Jan. 12, 2015 – A state appeals court has ruled that Bobbie Bowen violated the conditions of his bail when he broke into his ex-girlfriend’s home, despite Bowen’s argument that he did not come face-to-face with her and thus made no “contact.”
Bowen was released on $200 cash bail on the condition that he comply with a no-contact order, barring contact with his ex-girlfriend, who accused him of physically assaulting her. The court later issued a domestic abuse injunction against him.
But about two weeks later, the victim contacted police to report a break-in at her home. She could see Bowen’s vehicle in her driveway, heard commotion and broken glass downstairs and remained hidden in her locked upstairs bedroom before police arrived.
Police found the downstairs window broken and Bowen hiding in the basement. He was intoxicated and resisted arrest but was ultimately arrested and jailed.
In 2013, a jury found that Bowen was guilty of felony bail jumping, obstructing an officer, and violating the domestic abuse injunction. He received a 32-month prison sentence for bail jumping, followed by 32 months of extended supervision.
Bowen filed a postconviction motion for relief, arguing that the jury improperly convicted him for bail jumping since he made no personal contact with the victim – he broke into her house but did not encounter her before police found him in the basement.
His motion was denied. In State v. Bowen, 2014AP767-CR (Dec. 30, 2015), a three-judge panel for the District I Court of Appeals affirmed on de novo review.
Although the no-contact order said Bowen could not have contact with the victim “or her residence,” Bowen argued that the jury instruction required face-to-face contact. The jury instruction said the evidence had to show Bowen made “contact with [the victim].”
It didn’t say anything about making contact with the residence, Bowen argued, and the jury instruction controls. Thus, he challenged the meaning of the word “contact.”
The three-judge panel noted that neither the statute nor the jury instruction defined the term “contact,” but defining a word in an instruction is akin to defining a statutory term.
“As such, determining the meaning of a word in a jury instruction is a legal question that we review de novo,” wrote Judge Kitty Brennan.
“And because the word ‘contact’ is not defined in the jury instruction, we assign the word ‘contact’ its ‘common, ordinary, and accepted meaning.’”
Looking at dictionary definitions, the panel concluded that “contact” included the indirect contact that occurred when Bowen broke into the victim’s house.
“Clearly, the no-contact order itself shows that the common meaning of ‘contact’ encompasses connections that are indirect and not face-to-face,” Brennan wrote.
“Additionally, defining the phrase ‘contact with F.B.’ to include entry into F.B.’s residence while she was present is consistent with the purpose of no-contact orders, that is, to keep victims safe.”