BLANK

Tag: crime

In re K.A.S. – 2023 UT App 138 THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS STATE OF UTAH, IN THE INTEREST OF K.S., A PERSON OVER EIGHTEEN YEARS OF AGE.

STATE OF UTAH, Appellee, v. K.S., Appellant. Opinion No. 20210291-CA Filed November 16, 2023 Third District Juvenile Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Mark W. May No. 1108274 Monica Maio, Marina Pena, Sam Pappas, and Hilary Forbush, Attorneys for Appellant Sean D. Reyes and Jeffrey S. Gray, Attorneys for Appellee JUDGE RYAN D. TENNEY authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER and DAVID N. MORTENSEN concurred.

TENNEY, Judge:

¶1        K.S., a minor, spent several weeks babysitting the infant child of some family members while they were at work. When the infant’s parents returned home one day, the infant was in pronounced distress. The infant was taken to the hospital, but she died a few days later.

¶2        K.S. was charged in juvenile court with having committed child abuse homicide. At the close of trial, the juvenile court found that K.S. had committed the crime and adjudicated K.S. delinquent as a result. K.S. now appeals that adjudication, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support it. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

BACKGROUND

¶3        A.M., a four-month-old infant, died on May 10, 2019. Several medical experts later testified that the cause of death was a brain injury and that the fatal injury was likely inflicted in a non-accidental manner. The question at the heart of this case is who inflicted the fatal injury.

¶4        A.M.’s parents (Mother and Father) both worked and needed someone to watch their two children (A.M. and a two-year-old son) during the day. After an arrangement with a previous babysitter fell through, Mother and Father learned that K.S., the 16-year-old son of Mother’s cousin, was available to babysit. Although K.S. had no prior child-care experience, he began watching the children in April 2019. Because of K.S.’s lack of experience, Father had to teach him the basics of childcare, including how to prepare a bottle, how to change a diaper, and how to calm A.M. down and “hold her correctly.” K.S. frequently stayed overnight to save on gas, sleeping on a couch in the front room.

¶5        On May 2, Mother and Father took A.M. to the emergency room because A.M. had been sick for a few days. On examination, the ER doctor found “nothing worrisome,” and tests indicated that her heart rate, oxygen saturation, and temperature were all “reassuring.” The ER doctor concluded that A.M. “might have a bug” and sent her home. By May 6, A.M. seemed to be “feeling a little better.”

¶6        K.S. slept over at the house on the night of May 6 to 7, and A.M. was “real fussy” that night. According to her parents’ subsequent accounts, though, A.M. was “crying normal[ly]” and even “cheery, smiling, [and] glowing” by the next morning. Mother left for work by 9:30 a.m.[1] Father later testified that he left for work between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m. (though, as will be discussed below, testimony from an officer suggested that Father didn’t actually leave until 10:55 that morning).

¶7        At some point between 11:36 and 11:56 a.m., K.S. sent Mother a video that showed A.M. experiencing troubling symptoms—specifically, A.M. had a limp arm and labored breathing. K.S. texted, “Is this normal?” After viewing the video, Mother asked her sister (Aunt) to stop by on her lunch break to check on A.M.

¶8        Aunt arrived at about 1:20 that afternoon. A.M. seemed “lethargic” to her, and it seemed like “moving her was upsetting her more, almost like it was causing her pain.” Aunt thought that A.M. might have an ear infection, so she gave her some ibuprofen. After returning to work, Aunt told Mother her concern about the ear infection and encouraged Mother to take A.M. to the hospital after Mother’s shift ended. During her own lunch break an hour later, Mother returned home and checked on A.M., who was “fussy and whiney”; when Mother picked A.M. up, she also observed her legs “dangling down.” Mother was concerned enough to schedule an appointment with a pediatrician, but she made lunch and returned to work without taking further action.

¶9        There was no additional contact between K.S. and the parents until around 7:45 that evening, when K.S. called Mother and reported that A.M still didn’t seem to be feeling better. Mother said she was on her way. After picking Father up from his work, Mother arrived home to find A.M. “pale as a light.” Father performed CPR while Mother called 911. Mother told the 911 dispatcher that A.M. had been “fine throughout the day and stuff.”

¶10 A.M. was first taken to the Intermountain Healthcare hospital, then life-flighted to Primary Children’s Medical Center (Primary Children’s). Doctors at Primary Children’s concluded that A.M. had suffered a severe brain injury.

¶11      Police detained Mother and Father for questioning before allowing them to see A.M. While awaiting the arrival of a detective, Father engaged police officers in light-hearted banter, telling them “a story about getting drunk and . . . dancing on the table,” as well as a story about a woman beating up a man in their apartment complex. Mother and Father eventually met with a detective who questioned them about the events of the day. This detective later testified that, during these interviews, Father told him that he had left for work around 10:55 that morning.

¶12      The following day, K.S. sent Father two text messages. The first said: “im so sorry. . . . if it weren’t for my laziness and wanting to relax [A.M.] wouldn’t be like this and if i had never tossed her up in the air to try and cheer her up.” The second said: “im truly sorry plz tell [Mother] im so so so sorry and i would never intentionally hurt your kids out of anger or frustration.”

¶13      A.M. died two days later. Later that week, Dr. Christensen, the medical examiner, performed an autopsy and determined that the “primary cause” of death was “blunt injuries” to A.M.’s head. Dr. Christensen classified the death as a homicide.

¶14 The State subsequently charged K.S. with child abuse homicide in juvenile court. Over the course of eight days of trial, the court heard testimony from, among others, both parents, several medical experts, and the responding officer.

¶15      Mother and Father testified about the events on May 7 and A.M.’s health in the relevant period. Mother testified that A.M. was “pretty fine” and “cheery, smiling, [and] glowing” before she left for work that morning. Father testified that, after a few days of being fussy, A.M. “was feeling a little better” and that there was “nothing out of the ordinary” that morning. Father testified that he remembered leaving home between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m. so that he could catch the bus.

¶16 The court also heard testimony from three medical experts—Dr. Thorn, Dr. Hatch, and Dr. Christensen—about the nature of A.M.’s injuries and the timing of those injuries.

¶17 Dr. Thorn. Dr. Thorn was an ER doctor who had “extensive training and expertise specialization in the management of head injury,” and he was the doctor who treated A.M. on May 7 at the Intermountain Healthcare hospital. Dr. Thorn testified that A.M.’s symptoms likely resulted from “non-accidental trauma,” which “is a nice way of saying a child . . . was physically abused.” Dr. Thorn also testified that A.M.’s injuries would have required the application of “[e]xtremely violent” force, though he opined that it might have been “possible” that a person might not have “recognize[d] the severity” of the injury that he or she had inflicted.

¶18      On a CAT scan, Dr. Thorn observed two layers of blood in A.M.’s brain, which suggested to him that A.M. had sustained “at least two” discrete injuries. He estimated that the earlier of the two injuries occurred “within days” to “maybe a week” before May 7. Dr. Thorn speculated that the symptoms that prompted A.M.’s visit to the hospital on May 2 had come from the first brain injury, but he acknowledged that “[w]e’ll never know.” With respect to the injuries that led to A.M.’s death, Dr. Thorn testified that the “most severe injury leading eventually to the death” happened anywhere from “sometime within hours” to “almost right before” the video that was taken on May 7. He further testified that there was “some event soon before arrival [at the ER] that had caused” A.M.’s “respiratory depression.” Dr. Thorn felt unable to narrow the timeframe any further, and he expressed doubt that any doctor “would be able to comment as to a more definitive timeframe.” Dr. Thorn also testified that A.M. “was very, very sick at the time that that video was taken.”[2]

¶19 Dr. Hatch. Dr. Hatch was a recent medical school graduate who was completing a post-residency fellowship in child abuse pediatrics at the University of Utah, and he was part of the team that treated A.M. at Primary Children’s. Dr. Hatch testified that it would have required a significant amount of force to cause A.M.’s symptoms, such as “shaking by itself” or shaking combined “with some form of impact, or impact by itself.” He added that “we don’t observe these kinds of injuries from falls” or even from “significant” car accidents. In Dr. Hatch’s view, A.M.’s symptoms “suggest[ed]” that A.M. had “experienced significant force to her head.” He also opined that anyone who was present when the injuries were inflicted “would know that the force was excessive and that an injury was likely” to follow.

¶20 Dr. Hatch thought there were two potentially plausible explanations for the two layers of blood in A.M.’s brain: he thought it was possible that the blood represented two different injuries that were separated by time, and he also thought it was possible that the blood represented a single injury where some of the blood had changed colors when it mingled with cerebral spinal fluid. Thus, in Dr. Hatch’s opinion, A.M. was definitely injured on May 7, and it was possible that she had suffered an earlier brain injury as well.

¶21      As to the question of timing of the May 7 injury, Dr. Hatch testified that “the head injury immediately preceded the development of any symptoms that [A.M.] had. So in this situation where she became unconscious, the injury would immediately precede that.” Continuing, Dr. Hatch testified that the “medical literature would support that in almost all cases with this severe of an injury,” the resulting symptoms would appear “immediately afterward.”

¶22 Dr. Christensen. Dr. Christensen is the chief medical examiner for the Utah Department of Health and, as noted, performed A.M.’s autopsy. Dr. Christensen testified that A.M. had suffered a “traumatic” “axonal injury” to her brain and that the injury was “not consistent with having occurred accidentally.” In his view, the force involved would have been “noticeably violent.”

¶23      Like Dr. Thorn, Dr. Christensen saw signs of both an earlier and a later injury. Dr. Christensen agreed that “some of [A.M.’s] prior symptoms”—including the nausea that led to her May 2 visit to the hospital—could have been “related to a prior head injury.” On questioning from the State, however, Dr. Christensen seemed to agree that the later injury was “the ultimately fatal” one.

¶24      Dr. Christensen testified that in “some cases,” fatal injuries can be inflicted as many as three to ten days before the child actually dies. But Dr. Christensen explained that doctors look to “other aspects of the case as well” when estimating the time at which the injuries were inflicted, such as “what was the child’s behavior at various points along the way.” He said that in this case, he thought the fatal injury “occurred around the time” that A.M. arrived at the hospital. He also testified that with “traumatic axonal injury, you would expect [A.M.] to be symptomatic essentially immediately. I mean very, very quickly. It’s not going to be the kind of thing where she is going to be normal for a few hours . . . . It’s a global insult to the brain that is going to manifest as . . . abnormal behavior very soon after infliction.”

¶25      After the conclusion of the trial, the court entered a single-sentence ruling determining that the State had met its burden of proving that K.S. committed child abuse homicide. K.S. timely appealed.

