two prior assault convictions, one of which may have been on appeal, and a conviction for violating a protection order. The court also noted that York took no responsibility for his prior assaults or for his actions regarding Kelly and that during the trial, York appeared to be attempting to intimidate Kelly while she testified. {5} . And that he did so with the requisite mens rea. {6} . York does not dispute that the Superior Court correctly applied the standards we articulated in Wilder when instructing the jury on the parental control justification defense, and York does not challenge the instruction. {7} . 17-A M.R.S.A. § 106(1) states: § 106. Physical force by persons with special responsibilities 1. A parent, foster parent, guardian or other similar person responsible for the long term general care and welfare of a person is justified in using a reasonable degree of force against such person when and to the extent that he reasonably believes it necessary to prevent or punish such person's misconduct. A person to whom such parent, foster parent, guardian or other responsible person has expressly delegated permission to so prevent or punish misconduct is similarly justified in using a reasonable degree of force. 17-A M.R.S.A. § 106(1) (1983). {8} . Assault requires proof that York caused bodily injury "intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly." 17-A M.R.S.A. § 207(1) (1983). Because recklessness is an element of the crime, and the reasonableness of York's belief is at issue due to the parental control justification defense, York "may be convicted 'only if holding the belief, when viewed in light of the nature and purpose of the person's conduct and the circumstances known to the person, is grossly deviant from what a reasonable and prudent person would believe in the same situation.'" State v. Wilder, 2000 ME 32, ¶ 27, 748 A.2d 444, 451 (citations omitted) (emphasis added). {9} . A similar analysis occurs regarding duress and self-defense defenses. Cf. State v. Knights, 482 A.2d 436, 442 (Me. 1984) (holding that the jury rationally could have concluded that defendant was not entitled to defense of duress because the jury could have rationally disbelieved either defendant's statements that he was threatened with serious bodily injury or death or that the threats were such that a "reasonable person in the defendant's situation" would not be able to resist); State v. Lagasse, 410 A.2d 537, 542 (Me. 1980) (holding that the jury could rationally conclude that self-defense was not available to the defendant because the defendant did not reasonably believe either that it was necessary to use deadly force or that the victim was about to use deadly force against him). Our inadvertent use of "and" rather than "or" in the last sentence of paragraph forty-five of the Wilder opinion should not be understood to change the law. {10} . The greenish color of the bruise indicates that the bruise was a few days old. {11} . Several states have explicitly eliminated throwing as a legitimate method of punishment or correction. For example, the State of Washington provides, in pertinent part: "The following actions are presumed unreasonable when used to correct or restrain a child: (1) Throwing, kicking, burning, or cutting a child." Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9A.16.100 (West 2000) (emphasis added). Delaware has similarly declared that force is not justified if it includes throwing the child. Del. Code Ann. tit. 11, § 468 (1999). Minnesota provides that throwing a child is not a reasonable and moderate method of discipline. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 626.556 (West 2000). {12} . No evidence was presented to suggest that Kelly was in a situation of physical danger or needed to be rapidly moved out of harm's way. {13} . M.R. Crim. P. 33 states, in pertinent part, that "[t]he court on motion of the defendant may grant a new trial to the defendant if required in the interest of justice." M.R. Crim. P. 33.