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Gonzalez-Chavarria v. State

Supreme Court of Wyoming

October 3, 2019

JORGE F. GONZALEZ-CHAVARRIA, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
THE STATE OF WYOMING, Appellee (Plaintiff).

          Appeal from the District Court of Sheridan County The Honorable John G. Fenn, Judge.

          Representing Appellant: Office of the State Public Defender: Diane Lozano, Wyoming State Public Defender; Kirk A. Morgan, Chief Appellate Counsel. Argument by Mr. Morgan.

          Representing Appellee: Bridget Hill, Wyoming Attorney General; Jenny L. Craig, Deputy Attorney General; Christyne M. Martens, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Russell Farr, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Mr. Farr.

          Before DAVIS, C.J., and FOX, KAUTZ, BOOMGAARDEN, and GRAY, JJ.

          GRAY, JUSTICE.

         [¶1] On June 3, 2018, police officers were dispatched to a home in Sheridan, Wyoming, following a 911 call reporting domestic violence. When they arrived, the officers found Jorge F. Gonzalez-Chavarria's wife badly beaten. Mr. Gonzalez-Chavarria was charged and convicted on two counts-Count I, Strangulation of a Household Member; and Count II, Domestic Battery. He appeals his conviction on Count I, claiming the district court erred in admitting the testimony of Ms. Gonzalez's treating physician, Dr. Mangus, for the truth of the matter asserted after ruling the testimony would be admitted only for impeachment. Mr. Gonzalez-Chavarria also argues the evidence was insufficient to establish the elements of strangulation. We affirm.

         ISSUES

         [¶2] We rephrase the issues:

1. Did the district court err when it did not give a limiting instruction if Dr. Mangus's testimony was admitted for impeachment purposes only or, in the alternative, did the district court err in admitting the testimony for substantive purposes?
2. Was the evidence sufficient to support the jury's finding that Mr. Gonzalez-Chavarria caused bodily injury by impeding Ms. Gonzalez's normal circulation of blood?

         FACTS

         [¶3] On June 2, 2018, Ms. Gonzalez and Mr. Gonzalez-Chavarria were at home drinking beer. At some point that night, Ms. Gonzalez awoke to Mr. Gonzalez-Chavarria straddled on top of her, beating her with one hand while he read messages from her cell phone which he held in his other hand. He then slammed the phone on the headboard and continued to beat her with both hands. She feigned unconsciousness, and he got off the bed. While Mr. Gonzalez-Chavarria went to look for the key to the gun safe, Ms. Gonzalez ran to her daughter's bedroom where her daughter called the police.

         [¶4] At 1:10 a.m., Officer Walker and Sergeant Gerleman arrived. Ms. Gonzalez's son-in-law saw the officers approach and climbed out of the window to let them in. An ambulance arrived shortly after the officers entered the home and transferred Ms. Gonzalez to the hospital. After the officers arrested Mr. Gonzalez-Chavarria, he stated, "I found out my wife was cheating on me and I beat . . . her."

         [¶5] At trial, Dr. Lieb, the emergency room physician, testified he treated Ms. Gonzalez and transferred her to the intensive care unit. Dr. Lieb stated that he asked Ms. Gonzalez what caused her injuries, and she replied her husband had beaten and choked her. Ms. Gonzalez reported pain in her neck and pain when she moved her head. Dr. Lieb observed swelling and bruising on her face. Her eyes were swollen and when manually opened exhibited "subconjunctival hemorrhages"-bruising or broken blood vessels in the white part of the eyes. He also noted "petechiae," or ruptured capillaries in the skin. Dr. Lieb testified this condition commonly appears on a patient's cheeks when blood flow is impeded. Both subconjunctival hemorrhages and petechiae can be caused by manual strangulation. From his observations, Dr. Lieb concluded Ms. Gonzalez was the victim of assault by strangulation.

         [¶6] Dr. Mangus, the general surgeon and the director of the trauma program at the Sheridan hospital, testified he visited Ms. Gonzalez in the intensive care unit around 7:00 a.m. on June 3. He reviewed her records and conducted his normal examination to ensure no injury was overlooked and her pain control was adequate. During this examination, Ms. Gonzalez told Dr. Mangus she was beaten and choked by her husband. Dr. Mangus visited Ms. Gonzalez around noon the same day and determined she was ready to be discharged.

         [¶7] Officer Hawkins of the Sheridan Police Department testified he conducted a follow-up interview. When Officer Hawkins asked Ms. Gonzalez what happened, she said she woke up to find her husband hitting her and "[a]t one point he choked her."

         [¶8] Two days after her release from the hospital, Ms. Gonzalez returned to the emergency room complaining of "neck pain and difficulty swallowing." Dr. Goddard, the emergency room physician who treated Ms. Gonzalez, testified he observed a significant amount of bruising around Ms. Gonzalez's neck and "fairly severe subconjunctival hemorrhages" in both eyes. He stated the significant bruising indicated "there was a lot of force applied." Dr. Goddard explained there are multiple indications of manual strangulation, the most obvious being trauma to the skin of the neck, difficulty swallowing, and sore throat. He stated there may also be signs on the face, petechiae, that are caused by increased pressure in the ...


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