ISSUE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶26      K.S. argues there was insufficient evidence to support his adjudication for child abuse homicide. In cases tried without a jury (which include juvenile court proceedings), factual determinations “must not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, and the reviewing court must give due regard to the trial court’s opportunity to judge the credibility of the witnesses.” Utah R. Civ. P. 52(a)(4); cf. In re Z.D., 2006 UT 54, ¶ 29, 147 P.3d 401 (holding that an “appellate court must launch any review of factual findings from rule 52(a) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure and its ‘clearly erroneous’ test”). “The content of Rule 52(a)’s clearly erroneous standard, imported from the federal rule, requires that if the findings (or the trial court’s verdict in a criminal case) are against the clear weight of the evidence, or if the appellate court otherwise reaches a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made, the findings (or verdict) will be set aside.” State v. Walker, 743 P.2d 191, 193 (Utah 1987) (quotation simplified).

¶27 The parties agree that we should apply the above-cited standard of review to this case. We pause here to note, however, that the parties have disputed whether we should apply an additional layer of deferential gloss in this case as well.

¶28 It’s well-settled that when an appellate court reviews a jury’s verdict, the court views the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the verdict. See, e.g.State v. Green, 2023 UT 10, n.2, 532 P.3d 930; State v. Bonds, 2023 UT 1, n.3, 524 P.3d 581; State v. Winfield, 2006 UT 4, ¶ 2, 128 P.3d 1171. But there’s a divergence in Utah’s caselaw about whether an appellate court does the same when reviewing a verdict from a bench trial. On this, some Utah cases say no. See, e.g.In re Z.D., 2006 UT 54, ¶ 35 (“An appellate court must indulge findings of fact made by a jury that support the verdict. No such indulgence is required of findings made by a judge.”); Alta Indus. Ltd. v. Hurst, 846 P.2d 1282, 1284 n.2 (Utah 1993) (holding that “an appellate court does not, as a matter of course, resolve all conflicts in the evidence in favor of the appellee” when findings were made by a judge); Walker, 743 P.2d at 193 (noting that “it is not accurate to say that the appellate court takes that view of the evidence that is most favorable to the appellee” when reviewing findings of the court (quotation simplified)). But other Utah cases—including some from our court that reviewed adjudications from juvenile court delinquency proceedings—say yes. See, e.g.State v. Layman, 1999 UT 79, ¶¶ 12–13, 985 P.2d 911 (holding that when “reviewing a conviction, an appellate court should consider the facts in a light most favorable to the verdict,” and then applying that standard to a ruling from “the trial judge, who was the finder of fact” in the bench trial at issue); In re J.R.H., 2020 UT App 155, ¶ 9, 478 P.3d 56 (applying the “light most favorable” standard to a juvenile court adjudication (quotation simplified)); In re V.T., 2000 UT App 189, ¶ 8, 5 P.3d 1234 (relying on Layman for the proposition that “[w]hen reviewing a juvenile court’s decision for sufficiency of the evidence, we must consider all the facts, and all reasonable inferences which may be drawn therefrom, in a light most favorable to the juvenile court’s determination”); see also In re C.C.R., 2011 UT App 228, ¶ 10, 257 P.3d 1106; In re M.B., 2008 UT App 433, ¶ 5, 198 P.3d 1007.

¶29      We need not resolve this conflict here. Again, the parties at least agree that K.S. can only prevail on his sufficiency challenge if he establishes that the verdict was against the clear weight of the evidence, or, instead, if we reach a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made. And the parties further agree that we give “due regard” to the juvenile court’s opportunity to “judge the credibility of witnesses.” Utah R. Civ. P. 52(a)(4). For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the juvenile court’s adjudication under these agreed-upon standards alone. We accordingly leave for another day (and, more likely, another court) the question of how to resolve the tension in the cases about whether the additional deferential gloss that applies to jury verdicts should apply to juvenile court decisions as well.

ANALYSIS

¶30      K.S. argues there was “insufficient evidence that [he], as opposed to someone else, caused the injuries that resulted in A.M.’s death.” We disagree.

¶31      The State’s case against K.S. relied on the interplay between three propositions: (i) A.M. died from an injury to her brain that was caused by violent force; (ii) A.M.’s symptoms would have manifested very quickly after the injury was inflicted; and (iii) K.S. was alone with A.M. immediately prior to the symptoms’ initial appearance. There was competent testimony to support each of these propositions.

¶32 Injury. All three medical experts agreed that A.M. died from a brain injury that was caused by violent force. Dr. Thorn testified that A.M.’s injury would have been caused by “[e]xtremely violent” force or a “violent, blunt act,” such as the “shaking back and forth of a child’s brain.” In his view, this was “not an accidentally dropped child.” Dr. Hatch similarly testified that a significant amount of force would have been required, either “shaking by itself,” or shaking combined “with some form of impact,” or “impact by itself.” He added that doctors “don’t observe these kinds of injuries from falls” or even from “significant” car accidents. Dr. Hatch believed anyone “who witnessed an incident like this occur would know that the force was excessive and that an injury was likely” to follow. Finally, Dr. Christensen testified that the injury was “not consistent with having occurred accidentally” and that the force involved would have been “noticeably violent.”

¶33 Timing of symptoms. There was also testimony from medical experts that A.M.’s symptoms would have manifested very quickly after the force that caused the fatal injury. Dr. Hatch testified that “the head injury immediately preceded the development of any symptoms that [A.M.] had” and that the “medical literature would support that in almost all cases with this severe of an injury,” the resulting symptoms would appear “immediately afterward.” Dr. Christensen similarly testified that with “traumatic axonal injury, you would expect [A.M.] to be symptomatic essentially immediately.” He added: “It’s not going to be the kind of thing where she is going to be normal for a few hours . . . . It’s a global insult to the brain that is going to manifest as . . . abnormal behavior very soon after infliction.”[3]

¶34 K.S. was alone with A.M. Finally, there was testimony establishing that K.S. was alone with A.M. immediately before the symptoms’ initial appearance. Mother and Father both testified that A.M. was in good health that morning. Father stated that after a few days of being fussy, A.M. was “feeling a little better” and that there was “nothing out of the ordinary.” Mother also testified that A.M. was “cheery, smiling, [and] glowing” that morning.

¶35      Mother left for work by 9:30 a.m., and at trial, Father testified that he left for work between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m. (though there was some suggestion that he may have left at 10:55 a.m.). At some point between 11:36 and 11:56 that morning, K.S. sent Mother a video showing A.M. with limp limbs and having difficulty breathing.

¶36      The collective import of these propositions is clear. Since K.S. was alone with A.M. for at least a half hour (if not several hours) before A.M.’s symptoms appeared, and since two medical experts testified that A.M.’s symptoms would have appeared very quickly (if not immediately) after the infliction of the injury, it stands to reason that K.S. caused the fatal injury. This would provide a basis to sustain the adjudication.[4]

¶37 K.S. nevertheless argues that there was insufficient evidence to support the adjudication because of various problems with the above evidence and with other aspects of the State’s case. While we certainly agree that there was conflicting evidence on certain points, the problems that K.S. identifies are not so conclusive that we can overturn the adjudication as a result.

¶38      Much of K.S.’s argument is focused on ambiguities in the record about the critical question of timing. K.S. points out that while Dr. Christensen opined that the symptoms likely manifested soon after the injury, Dr. Christensen also acknowledged that “those things”—apparently meaning medical conclusions about the time at which an injury occurred—“are not precise.” K.S. also relies heavily on Dr. Thorn’s testimony that the injury could have occurred anywhere from “almost right before” the symptoms appeared to “hours” earlier. And K.S. further points to Dr. Thorn’s testimony that he didn’t think “you could find anyone else that would be able to comment as to a more definitive timeframe.”

¶39 But when Dr. Thorn opined that he didn’t think that “anyone else” could provide “a more definitive timeframe,” Dr. Thorn was mistaken. As discussed, the State called two medical experts—Dr. Christensen and Dr. Hatch—who each testified under oath that they thought that A.M.’s symptoms would have appeared very quickly (if not immediately) after the fatal injury was inflicted. And to the extent that there was any conflict between the experts’ conclusions on this, the juvenile court was in a better position than we are to determine which version to believe. See, e.g.In re M.M., 2023 UT App 95, ¶ 35 n.9, 536 P.3d 102, petition for cert. filed, October 25, 2023 (No. 20230944) (recognizing that it “is the role of the juvenile court, not this court, to assess the weight and credibility of expert witnesses and to choose among their testimonies” (quotation simplified)); Knowlton v. Knowlton, 2023 UT App 16, ¶ 59 n.13, 525 P.3d 898 (noting that a trial court “is in the superior position to assess the weight of evidence,” including questions about which expert’s testimony to accept), cert. denied, 531 P.3d 730 (Utah 2023); Woodward v. Lafranca, 2016 UT App 141, ¶ 13, 381 P.3d 1125 (noting that a “fact-finder is in the best position to judge the credibility of witnesses and is free to disbelieve their testimony, even if that testimony comes from an expert witness” (quotation simplified)).

¶40      K.S. also points to testimony showing that Mother left for work by 9:30 a.m., as well as testimony that Father told a detective that he didn’t leave until 10:55 that morning. Since K.S. maintains that the window in which the injury could have been inflicted was several hours long, K.S. posits that Mother or Father could have inflicted the injury before they left for work. But again, on the question of timing, Dr. Christensen and Dr. Hatch both spoke of symptoms appearing very quickly after the fatal injury was inflicted. This testimony, alone, undermines this theory, and the juvenile court was entitled to credit it.

¶41 And there are other problems with this theory too. After all, K.S.’s suggestion that Mother or Father caused the injury that morning or overnight is at odds with their sworn testimonies. Again, both of them testified under oath that A.M. was healthy when they left the house. And it also seems possible (if not probable) that K.S. would have noticed something if Mother or Father had used violent force against A.M. that morning—after all, he’d spent the night there and was at the house all morning. But K.S. never claimed to have heard or witnessed either parent injuring A.M. earlier that day. Thus, to have accepted this theory, the court would have had to discredit the injury-to-symptoms chronology testimony of two medical experts, disbelieve the testimonies of Mother and Father, and then infer that Mother or Father had used violent force against A.M. without K.S. noticing or deciding to comment on it.

