Arkansas Court of Appeals -Statute of Limitations Reversal

30 01 2017

On January 25, 2017, there were three decisions worth discussing handed down by the Arkansas Court of Appeals.

In James Bynum v. State, the Court reversed and dismissed ten convictions for sexual assault in the fourth degree because they were filed outside the statute of limitations.  The remarkable portion of the opinion is that the Court did so despite recognizing that the argument was never made to the trial court.  The Court noted that the issue of whether the charges were filed within the statute of limitations was a jurisdictional issue, thus, the matter could be addressed for the first time on appeal.  The Court did uphold his other convictions, which included a sentence of over 40 years.  Thus, the Court’s reversal does not mean much in the long run for Bynum.

In Jaylan Ealy v. State, newly elected Judge Klappenbach wrote his first opinion, which affirmed a terroristic act conviction.  Ealy argued that terroristic act required that a defendant “shoot at a conveyance.”  He argued that he shot at a person and not the conveyance.  The Court recited the well-known rules of statutory construction, including the rule of lenity, and decided that the “plain language” of the statue provided that the aim of the statute was to criminalize attempts to injure individuals and the secondary act was shooting at the conveyance.  The Court then got into the legislative intent of the statute.

There are two critical problems with this Court’s analysis.  First, expressing the “goals”  of the legislature based on the language is getting into the legislative intent.  Second, legislative intent is not supposed to be discussed unless the court finds there is not a plain language meaning.

When a statute is clear, however, it is given its plain meaning, and this court will not search for legislative intent; rather, that intent must be gathered from the plain meaning of the language used. Ford v. Keith, 338 Ark. 487, 996 S.W.2d 20 (1999).

Thus, the entire Court’s analysis of the legislative intent is premised on a finding that the statute is ambiguous.  That should lead the Court to the rule of lenity; instead, the Court claimed it was going a plain language analysis so it did not have to deal with the rule of lenity.  The analysis is incorrect.  Essentially, the Court worked backwards from the legislative intent to the plain language. I hope the Arkansas Supreme Court takes a look at this on review to keep case law consistent.

In Lawana Stockstill v. State, the Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of Stockstill for terroristic threatening, despite the fact that there were never any threatening words.  Terroristic threatening requires “communication of a threat with the purpose of terrorizing another person.”  The Court held that words were not required, and the conviction is based on the fact that Stockstill “chased Jackson around their home with a knife and stabbed him multiple times.”   I cannot imagine Stockstill’s purpose of chasing and stabbing was to terrorize with fear, rather I believe the purpose was to stab Jackson.  However, I was not on the jury.  I presuppose, based on Stockstill, that every case of murder, battery, or assault where the victim saw the assailant could  include a charge for terroristic threatening.

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