Appeals court reverses ruling in local case

By Gary Huffenberger -

WILMINGTON — A court of appeals has reversed a Clinton County Municipal Court ruling where the judge changed a domestic violence charge to disorderly conduct.

The domestic violence charge against the defendant, Donald L. McKeever of Wilmington, is a first-degree misdemeanor offense, whereas the disorderly conduct charge he pled to is a minor misdemeanor.

According to the 4½-page opinion from a unanimous three-judge appellate court panel, a Wilmington police officer was dispatched to a residence on the report of a domestic dispute. Upon police’s arrival, McKeever admitted to striking his adult son in the face while the two were drinking because his son “kept running his mouth,” states the court of appeals paper.

The court of appeals’ written opinion states Clinton County Municipal Judge Michael Daugherty amended the original charge against McKeever to a lesser charge during McKeever’s arraignment hearing.

“The trial court [the judge] explained its decision to amend the charge down to a minor misdemeanor because McKeever had merely struck his adult son in the face rather than ‘beating up your little kid’,” 12th District Court of Appeals Judge Stephen W. Powell wrote in the opinion document.

After McKeever pled guilty to the minor misdemeanor charge, he was fined $50 and ordered to pay court costs of $125.

Chief Municipal Prosecutor Laura Railing Gibson appealed the matter, arguing the judge erred by amending on his own the original charge without the prosecutor’s involvement.

The written opinion also brings out that trial court judges may, for good cause, amend a criminal complaint as long as the new charge doesn’t change the penalty or degree of the original charge, as occurred in the Wilmington case.

After Judge Daugherty read the appellate court’s decision, he said, “When I was a baseball coach, I told my players that they should never argue balls and strikes with the umpire. The Court of Appeals made a decision, and I will follow it. They are the authority, and we must respect authority. I will apply this ruling when making future decisions.”

In light of the Dec. 2 court of appeals’ decision, the defendant now has to return to court on the original charge of domestic violence.

Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.

By Gary Huffenberger