¶42 K.S. also points to evidence suggesting that A.M. had sustained a prior brain injury sometime before May 7, and he then argues that this prior injury might have been responsible for A.M.’s death. But while Dr. Christensen and Dr. Thorn both believed that A.M. had suffered multiple injuries, Dr. Hatch thought it was possible that there weren’t two injuries at all. Regardless, even assuming that the earlier injury did occur, K.S. could have inflicted that injury too given that he’d been babysitting for weeks. And more to the point, Dr. Christensen testified that the earlier injury wasn’t the cause of death. Dr. Christensen explained that both the earlier injury and the later injury had caused “subdural hemorrhage[s]” but that a subdural hemorrhage “didn’t ultimately lead directly to the child’s death.” Instead, Dr. Christensen testified that “diffuse axonal injury” in the brainstem created “respiratory compromise” that led to “brain swelling and ultimately death.” And when the prosecutor asked Dr. Christensen whether the “fatal” or “ultimately fatal” injury occurred close in time to A.M. arriving at the hospital, Dr. Christensen agreed with the State’s timeline. He reiterated that after the infliction of the “traumatic axonal injury,” which he had previously identified as the ultimate cause of death, symptoms would appear “essentially immediately.”[5]

¶43                Finally, K.S. points to various problems with the version of

events offered by Mother and Father, including Mother’s decision not to take the baby to the hospital that afternoon, Father’s seemingly odd storytelling while waiting for detectives that night, and certain discrepancies between the parents’ initial statements to officers and their testimonies at trial. We’ve reviewed the record and acknowledge the potential problems identified by K.S. But these problems all go to the perceived credibility (or lack thereof) of Mother and Father, particularly as it relates to their sworn testimonies that they did not injure their child. Our supreme court, however, has directly cautioned the appellate courts to avoid second-guessing lower courts about credibility issues like these. As the court explained in In re Z.D.:

Appellate courts are removed temporally and geographically from trial courts. They do not see juries impaneled or oaths administered to witnesses. They do not view first-hand witnesses’ “tells” of posture, inflection, or mood that strengthen or erode credibility. It is the lot of appellate judges to take their sustenance from the printed page; to peer into the facts as deeply as the flat plane of paper will permit. By the time the trial transcript reaches the hands of the appellate judge, the universal adjective describing its condition is “cold.”

2006 UT 54, ¶ 24, 147 P.3d 401. It’s of course possible that the court could have chosen to disbelieve the testimonies of Mother and Father. But given its adjudication, it’s clear that the court did accept their accounts (or, at least, those portions that suggested that it was K.S., not Mother or Father, who inflicted the fatal injury on A.M.). Without something more, it’s not our place to second-guess that determination.

¶44      In short, this evidentiary picture could certainly have been clearer, and we do see this as something of a close case. But the fact that it’s a close case is the reason we shouldn’t overturn this adjudication. In In re Z.D., our supreme court stressed that an “appellate court must be capable of discriminating between discomfort over a trial court’s findings of fact—which it must tolerate—and those that require the court’s intercession. It must forebear disturbing the ‘close call.’” Id. ¶ 33. And again, under even the standard of review that both parties agree on, K.S. must convince us that the verdict was against “the clear weight of the evidence,” or, instead, we must be left with “a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.” State v. Walker, 743 P.2d 191, 193 (Utah 1987) (emphases added, quotations otherwise simplified).

¶45      On this record, the juvenile court could have sided with K.S. based on certain evidence about the timing of the injuries and who was around A.M. during a potentially relevant window. But the State’s narrower view of the timing window was backed by two medical experts, and its view of who was where and when was backed by sworn testimony as well. And under the State’s evidence, K.S. was the only person who could have caused the fatal injury.

¶46      Unlike members of this court, the juvenile court observed the relevant testimony firsthand. As a result, it was in a better position than we are to evaluate the credibility of that testimony and make determinations about the key facts. While K.S. has highlighted some problems with the State’s case, we don’t see those problems as being so pronounced that the court’s decision was against the clear weight of the evidence, nor are we left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made. We accordingly see no basis for overturning this adjudication.

CONCLUSION

¶47 There was sufficient evidence to support the juvenile court’s adjudication that K.S. committed child abuse homicide. The adjudication is therefore affirmed.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

State v. Fowers – 2023 UT App 128 – violation of protective order

State v. Fowers – 2023 UT App 128

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

STATE OF UTAH,

Appellant,

v.

THOMAS FOWERS,

Appellee.

Opinion

No. 20220073-CA

Filed October 26, 2023

Fourth District Court, Provo Department

The Honorable Robert A. Lund

No. 201402484

Sean D. Reyes and Jeffrey D. Mann, Attorneys for

Appellant, assisted by law student Rebecca Barker[1]

Douglas J. Thompson, Attorney for Appellee

JUDGE JOHN D. LUTHY authored this Opinion, in which

JUDGES GREGORY K. ORME and AMY J. OLIVER concurred.

LUTHY, Judge:

¶1        Thomas Fowers’s ex-wife (Ex-Wife) is married to his adopted brother (Brother). A court issued a protective order directing Fowers not to “contact . . . or communicate in any way with [Ex-Wife], either directly or indirectly,” and not to “threaten to commit any form of violence against” her. Early one morning, Fowers called Brother’s phone three times in two minutes from an unrecognized number. The first two times, no one answered. The third time, Ex-Wife answered, and Fowers said, “You and that f***ing whore have it coming.”

¶2        Fowers was charged with violating the protective order. The district court declined to bind Fowers over and dismissed the charge, determining that there was “no evidence in the record to establish that Mr. Fowers . . . intentionally communicat[ed] either directly or indirectly to [Ex-Wife]” since “the statement itself clearly [was] directed at [Brother]” and Fowers did not tell Brother “to direct the comment to [Ex-Wife].” The State appeals, and we reverse.

BACKGROUND

¶3        Ex-Wife obtained a protective order against Fowers in August 2017. The order included a “No Contact Order” stating, “Do not contact, phone, mail, e-mail, or communicate in any way with [Ex-Wife], either directly or indirectly.” It also included a “Personal Conduct Order” stating, “Do not commit, try to commit or threaten to commit any form of violence against [Ex-Wife] . . . . This includes stalking, harassing, threatening, physically hurting, or causing any other form of abuse.”

¶4        One morning in July 2020, Brother’s phone received three calls between 4:57 a.m. and 4:58 a.m. from an unrecognized number. At the time of the first call, Ex-Wife and Brother “were, of course, sleeping.” As they awoke, they thought that maybe someone was calling for help related to a wedding they were to attend that day. When Ex-Wife answered the third call, she recognized Fowers’s voice saying, “You and that f***ing whore have it coming.”

¶5        Ex-Wife reported the calls to authorities, and Fowers was charged with one third-degree felony count of violation of a protective order with a domestic violence enhancement.

¶6        The district court held a preliminary hearing on the charge. The State presented evidence that Fowers had been served with the protective order. In addition to Ex-Wife, who testified about the phone calls, the deputy who received Ex-Wife’s report testified that he had checked the number from which the calls had been made against local records and found that the number was attached to Fowers. The deputy also said that he called the number and that, when he asked to speak to Fowers, the person who answered identified himself as Fowers. Additionally, the court accepted into evidence records of three prior convictions of Fowers’s for violating this protective order and a previous protective order because those convictions were “relevant to establish under evidence [r]ule 404 both knowledge by the defendant and intention.”

¶7        After the State presented its case, the court found “that the [S]tate ha[d] not met its burden.” The court explained:

[A]lthough the direct and circumstantial evidence establishes that Mr. Fowers made the call, the number that he called was his adoptive brother’s number, not the alleged victim’s number. . . .

[And] the statement itself clearly is directed at [Brother], not at [Ex-Wife]. He say[s] “you and that f’ing whore,” meaning that he’s directing his comment toward [Brother] and not [Ex-Wife] . . . . [W]hat is glaringly missing from the record here is any statement by Mr. Fowers to [Brother] to direct the comment to the alleged victim. Therefore, there is no evidence in the record to establish that Mr. Fowers intentionally violated this order by intentionally communicating either directly or indirectly to [Ex-Wife].

Based on those findings, I find that the [S]tate has not—even drawing inferences in the light most favorable to the [S]tate— . . . establish[ed] sufficient evidence[,] and I decline to bind the charge over.

The court dismissed the charge with prejudice, and the State now appeals.

ISSUE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶8        The State contends that it presented evidence establishing probable cause that Fowers violated the protective order and that the district court therefore erred by not binding Fowers over. In essence, the State argues that the court applied the wrong legal standard by not viewing the evidence and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from it in favor of the prosecution. A district court’s “decision to bind over a criminal defendant for trial presents a mixed question of law and fact and requires the application of the appropriate bindover standard to the underlying factual findings. As a result, in reviewing a bindover decision, an appellate court should afford the decision limited deference.” In re I.R.C., 2010 UT 41, ¶ 12, 232 P.3d 1040 (cleaned up). “Applying the wrong legal standard . . . will always exceed whatever limited discretion the [court] has in the bindover decision.” State v. Ramirez, 2012 UT 59, ¶ 7, 289 P.3d 444.

ANALYSIS

¶9        Our supreme court has explained that the evidentiary threshold for bindover is a low bar:

Although the guarantee of a preliminary hearing is fundamental, the evidentiary threshold at such hearing is relatively low. As we have emphasized, a showing of “probable cause” entails only the presentation of evidence sufficient to support a reasonable belief that the defendant committed the charged crime. . . . To justify binding a defendant over for trial, the prosecution need not present evidence capable of supporting a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Nor is the prosecution required to eliminate alternative inferences that could be drawn from the evidence in favor of the defense. All that is required is reasonably believable evidence—as opposed to speculation—sufficient to sustain each element of the crime(s) in question.

State v. Ramirez, 2012 UT 59, ¶ 9, 289 P.3d 444 (cleaned up). Here, the State needed to present “evidence sufficient to support a reasonable belief” that Fowers violated the protective order, id. (cleaned up), and the court was required to “view all evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution and . . . draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the prosecution,” State v. Clark, 2001 UT 9, ¶ 10, 20 P.3d 300 (cleaned up).

¶10 A person commits the crime of violation of a protective order if the person “(a) is the respondent or defendant subject to a protective order . . . and (b) intentionally or knowingly violates that order after having been properly served” with it. Utah Code § 76-5-108(2). A person acts intentionally “when it is his conscious objective or desire to engage in the conduct.” Id. § 76-2-103(1). And a person acts knowingly “when he is aware of the nature of his conduct or the existing circumstances.” Id. § 76-2-103(2).

¶11 There is no dispute that Fowers was subject to the protective order at issue, and the State showed that Fowers was served with that protective order. Thus, the only issue before us is whether the State offered evidence supporting a reasonable belief that Fowers intentionally or knowingly violated the protective order. On this point, the State first argues that it put on evidence sufficient to establish probable cause that Fowers violated the No Contact Order portion of the protective order by “intentionally or knowingly contact[ing] Ex-Wife at least indirectly” because “[i]t was reasonable to infer that Fowers knew or intended that his contact and [message] . . . would be relayed to Ex-Wife.” The State then argues that Fowers’s statement “You and that f***ing whore have it coming” can also be reasonably interpreted as a threat of violence in violation of the Personal Conduct Order portion of the protective order. We agree with each of the State’s arguments.[2]

¶12      The State put on evidence establishing probable cause that Fowers intentionally or knowingly contacted Ex-Wife at least indirectly. In State v. Fouse, 2014 UT App 29, 319 P.3d 778, cert. denied, 329 P.3d 36 (Utah 2014), this court affirmed a conviction for violation of a protective order where the defendant mailed envelopes to the victim’s sisters rather than to the victim, his estranged wife. Id. ¶¶ 4–7, 43. The victim was living with one of the sisters, and the other sister lived in the apartment next door. Id. ¶ 3. While some of the letters in the envelopes were addressed to the victim, others contained statements such as, “Please hold onto this. . . . [E]ven though I can’t send nor talk to my wife or kids[,] . . . writing sure does help.” Id. ¶ 4. Nonetheless, we reasoned that a factfinder “could readily infer that communication directed to or dealing with one’s ex-spouse, and sent to the ex-spouse’s siblings, will routinely and predictably be conveyed by the siblings to their family member.” Id. ¶ 40. And we noted, “Such an inference is particularly sound in this case, given the jury’s awareness that [the victim] and her sisters were close—in both senses of that term.” Id.

¶13 The same reasoning applies here. A factfinder could readily infer that calls Fowers placed to Brother or statements Fowers made to him would “routinely and predictably be conveyed” to Ex-Wife, Brother’s spouse, especially where a factfinder could reasonably infer that Brother and Ex-Wife were “close” “in both senses of that term.” Id. Indeed, a factfinder could infer that Fowers’s decision to call Brother just before 5:00 a.m.— a time when spouses could reasonably be assumed to be together—manifested his intent to catch Brother and Ex-Wife together. Therefore, we have no trouble concluding that the State’s evidence was sufficient to support a reasonable belief that Fowers, by calling Brother’s phone when he did, intentionally or knowingly contacted Ex-Wife directly or indirectly. Fowers did not need to explicitly direct Brother to communicate his message to Ex-Wife, and the court erred in suggesting as much.

¶14 The State also asserts that Fowers’s statement “You and that f***ing whore have it coming” can be reasonably interpreted as a threat of violence. We agree. In State v. Spainhower, 1999 UT App 280, 988 P.2d 452, this court recognized that the admittedly “vague and indirect” statement, “‘I’m going to get you,’ surely may connote a threat of bodily injury” because “among the many dictionary definitions of the verb ‘get’ are: ‘to bring to retribution, take vengeance on, KILL’ and ‘to strike with force, HIT.’” Id. ¶¶ 6– 7 (cleaned up). Likewise, the words at issue here, though perhaps similarly vague and indirect, could carry either a violent or a nonviolent meaning and must be interpreted by the factfinder in light of “the inferences to be drawn from the context in which the words were spoken.” Id. ¶ 7. And again, at the preliminary hearing stage, a court must “view all evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the prosecution.” Clark, 2001 UT 9, ¶ 10 (cleaned up). Accordingly, at this stage, the court should have interpreted Fowers’s words to be capable of conveying, in context, a threat of violence.

CONCLUSION

¶15 The protective order’s No Contact Order forbade Fowers from contacting, phoning, mailing, e-mailing, or communicating in any way with Ex-Wife, either directly or indirectly. Its Personal Conduct Order forbade him from threatening violence against Ex-Wife. Plainly there is “reasonably believable evidence—as opposed to speculation—sufficient to” show that Fowers violated one or both of these provisions. State v. Ramirez, 2012 UT 59, ¶ 9, 289 P.3d 444. By not viewing the evidence and the reasonable inferences to be drawn from it in the light most favorable to the State—and instead requiring a statement by Fowers to Brother to direct the comment at issue to Ex-Wife—the district court applied the wrong legal standard and exceeded “whatever limited discretion” it had in the bindover decision. Id. ¶ 7. We therefore reverse and remand this matter to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


[1] See Utah R. Jud. Admin. 14-807 (governing law student practice in the courts of Utah).

[2] Fowers asserts that the State did not preserve “the arguments” it now makes on appeal because the prosecutor “did not raise [them] in a way that gave the district court the opportunity . . . to address [them].” “An issue is preserved by presenting it to the trial court in such a way that the trial court has an opportunity to rule on that issue.” Vierig v. Therriault, 2023 UT App 67, ¶ 43, 532 P.3d 568 (cleaned up); see id. ¶ 44 (“Of note, issues must be preserved, not arguments for or against a particular ruling on an issue raised below. By contrast, new arguments, when brought under a properly preserved issue or theory, do not require an exception to preservation.” (cleaned up)).

Fowers is mistaken when he says that the State did not meet this preservation standard here. At the close of the preliminary hearing, the State referenced “paragraph 1 and 2 of the protective order”; identified those paragraphs as the Personal Conduct Order and No Contact Order respectively; and noted that they prohibited Fowers from “threatening [Ex-Wife] in any way” and from “communicating in any way with [Ex-Wife] either directly or indirectly.” The State then highlighted the evidence that Fowers “called the husband of [Ex-Wife] in the early morning hours when they would presumably be together and made a statement against her to [her] then husband,” which is the same evidence that the State emphasizes here. By presenting evidence and arguing below for bindover based on an alleged violation of both the Personal Conduct Order and the No Contact Order, the State gave the district court an opportunity to rule on the same questions we are now asked to rule on. So regardless of whether those questions are characterized as arguments or issues—and we express no opinion as to the proper characterization here— Fowers’s preservation argument fails.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

State v. Arnold – 2023 UT App 68

State v. Arnold – 2023 UT App 68

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

STATE OF UTAH,

Appellee,

v.

WILLIAM JOHN ARNOLD,

Appellant.

Opinion

No. 20210286-CA

Filed June 23, 2023

Eighth District Court, Duchesne Department

The Honorable Samuel P. Chiara

No. 201800052

Freyja Johnson, Emily Adams, and Hannah

Leavitt-Howell, Attorneys for Appellant, assisted by

law students Brock Mason, Christopher Melling, and

Hunter Sullivan[1]

Sean D. Reyes, Christopher D. Ballard, and William

M. Hains, Attorneys for Appellee

JUDGE DAVID N. MORTENSEN authored this Opinion, in which

JUDGES GREGORY K. ORME and RYAN M. HARRIS concurred.

MORTENSEN, Judge:

¶1        William John Arnold’s ex-wife, Tabitha,[2] reported to police that one evening Arnold broke into her home and spent the night with her while threatening her with a gun. The undisputed details of the night include Arnold choking Tabitha and punching her in the face, firing the gun into a mirror behind her, driving her around to various locations, trying to convince her to shoot him or else threatening to do “suicide by cop,” and leaving the next morning with the gun. The two also had sexual intercourse, which Tabitha testified was not consensual. After a trial, a jury convicted Arnold on nine charges related to these events. Arnold now claims his defense attorney (Counsel) provided ineffective assistance and appeals his convictions on seven of the nine charges: aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, theft, criminal mischief, and felony discharge of a firearm with injury. He asserts that Counsel performed deficiently for failing to (1) object to erroneous jury instructions for the charges of aggravated sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping, and theft; (2) move for a directed verdict on or object to the jury instructions concerning the criminal mischief charge; (3) move for a directed verdict on the charge of discharge of a firearm with injury; and (4) object to Tabitha’s testimony that she believed Arnold to be a felon. Arnold argues that he was prejudiced by each of these alleged deficiencies. We ultimately conclude that—for each claimed instance of ineffective assistance—either Counsel did not perform deficiently or Arnold was not prejudiced. As a result, we affirm all of Arnold’s convictions.

BACKGROUND[3]

¶2        Arnold and Tabitha shared a “tumultuous, on-again-off-again relationship” for about a decade. The two were divorced just over a year after their marriage, yet they continued their romantic relationship after the divorce despite their recurring fighting. However, by December 2019, Tabitha had evicted Arnold from her home. When he returned later that month, Tabitha called the police, and officers came and informed Arnold that he was no longer allowed to come to the house. Arnold was supposed to return all the keys he had to Tabitha’s home, but he failed to do so.

Arnold Arrives and Assaults Tabitha

¶3        One night in February 2020 at approximately 9:30 p.m., Tabitha was sitting in her home office at her computer and was “startled . . . and scared” to look up and see Arnold standing in the doorway. He had been watching her home from a distance through binoculars for a couple of hours and later admitted that he knew he was not allowed to be there. But he came into the home and told Tabitha he was there to retrieve the title to a pickup truck the two had discussed in the past. Tabitha told Arnold that he had already taken the title and it wasn’t there, but he began ransacking her office and then her bedroom looking for it. Arnold was “very, very agitated.” Tabitha testified that when she said the truck was technically hers, Arnold grabbed her by the neck and lifted her off the ground. She said she couldn’t breathe and feared passing out or dying, so she scratched Arnold’s face to try to get loose. Arnold admitted to choking her but claimed her feet remained on the ground and that she scratched him after he let her go. Arnold responded by punching her in the eye with a closed fist. He said he “know[s] she’s frail” and “[s]he bruises and breaks easy because all the medication she’s on” but that he “barely hit her.” Tabitha, on the other hand, said the hit was so hard that she “saw stars” or “a bright light.” A later CT scan revealed multiple broken bones around Tabitha’s left eye. After Arnold’s punch, Tabitha felt dizzy and like she “had a black eye” that was “starting to swell” and “was going to swell so bad it would swell shut.” Shortly thereafter she could no longer see out of that eye.

Arnold Obtains and Shoots a Gun

¶4        As Arnold continued ransacking Tabitha’s bedroom in search of the title, he found a loaded .22-caliber pistol she had hidden under her bed. When Counsel later cross-examined Tabitha about the gun, he asked, “He didn’t bring his own .22-caliber pistol to your house to kill you, as far as you know, did he?” Tabitha responded, “I believe he is a felon. He’s not allowed to own a weapon.” On appeal, Arnold claims that Counsel should have objected to this statement. Instead, Counsel said, “Well, that’s not my question. He didn’t bring a gun to your house, did he?” Tabitha responded, “No, he didn’t.”

¶5        Arnold admitted that he removed the gun from under Tabitha’s bed and that she didn’t give it to him, but he said, “I don’t think I took it either, but—I mean, 17 years in the oil field giving her my paycheck, I seem to think half of everything is mine.” He agreed, though, that no property distribution between the parties had been adjudicated. He relayed that the gun had belonged to Tabitha’s ex-husband and had been in pawn when the two “got together” and that Arnold had paid to release it from pawn because she had no money at the time. When the prosecutor asked on cross-examination, “And you didn’t have permission to take that gun, did you?” Arnold responded, “Other than the fact that I paid for it.” But he agreed that the gun had been in Tabitha’s possession when the evening began and that he took it with him when he eventually left Tabitha’s home the next morning.

¶6      Tabitha testified that when Arnold picked up the gun he commented, “Somebody’s going to die tonight, and I’m going to do suicide by cop.” At the time, Tabitha was standing across the bed from Arnold. He chambered a round and, according to Tabitha’s testimony, threatened to kill her while he pointed the gun at her head, with her “looking right down the barrel.” Arnold fired the gun, and Tabitha testified that the bullet went “[r]ight past [her] head into [her] mirror on [her] dresser” and “through the mirror, into the wall.” Arnold testified that he actually pointed the gun at his own head. He claimed, “I wanted to kill myself, and I told her she’s going to watch. And I couldn’t do it. And then I shot my reflection [in the mirror] . . . .”

¶7        After Arnold shot the gun, Tabitha’s ears were ringing from the sound of the shot, and for some time she couldn’t hear. Arnold said something to her, but she was unable to hear what he was saying. “[E]ventually,” she regained her ability to hear.

¶8        Tabitha told Arnold she wanted a cigarette. Arnold testified, “She said if she’s going to die, [she] wants it to be her last one. I told her, ‘You’re not going to die.’ I go, ‘I want to die.’ And she was just under the impression—she was scared, I guess, after I choked her.” Tabitha testified that she had only one cigarette left and Arnold also wanted one, so she suggested that they go to town to get more. She also testified that she was afraid Arnold would kill her and she thought she could get some help in town.

¶9        Arnold eventually agreed to go to town, but before leaving he asked where Tabitha’s cell phone was. Tabitha told him it was in her office, and he told her to bring it to him. She did so, and he “beat it violently against [her] bedpost to the point he cracked [her] bedpost [and] completely destroyed [the] cell phone.” At trial, the prosecutor asked about damage to the bedpost, to which Tabitha responded that it was cracked and had a “chunk that [was] ready to fall out of it.” The prosecutor also asked about the value of the bedpost or the cost of the damage, and Tabitha answered, “That bedpost actually will screw off, and to really fix it you’d have to have another one made. The cost of it, I have no idea.” The prosecutor inquired about the value of the cell phone that was destroyed, and Tabitha said, “I think I paid $600 for it. It’s got no value now.”

Arnold Drives Tabitha to Various Locations

¶10      At approximately 2 or 3 a.m., Arnold and Tabitha left the house to go to town, with Arnold driving Tabitha’s car. Tabitha testified that Arnold did not have a driver license because it was revoked after a DUI. Still, Arnold drove and brought the gun, which Tabitha testified was in his lap but Arnold testified was under the seat. Arnold said he didn’t kidnap Tabitha but that, instead, he told her she could leave at any time and she could have done so.

¶11      They drove first to one gas station, but it was closed, so they drove around and eventually went to another. Tabitha said Arnold went into the store and took the keys with him. But Arnold said that he asked her if she wanted him to leave the car running and she said she didn’t care, so he turned it off like they usually did and left the keys in the ignition. When asked what Arnold did with the gun when he went into the gas station, Tabitha testified, “I don’t remember. I think he took it with him.” When the prosecutor asked, “Do you remember seeing it in the vehicle when he left?” she responded, “No.” Arnold stated that he left the gun under the seat while he went in the store, but he admitted he didn’t “know if she knew where it was at or not.”

¶12      Tabitha did not get out of the car. She testified that she stayed in the car because Arnold told her “if [she] ran [she’d] be hunted down and killed.” She also said, “I’m old.[4] There is no run left in me. And looking around, it was cold out there and there was nowhere to go for help.” Arnold testified that he never said he would hunt Tabitha down nor threatened to kill her. Tabitha testified that while Arnold was in the store, another vehicle pulled up, but she didn’t attempt to ask the driver for help because “[i]t was a young man in that truck, and he wasn’t a big man.” She said, “I thought, I don’t want to be responsible for someone else getting hurt over this.” She also felt unsure as to whether the man would help her.

¶13      Arnold returned to the car and drove toward the residence of an acquaintance, saying he hated the man and wanted to kill him. But then Arnold stopped the car and handed the gun to Tabitha, instructing her to kill Arnold. Tabitha responded that she couldn’t do that. She set the gun on the floor and “was kind of scooting it back under the seat,” but Arnold soon asked for the gun back, and Tabitha gave it back to him. She testified that she did so because she “didn’t want to fight” and she “didn’t want to be hurt anymore.” Arnold testified that he gave Tabitha the gun four times—twice at the house and twice in the car—to get her to kill him but that “[s]he told [him] she couldn’t.” He said, “I wanted to get her mad so she would.” While they drove, Arnold talked about “all the horrible things that [Tabitha had] done to make his life miserable.” Tabitha said she lost track of time and felt like the whole thing was a nightmare. She also testified that she never tried to leave because she “didn’t know” and “didn’t want to find out” exactly what would happen to her if she tried it; but she said, “I knew he’d come after me.”

¶14      Eventually, the pair returned to Tabitha’s house, but only to retrieve the binoculars Arnold had earlier been using to watch Tabitha’s house. Arnold then drove Tabitha to his residence. Tabitha testified that she still did not feel like she could leave while they drove around because Arnold “would come after” her. She said she still stayed with him because she didn’t want to be hurt or have her stuff destroyed, and she “just want[ed] to get through [the] night.” They arrived at Arnold’s place, and when a police car drove by, Arnold made Tabitha duck down so she couldn’t be seen.

¶15      Arnold next took Tabitha to a site where the disputed truck was parked, told Tabitha to get out and drive the truck, and started driving away in Tabitha’s car. The truck windows were covered in ice, so Tabitha rolled down the window and stuck her head out to drive, but she hit something as she exited the site, taking the passenger side mirror off. At trial, Arnold postulated that the fractures around Tabitha’s eye came from hitting her eye on the truck door during this incident, rather than from his punch. Tabitha testified that she thought about driving to get help but didn’t do so because it was very cold, she couldn’t see where she was driving, she had already learned from driving around town that there was no one out to provide help, and she didn’t know if Arnold would come after her. So instead of driving for help, she used Arnold’s taillights as a guide and followed him back to her house.

The Pair Return and Have a Sexual Encounter

¶16      After returning home, Tabitha sat in front of the fireplace because she was “freezing cold.” Arnold sat in her living room recliner with the gun in his lap. Tabitha testified that she didn’t attempt to call anyone because Arnold would hear her and she “would be hurt or killed” and “wouldn’t get any help until it was too late.” But Tabitha sent two messages for help while Arnold was in her home—one early in the night (around 9:45 p.m.) to her sister telling her to call 911, and the other through the computer at approximately 4 a.m. to an acquaintance who is a police officer. Tabitha recounted that the later message said “something along the lines of, ‘911. [Arnold’s] here.’” Tabitha did not receive replies at the time.

¶17      At some point, Arnold told Tabitha, “I would like to . . . lay down and hold you in my arms one last time.” Tabitha reported that she said, “‘Okay,’ hoping that maybe he’d fall asleep.” Tabitha testified that she was agreeing “[t]o laying down and having [a] snuggle together and hopefully he’d go to sleep” and that she was not wanting or agreeing to anything more than that. Tabitha removed her shoes and pants and lay down with Arnold in the bed. She testified that she took her pants off “[b]ecause they were dirty and [she] didn’t want [her] sheets to be all nasty dirty.” Tabitha then lay with her back to Arnold’s front. She testified that Arnold kept the gun with him and told her, “If I fall asleep, don’t you touch that gun.”

¶18      Tabitha testified that she felt Arnold getting an erection, and he began pulling on her underwear. She testified, “I can just remember thinking, I have this huge black, swollen eye and everything we’ve gone through this night, and you want to have sex? . . . Are you nuts?” She testified she was “bawling and saying, ‘No. Please, no. No. I don’t want to. No.’” She said she “couldn’t believe . . . [that] anyone [could] do that to someone and then want to have sex.” But Arnold persisted and performed oral sex on Tabitha and then penetrated her vaginally. Throughout this encounter, Tabitha did not physically resist because “she didn’t want to be hurt anymore” and she “just wanted to get through that night.” Tabitha testified that Arnold kept the gun on his side of the bed during the sexual encounter. She also said he stated, “Boy, I’m a sick fuck,” which Tabitha thought referred “to beat[ing] someone and treat[ing] someone that way and then want[ing] to have sex with them.” After intercourse, the pair got cleaned up, and Arnold went to sleep. But Tabitha took pain medication and stayed awake.

¶19 Arnold’s testimony regarding the sexual encounter was different. He testified that after Tabitha removed her pants, she got in bed and “crawled . . . literally right up to [him] and start[ed] rubbing on [him] real tight.” He admitted that he was warm and Tabitha may have been trying to warm up. He also admitted that Tabitha would sometimes get into bed without pants on and they wouldn’t always have sex on such occasions. But he testified that this time, while they had sex, Tabitha didn’t resist or pull away. He said, “Actually, when I was going down on her, she was rubbing her fingers through my hair just like she always does. And when I got done and lifted my head up, she—I didn’t push her legs up; she pushed her legs up herself, lifted them.” He also said, “[W]e’ve had fights before where we’ve made up like that.” He further claimed, “There’s been times where I didn’t have sex with her and she told me, you know, ‘I got a very high sex drive. If you would have just pushed me a little further, I would have.’ And she tells everyone she has a high sex drive.” He again stated later, “She said no before and then changed her mind and told me the next day, ‘Well, I really wanted to. Why [weren’t] you just a little more persistent? You know I got a high sex drive.’”

¶20      Arnold also indicated that, in the past, the two had had sex after Tabitha had been violent toward him. He recounted a time when the pair had gotten into an argument and were throwing each other’s clothes out the front door and she got a gun. He stated,

I went out on the porch and I told her, “If you’re going to shoot me, shoot me, then, bitch.” And I started grabbing my clothes and bringing them back in, and she goes, “You ain’t bringing your clothes back in and you ain’t stepping back in.” And she cocked it back and pointed it at my head, and I grabbed it and pushed it down.

I should have pushed it up, but I wasn’t thinking; and I pushed it down and it shot through my leg.

Arnold testified that the pair had sex a week later, and he said he was fully recovered by then. He said that they would “always fight and have sex afterwards,” including after occasions when she scratched and hit him. He declared that he believed her feelings on the night in question were like those other, previous times when she said no but the next day “got mad at [him] because [he] wasn’t persistent.” However, Arnold acknowledged that he did, in fact, hear Tabitha say no two times during the sexual encounter. As to the location of the gun during the encounter, Arnold testified that Tabitha was the one to set the gun on the bed after the last time he told her to shoot him and that it was down by their feet while they had sex.

Arnold Leaves and Tabitha Prompts an Investigation

¶21      Tabitha said that when Arnold woke up, he asked Tabitha for money while holding the gun, and she gave him the money she had in her coat pocket—between ten and fifteen dollars—to get him to leave. Arnold agreed that he asked for money and Tabitha gave it to him before he left. Counsel asked Arnold, after Tabitha initially told him she wanted him to leave the evening before, “Was it your impression or was it not your impression that you were okay to stay there?” Arnold responded, “I knew I probably wasn’t okay to stay there.”

¶22 After he left, Tabitha said she waited for about fifteen minutes in case he was watching, then crawled from the living room to the landline telephone in her office and called the police. She said she did this because she thought, “He’s gone but he could be watching me. If he sees me get that phone, he’s going to come back and get me and I’m going to have to live through more of this.”

¶23      Tabitha met with officers that morning and described the events of the night, but she did not initially tell officers that she had been raped. She later explained that she was ashamed and was reluctant to disclose the rape to the officers because “there [were] a bunch of men hanging around” and because of the “huge stigma” associated with rape. But after meeting with the officers, she went to the hospital for an examination, and there she informed medical personnel, who were women, that she had been raped.

¶24      The sexual assault nurse examiner (Nurse) who examined Tabitha at the hospital testified at trial that she remembered Tabitha’s exam “far more” than she remembered most exams “[b]ecause of the number of injuries that [Tabitha] had.” She testified that she identified various injuries on Tabitha: a black eye that was “quite bruised, quite swollen,” bruising on her neck consistent with strangulation, “swelling on the right side of her head,” bruising on both elbows, and bruising above both biceps “consistent with having been grabbed.” Regarding injuries in Tabitha’s vaginal area, Nurse reported “extensive bruising at the posterior of the vaginal wall,” bruising of the perihymenal tissue, bruising on the cervix, bruising on the tissue below the vaginal wall, and a laceration on “the outermost part of the inferior vaginal wall.” Nurse opined that these injuries were “more consistent” with Tabitha having been sexually assaulted than having had consensual sex. She also testified that, during the exam, Tabitha “expressed fear that she would be killed” and “frequently was tearful and asked, ‘Why did this happen[?]’” On cross-examination, Counsel asked Nurse to read a line from her written summary of the account Tabitha gave during the examination, which stated that while driving, Tabitha had “hit something and hit her eye on the door.”

¶25 Based on its investigation, the State charged Arnold with (1) attempted aggravated murder; (2) aggravated burglary; (3) aggravated robbery; (4)      aggravated kidnapping; (5) aggravated sexual assault; (6) theft; (7) aggravated assault; (8) purchase, transfer, possession or use of a firearm by a restricted person; (9) violation of a protective order; (10) retaliation against a witness, victim, or informant;(11) criminal mischief; and (12) felony discharge of a firearm with injury.

Additional Relevant Testimony Is Given at Trial

¶26      At trial, in addition to the testimonies detailed above, the emergency room doctor testified that a possible side effect of Tabitha’s medications was easy bruising, though Nurse indicated that none of Tabitha’s listed medications were blood thinners.

¶27 Three deputies (Deputy 1, Deputy 2, and Deputy 3) who responded to Tabitha’s 911 call also testified. Deputy 1 testified that when he arrived, he found that Tabitha “had a large . . . swelling to her left eye that was rather significant that caused pretty great alarm,” so he requested a medical response to the scene. Deputy 2 testified that Tabitha appeared “[h]ighly emotional” and that “[h]er voice was trembling [and] she was shaking.” He also testified, “One of the first things she said to me was that, ‘You have to find him, you have to find him. He’s going to kill somebody.’” Deputy 3 likewise indicated that Tabitha’s eye “was completely swollen shut and blood-filled and couldn’t have any visual,” that Tabitha was “[v]ery distraught, very emotional,” and that “[i]t was very hard for her to complete and construct her sentences and her thoughts.” Additionally, Deputy 1 and Deputy 3 testified that Tabitha said she was taking blood thinners.

¶28 Deputy 3 testified about an outstanding protective order against Arnold that Tabitha had obtained in 2012 (before the parties had been married). Deputy 3 testified that the protective order was still active and it prohibited Arnold from going to Tabitha’s home and from contacting her via phone, email, or other methods. On this point, Arnold testified that Tabitha had told him that protective orders go away after two years. And Tabitha testified that she thought the protective order worked both ways and prevented both parties from interacting with each other.

¶29 Deputy 1 and Deputy 3 testified about the bullet hole through the mirror, and Deputy 3 also testified that there were multiple holes in the wall, likely from “fragments of the dresser and . . . the lead [from the bullet] going through that wall.” Deputy 3 also testified that he believed the location of a bullet casing he found to be consistent with Tabitha’s description of the shooting.

¶30      Deputy 2 testified that he and other officers arrested Arnold at his residence that morning, where they also found the gun. Deputy 3 testified that Arnold had a scratch on his face consistent with Tabitha’s account of the events. And he testified that Arnold, upon arrest, had twelve dollars in his pants, also consistent with Tabitha’s account.

¶31      Deputy 3 testified that four days later he interviewed Tabitha again and found her “a lot more rational, calm, collected” and able to provide “more detail” into the events, which change, he testified, was normal and expected for victims of these types of crimes. He also testified that a vaginal swab, which had been collected as part of Tabitha’s rape examination and subsequently sent to the state lab for testing, matched a sample of Arnold’s DNA, which had also been sent to the state lab. On cross-examination, Deputy 3 confirmed that Tabitha had told him that while driving Arnold handed her the gun twice but took it back when she wouldn’t shoot him.

The Jury Convicts on Nine Charges

¶32      After all the witnesses testified, the State withdrew the attempted murder charge before submitting the case to the jury. On the charge of possession or use of a firearm by a restricted person, the jury instructions indicated that the parties stipulated that Arnold “was a Category II restricted person at the time of the alleged offense.” The jury deliberated and acquitted Arnold of the charges of violating a protective order and retaliating against a witness, victim, or informant but convicted him of all nine remaining charges. Of these, Arnold now appeals his convictions on seven charges: aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, theft, criminal mischief, and felony discharge of a firearm with injury.

ISSUES AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶33      Arnold claims that Counsel provided ineffective assistance and that, accordingly, seven of his convictions should be reversed. Arnold presents several issues, asserting that Counsel was ineffective for (1) not objecting to erroneous jury instructions for the aggravated sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping, and theft charges; (2) not moving for a directed verdict on or objecting to the jury instructions for the criminal mischief charge; (3) not moving for a directed verdict on the discharge of a firearm charge; and (4) not objecting to Tabitha’s testimony that she believed Arnold to be a felon.

¶34      “When a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is raised for the first time on appeal, there is no lower court ruling to review and [the appellate court] must decide whether the defendant was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel as a matter of law.” State v. Reid, 2018 UT App 146, ¶ 17, 427 P.3d 1261 (cleaned up), cert. denied, 432 P.3d 1225 (Utah 2018).

ANALYSIS

¶35      “To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, [a defendant] must demonstrate that (1) [defense] counsel’s performance was deficient in that it fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and (2) the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.” State v. Streeper, 2022 UT App 147, ¶ 34, 523 P.3d 710 (cleaned up), cert. denied, 527 P.3d 1106 (Utah 2023); see also Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984).

¶36      The first prong “requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel’ guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. “[T]he proper standard for attorney performance is that of reasonably effective assistance.” Id. In other words, “the defendant must show that counsel’s representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” Id. at 688. “In evaluating trial counsel’s performance, we give trial counsel wide latitude in making tactical decisions and will not question such decisions unless there is no reasonable basis supporting them.” State v. Liti, 2015 UT App 186, ¶ 18, 355 P.3d 1078 (cleaned up).

¶37      The second prong “requires showing that counsel’s errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. “When a defendant challenges a conviction, the question is whether there is a reasonable probability that, absent the errors, the factfinder would have had a reasonable doubt respecting guilt.” Id. at 695. “Unless a defendant makes both showings, it cannot be said that the conviction . . . resulted from a breakdown in the adversary process that renders the result unreliable.” Id. at 687. “Because failure to establish either prong of the test is fatal to an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, we are free to address [a defendant’s] claims under either prong.” Honie v. State, 2014 UT 19, ¶ 31, 342 P.3d 182. We address each of Arnold’s assertions of ineffective assistance in turn.

I. Counsel’s Failure to Object to Jury Instructions

¶38      Arnold claims, “The jury was not properly instructed on three offenses . . . . Specifically, the jury was not instructed on two elements of aggravated sexual assault (the mens rea for consent and the requirement that a dangerous weapon be used ‘in the course’ of the crime), key statutory language for aggravated kidnapping, and affirmative defenses to theft.” He asserts that “[C]ounsel’s failure to object to the erroneous instructions or propose correct instructions constituted ineffective assistance . . . .” “Absent some tactical explanation, defense counsel’s failure to object to a jury instruction that does not alert the jury to every element of the crime with which [the defendant] was charged constitutes deficient performance.” State v. Liti, 2015 UT App 186, ¶ 18, 355 P.3d 1078 (cleaned up).

¶39 Even if we assume without deciding that Counsel’s performance was deficient in this respect, Utah and United States caselaw indicate:

A proper analysis also needs to focus on the evidence before the jury and whether the jury could reasonably have found that . . . a failure to instruct the jury properly undermines confidence in the verdict. . . . A court must consider the totality of the evidence before the judge or jury and then ask if the defendant has met the burden of showing that . . . there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Ultimately, a reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.

State v. Garcia, 2017 UT 53, ¶ 42, 424 P.3d 171 (cleaned up) (discussing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694–96 (1984)). After considering the totality of the evidence presented to the jury, we conclude that Arnold was not prejudiced by any of the erroneous jury instructions. We address each of the relevant jury instructions in turn.

A.        Aggravated Sexual Assault

¶40      Arnold first alleges ineffective assistance because Counsel did not object to the jury instruction on sexual assault based on two errors. The instruction in question read,

You cannot convict him of this offense unless you find beyond a reasonable doubt based on the evidence each of the following . . . elements: that [Arnold] did knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly have sexual intercourse with [Tabitha] without her consent and used or threatened her with the use of a dangerous weapon.

Arnold asserts that this instruction failed to properly instruct the jury on the mens rea requirement for this charge and failed to provide the statutory language that the use or threat of use of the dangerous weapon must have occurred “in the course of” the sexual assault. See Utah Code § 76-5-405(2)(a).

1.         The Mens Rea Requirement

¶41      Our supreme court has explained that “the crime of rape requires proof not only that a defendant ‘knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly had sexual intercourse,’ but also that [the defendant] had the requisite mens rea as to the victim’s nonconsent.” State v. Barela, 2015 UT 22, ¶ 26, 349 P.3d 676. This means a jury should be instructed that a defendant accused of rape must have acted knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly as to the victim’s nonconsent.[5]

¶42      “A person engages in conduct . . . [r]ecklessly with respect

to circumstances surrounding [the actor’s] conduct or the result of [the actor’s] conduct when [the actor] is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.” Utah Code § 76-2-103(3).

¶43 In State v. Barela, 2015 UT 22, 349 P.3d 676, a massage therapist and client presented different accounts of a sexual encounter, with the therapist testifying that the client initiated and engaged in sex and the client testifying that the therapist— without encouragement or consent—inappropriately rubbed her inner thigh during the massage and then penetrated her vaginally, id. ¶¶ 5–7. In evaluating a jury instruction very similar to the one at issue here, id. ¶ 25, our supreme court concluded that “reasonable trial counsel should have objected to it,” id. ¶ 27. And the court ultimately determined that the faulty jury instruction was prejudicial to the defendant. Id. ¶ 32. Later, discussing Barela in another case, the court explained,

This court found that the evidence was such that a jury could have “thought that the truth fell somewhere in between the two accounts.” While the victim in that case said the defendant had suddenly instigated and perpetrated the intercourse without her consent, she testified that she “froze,” “neither actively participating in sex nor speaking any words,” and otherwise expressed no reaction. This court concluded that a jury could have believed that although the victim did not consent, the defendant may have mistakenly thought she did. Accordingly, we held that it was “reasonably likely” that a proper jury instruction regarding the requisite mental state as to the victim’s nonconsent could have affected the outcome of the trial.

State v. Norton, 2021 UT 2, ¶¶ 48–49, 481 P.3d 445 (cleaned up).

¶44      On the other hand, in State v. Newton, 2020 UT 24, 466 P.3d 135, our supreme court found that a defendant was not prejudiced as a result of similarly deficient jury instructions, id. ¶¶ 19, 30. The defendant faced rape charges based on the victim’s account that, after a party, the defendant attacked her in his car and violently forced her to have sex despite her screaming, crying, and fighting back and that he also choked her and pointed a gun at her. Id. ¶ 4. The defendant told a different story, claiming that the victim initiated and participated willingly in sex. Id. ¶ 6. The court determined that the defendant was not prejudiced because neither version presented the possibility that the victim didn’t consent but the defendant reasonably believed she did. Id. ¶ 34. The court explained that because “the evidence shows only that she either fought back or initiated the sex[,] . . . the jury could not easily have thought that the truth fell somewhere in between the two accounts.” Id. (cleaned up). “So in convicting [the defendant], the jury must have found that [the victim] did not consent and, by extension, must have concluded that [the defendant] intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly had nonconsensual sexual intercourse with [the victim].” Id. (cleaned up). The court noted that the victim’s version of the events was also corroborated by extensive injuries identified during her medical examination, including genital injuries that would have been painful enough for her to stop consensual intercourse, evidence of strangulation, and bruising on her arms and legs. Id. ¶ 35. Accordingly, the court concluded that the evidence supported a jury determination that the defendant was at least reckless as to the victim’s consent. See id. ¶¶ 35–36. Because its confidence in the outcome was not undermined, the court found no prejudice. See id.

¶45      Likewise, in State v. Norton, 2021 UT 2, 481 P.3d 445, our supreme court held that similar instructions were not prejudicial, id. ¶¶ 38–39, 49–51. There, a woman accused her estranged husband—against whom she had a protective order—of breaking into her parents’ home, assaulting her and tying her up with duct tape, abducting her, and forcibly penetrating her vaginally while holding her down. Id. ¶¶ 1, 5–9. She testified that she said “no” repeatedly and also physically resisted. Id. ¶¶ 8–9. The estranged husband, on the other hand, described how the wife willingly left with him and initiated physical affection that resulted in consensual sex. Id. ¶¶ 14–16. He testified that the pair later argued and “rastled,” including him backhanding her and grabbing her hands. Id. ¶ 17. The jury convicted the husband of aggravated sexual assault and other charges, and he argued on appeal that the jury instructions were prejudicial because they did not identify the mens rea regarding consent. Id. ¶¶ 20, 33. Our supreme court disagreed, concluding that “a reasonable jury could not have found that [the husband] mistook [the wife’s] conduct for consent based on the totality of the evidence.” Id. ¶ 42. This was because the husband’s “testimony did not describe ambiguous behavior that he could have believed was consent,” the wife’s “testimony similarly left no room for a finding that [the husband] mistook her conduct for consent,” and “[o]ther evidence corroborated her version of events”—including the use of duct tape and injuries on the wife’s back, face, inner thighs, and labia. Id. ¶¶ 43–45.

¶46      The State argues that “[t]he facts here contain none of the subtlety that drove the result in Barela. Rather, as in Newton and Norton, the only issue was whose version of consent to believe.” We disagree. Unlike in Newton and Norton, Arnold’s and Tabitha’s accounts are not so very different that the jury must have chosen to believe one at the complete exclusion of the other. Both testified that Tabitha took off her pants, climbed in the bed, and lay with Arnold and that sex subsequently ensued. To be sure, the parties’ descriptions contained other contradictory facts. But we first acknowledge that this case is unlike Newton and Norton, where neither party testified to behavior that could have been construed to be ambiguous. See Norton, 2021 UT 2, ¶ 43; Newton, 2020 UT 24, ¶ 34. Indeed, Tabitha admitted that she did not physically resist Arnold because she “didn’t want to be hurt more,” and Arnold testified that Tabitha ran her hands through his hair as she normally would during oral sex and lifted her legs up on her own. In this respect, the present case is more like Barela, where there was behavior that was potentially ambiguous. See 2015 UT 22, ¶ 29.

¶47 However, unlike in Barela, both Arnold and Tabitha testified that Tabitha said “no,” with Tabitha stating that she did so repeatedly while sobbing and Arnold admitting that he heard her say “no” twice. We consider it critical to accept that “[n]o means no.” State v. Cady, 2018 UT App 8, ¶ 1, 414 P.3d 974, cert. denied, 421 P.3d 439 (Utah 2018). By admitting that Tabitha said no twice, Arnold would have to convince us that some exceptional circumstances applied to make it reasonable for him to believe that no—stated twice—actually meant yes. As explained below, he fails to accomplish this feat. While we agree with Arnold that this case is less straightforward than Newton and Norton and disagree with the State’s contention that “as in Newton and Norton, the only issue was whose version of consent to believe,” on the record before us, our agreement with Arnold on this point does not carry the day for him. Ultimately, we are not convinced that, on these facts, a reasonable jury could have looked “at the totality of the trial evidence here and [found] that, under either version of events, [Arnold] may have mistaken [Tabitha’s] conduct for consent.” See Norton, 2021 UT 2, ¶ 49.

¶48      Arnold asserts that the parties’ history made it reasonable for him to believe that Tabitha was consenting when she said “no.” He testified: “There’s been times where I didn’t have sex with her and she told me, you know, ‘I got a very high sex drive. If you would have just pushed me a little further, I would have.’” He also claimed that “[s]he said no before and then changed her mind and told me the next day, ‘Well, I really wanted to. Why [weren’t] you just a little more persistent? You know I got a high sex drive.’” But Arnold’s own testimony does not support a conclusion that he could have reasonably supposed that this was a time when Tabitha just wanted him to be more persistent.

¶49      First, we note that nothing in Arnold’s description of the parties’ past sexual history indicates that Arnold ever successfully changed Tabitha’s mind during the course of a sexual encounter. Her alleged statements on days after the couple did not have sex do not establish a history where Tabitha first said “no” but changed her mind during the course of sex—and her feelings on consent the day after not having sex do not reliably establish her feelings on consent at the time. But the more important question is whether Arnold could have reasonably believed Tabitha’s noes to be yeses here.

¶50 Arnold testified that the couple “had fights before where [they] made up like that,” meaning having sex, including after she “scratched and hit” him, as well as a week after she shot him in the leg, when he had fully recovered. Even if true, this testimony does not provide evidence of a single instance when Tabitha consented to having sex contemporaneously with Arnold physically assaulting her (rather than after she injured him), and it does not raise a reasonable inference or basis to conclude that she would have consented so soon after Arnold punched her in the face, breaking her facial bones, when her eye was still so swollen that she couldn’t open it.

¶51      But Arnold’s own testimony is even more damning. When speaking of Tabitha’s feelings that she was going to die that night, Arnold said, “And she was just under the impression—she was scared, I guess, after I choked her.” This shows his awareness that Tabitha was afraid for her life, which is not consistent with him reasonably believing that—despite saying no—she was willing to have sex with him. Certainly, some hours had passed between Arnold’s punch and the sexual encounter, but we are not convinced that Arnold could have reasonably believed that Tabitha’s fear turned into consent for sexual activity.

¶52 Furthermore, Arnold’s testimony was clear that he knew he was not welcome at Tabitha’s home both before he arrived and throughout the time he stayed. Arnold agreed when the prosecutor asked if he knew he wasn’t “supposed to be at her house” but “still went over anyways.” And the prosecutor confirmed, “So you came in the house uninvited, knew you weren’t supposed to be there; is that correct?” Arnold responded, “Yes.” The prosecutor then asked, “She told you to leave, but you didn’t leave?” and again Arnold replied, “Yes.” Separately, when Counsel was questioning Arnold about the circumstances around him leaving Tabitha’s home in the morning, he asked Arnold, “Was it your impression or was it not your impression that you were okay to stay there?” Arnold responded, “I knew I probably wasn’t okay to stay there.” It is beyond the limits of reasonability to believe that Arnold knew throughout the whole night that Tabitha was not okay with him staying in her home but that he thought she wanted to have sex with him in that very home. Therefore, Arnold’s testimony does not support a conclusion that he reasonably believed Tabitha was consenting to sex despite twice telling him no, and a correction to the jury instruction would not likely have made any difference on this point.

¶53 Beyond Arnold’s testimony, other evidence supports a conclusion that “a reasonable jury could not have found that [Arnold] mistook [Tabitha’s] conduct for consent based on the totality of the evidence.” Norton, 2021 UT 2, ¶ 42. First, it is clear that the jury believed more of Tabitha’s version of the events than Arnold’s. Because the chief dispute on this point at trial was whether the sexual encounter was consensual, the jury’s guilty verdict for aggravated sexual assault indicates that the jury accepted Tabitha’s facts, or at least more of Tabitha’s facts than Arnold’s.[6] Tabitha testified that she “just kept bawling and saying, ‘No. Please, no. No. I don’t want to. No.’” She stated that Arnold said, “Boy, I’m a sick fuck,” presumably referring—in Tabitha’s estimation—“to beat[ing] someone and treat[ing] someone that way and then want[ing] to have sex with them.” Tabitha’s sobbing would certainly have informed Arnold that she was not consenting to sex. And Arnold’s statement indicates that he understood (1) that his desire to have sex with Tabitha was extremely perverse—even given their history—after his previous actions and (2) that she would view his desire as just as shocking as she, in reality, did.

¶54 Additionally, Nurse testified that Tabitha had extensive injuries that were “more consistent” with Tabitha having been sexually assaulted than having had consensual sex. Even if the jury accepted Arnold’s theory that blood thinners could have caused the extensive bruising during consensual sex, they would not have caused a laceration on the “outermost part of the inferior vaginal wall.” This is similar to the injuries the court highlighted in both Newton and Norton as weighing against a finding of prejudice. See id. ¶ 45; Newton, 2020 UT 24, ¶ 35. And this is particularly similar to the injuries in Newton that the court reasoned would likely have caused the victim to stop the intercourse if it had been consensual. See Newton, 2020 UT 24, ¶ 35. Arnold provides no explanation that would support Tabitha’s desire to engage in such a painful encounter, including no testimony that the couple’s history involved sex that was painful for Tabitha. Nurse also testified that Tabitha “expressed fear that she would be killed” and “frequently was tearful and asked, ‘Why did this happen[?]’” These facts are consistent with Tabitha’s account of her feelings about the experience and do not support a finding that Arnold was anything but reckless—or worse—as to Tabitha’s nonconsent.

¶55 Finally, we find it worth noting that the jury’s attention was drawn to Arnold’s state of mind before it convicted him on this count. In its closing argument, the State said, describing the sexual encounter, that Arnold claimed to be thinking, “Well, this is how we’ve had sex in the past . . . so that’s what we should do. That’s what’s going on.” But the State drew the jury’s attention to facts that would make Arnold’s alleged perception unreasonable, saying he claimed to have thought that “[e]ven though she was telling him no, was crying because he had punched her in the face, had choked her and shot at her, driven her all over town, that— well, she still wanted to have sex.” Then the State asked, “That doesn’t make sense, does it? When you look at this evidence you should look at things. Is it reasonable? Does that make sense?” Given this, it is very likely that the jury did consider Arnold’s state of mind as to Tabitha’s consent when it convicted him on this charge. The State specifically drew the jury’s attention to the unreasonable nature of Arnold’s purported beliefs about Tabitha’s consent, and the jury returned a verdict that Arnold was guilty on this count.

¶56      It is clear that Arnold acted recklessly—at the very least— as to Tabitha’s consent when he was “aware of but consciously disregard[ed] a substantial and unjustifiable risk” that she was not consenting to have sex. See Utah Code § 76-2-103(3). Disregarding this risk in light of Tabitha verbally stating she was not willing to have sex and in light of the very painful injuries she had sustained was “a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from [Arnold’s] standpoint.” See id. In light of the totality of the circumstances, including Arnold’s own testimony, it is unlikely that the outcome would have been different if the jury had heard an instruction on Arnold’s mens rea related to Tabitha’s consent. Therefore, the erroneous jury instructions on this point did not prejudice Arnold.

2.         The “in the course of” Language

¶57 Arnold next argues that Counsel was ineffective for not objecting to the jury instruction for aggravated sexual assault when it failed to indicate that the use or threat of use of the dangerous weapon must have occurred “in the course of” the sexual assault. See id. § 76-5-405(2)(a)(i). Even if we assume without deciding that this omission constituted deficient performance, we conclude that Arnold was not prejudiced by it. The totality of the evidence presented to the jury indicates that Arnold’s use of the gun presented a continuous threat and that this threat extended through the course of the sexual assault.

¶58      As discussed above, the supreme court in Norton found no prejudice deriving from a faulty jury instruction on aggravated sexual assault. 2021 UT 2, ¶ 51. Though the “in the course of” language was not omitted in the jury instruction at issue there, the circumstances of the use of the gun are relevant to this case. After the victim’s estranged husband broke into her house, punched her in the face, and drove her to another location with a gun in his lap, id. ¶¶ 5–6—circumstances very similar to what happened here—

[the husband] led [the victim] into an office and told her to take off her pants. She . . . said “no,” and he again pointed the gun at her, forcing her to comply. While she did so, [he] undressed, removed the magazine from the gun, and put the magazine and gun in a filing cabinet. Then, he told [her] that they were going to have sex. She said “no,” but [he] responded that “yes” they were. “So you’re going to rape me?” she asked. [He] replied, “You can’t rape somebody that you’re married to.”

Id. ¶ 8. Notably, the gun was stored in a filing cabinet during the rape—less accessible than was the gun here, as it stayed within arm’s reach on the bed. Although Norton made his victim undress at gunpoint, while here Tabitha removed her pants voluntarily, the removal of clothing was not the act constituting sexual assault. Norton’s conviction on the charge of sexual assault based on rape supports an understanding that the “in the course of” language can be satisfied through an ongoing threat present during the rape.

¶59 This understanding comports with the plain meaning of the statute and with Utah caselaw—both as to threat of use of a weapon and as to use of a weapon. See generally Bevan v. State, 2021 UT App 107, ¶ 11, 499 P.3d 191 (“For all questions of statutory interpretation, we begin by looking at the plain language. In doing so, we assume that the legislature used each term advisedly according to its ordinary and usually accepted meaning. . . . Should we conclude the language is unambiguous and provides a workable result, our analysis is complete.” (cleaned up)). First, while the plain meaning of “threatens” includes “utter[ing] threats against” someone, see Threaten, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/threaten [https:// perma.cc/QDE8-JD58], it also includes “caus[ing] to feel insecure or anxious,” see id. Where the actor has already issued verbal threats related to the dangerous weapon or has taken physical action threatening use of the gun—such as pointing it at the victim or firing it, see State v. Hodson, 907 P.2d 1155, 1157 (Utah 1995) (“We conclude . . . that the only possible inference to be made when someone holds a loaded gun to the head of another and issues an order is that failure to comply will result in use of the gun. Implicit threats are as real as express verbal threats . . . .”)— a threat may continue while the weapon continues to be accessible to the actor. The language of the statute does not state differently, and we have no reason to read into “threatens” a temporal restriction it does not contain. See Utah Code § 76-5-405(2)(a)(i). So to satisfy this element, Arnold need not have pointed a loaded gun toward Tabitha during the actual sexual encounter and threatened to shoot her if she did not comply. Rather, it was sufficient for him to have earlier established the threat of use of the gun through words or actions and for that threat to continue during the course of the sexual assault.[7]

¶60      Furthermore, Utah law is clear that the phrase “use of,” see id., does not require an actor to take affirmative action besides presenting the weapon, see In re R.G.B., 597 P.2d 1333, 1335 (Utah 1979) (“Defendant . . . argues that there was no evidence of . . . the use of a deadly weapon . . . since the robber did not handle the gun or point it at the victim . . . . [I]t is not necessary that the State prove that the robber actually pointed a gun at the victim . . . . If merely exhibiting the gun creates fear in the victim, it constitutes ‘use of a firearm’ for that purpose.”); State v. Weisberg, 2002 UT App 434, ¶¶ 15–17, 62 P.3d 457 (“[The defendant] objected to the portion of the instruction that equated ‘use’ to ‘exhibiting a weapon in such a manner that it creates fear in a reasonable person.’ [The defendant] argues that this portion of the instruction incorrectly stated the law, because it did not require an active employment of the weapon . . . . We are unpersuaded . . . . A weapon is used even if it is never actually pointed at a victim, so long as exhibiting the weapon creates fear in the victim.” (cleaned up)).

¶61      Like in Norton, the evidence of what occurred before the sexual assault established a backdrop of physical violence and an ongoing threat of harm with the gun. Both Tabitha and Arnold testified that Arnold choked Tabitha and hit her, so the jury would have no questions about whether Tabitha knew that Arnold was willing to hurt her. Both parties also testified that Arnold shot the gun very close to Tabitha, so the jury would have no doubts as to Tabitha’s understanding that Arnold was willing to do this—or worse—with the gun later. Tabitha testified that Arnold shot at her and threatened to kill her with the gun, and while Arnold testified that he shot at his own reflection and never threatened to kill Tabitha, he did admit that Tabitha spoke as if he was going to kill her and that “she was just under the impression—she was scared, I guess, after I choked her.” Accordingly, he was aware that she feared him killing her and believed it was a real possibility.

¶62 Additionally, both parties agreed that Arnold was in control of the gun when the pair began driving. And while Tabitha and Arnold disagreed about how many times Arnold handed the gun to Tabitha throughout the night, both testified that he did so, that he instructed her to kill him, and that he got the gun back after she refused to do so. Arnold suggests that his actions of repeatedly handing the gun to Tabitha indicate that he was not threatening her with the weapon. The State argues, instead, that “acts of giving Tabitha the gun and asking her to shoot him could be reasonably viewed as acts of manipulation and intimidation, not opportunities for her to escape.” We are persuaded that the jury accepted this interpretation because it found Arnold guilty of kidnapping even though he testified that Tabitha was free to leave anytime and because Arnold testified that, despite Tabitha telling Arnold she couldn’t kill him, he said he “wanted to get her mad so she would.” Other than during these incidents—after which Arnold admittedly took back the gun—and the time that Arnold was in the store (when he testified that he left the gun under the seat but didn’t “know if she knew where it was at or not” and she testified that she didn’t know where it was), Arnold controlled the gun until the time of the sexual assault. In other words, we do not view the testimony about the events prior to the sexual assault—including testimony that Arnold handed the gun to Tabitha multiple times—as evidence supporting any conclusion other than that there existed a continuous threat of harm by Arnold against Tabitha.

¶63      Moreover, the evidence related to the sexual assault itself does not support a conclusion that had the jury instruction included the “in the course of” language, the jury would likely have acquitted Arnold on this count. Both Arnold and Tabitha testified that the gun remained on the bed—easily accessible to Arnold—during the sexual assault. While Arnold testified that Tabitha was the one to place it there, the testimony from both individuals described above does not support an inference that Tabitha felt like she was free to do what she wanted with the gun or that she stopped feeling threatened by the gun during the sexual assault. Tabitha testified that Arnold kept the gun on his side of the bed during the sexual encounter. This testimony was consistent with Arnold’s own narrative about regaining control of the gun each time he gave it to Tabitha. Additionally, the jury heard both Arnold and Tabitha testify that Tabitha repeatedly said no during the sexual encounter, yet Arnold proceeded to engage in sexual intercourse. It also heard Tabitha testify that she did not physically resist because she “didn’t want to be hurt anymore” and she “just wanted to get through that night.” It is likely that the jury interpreted these statements as meaning that during the sexual encounter, Tabitha felt threatened by Arnold’s continued control over the gun, so she did not resist for the sake of her life and her safety. Based on the totality of the circumstances, it is unlikely that the jury would have acquitted Arnold on this charge even if it had been instructed as Arnold now claims it should have been. Accordingly, we are satisfied that Arnold was not prejudiced by the omission of the “in the course of” language in the jury instruction.

B.        Aggravated Kidnapping

¶64 Arnold next argues that Counsel was ineffective for not objecting when the same language—“in the course of”—was left out of the jury instruction for the aggravated kidnapping charge. Under the relevant statute, a defendant must commit an enumerated act—as relevant here, using or threatening to use a dangerous weapon, acting with the intent to inflict bodily injury or terrorize, or acting with the intent to commit a sexual assault— “in the course of” a kidnapping or unlawful detention. See Utah Code § 76-5-302(2). The jury did not specify which enumerated act it based its determination of guilt on for this charge, but—even if we assume without deciding that Counsel performed deficiently—we have no difficulty concluding that the “in the course of” language was satisfied and that the jury would not have reached a different outcome had the instruction been different.

¶65 Many of Arnold’s actions satisfied the elements of this charge, including the “in the course of” language. Importantly, the jury instruction clearly indicated to jurors that kidnapping occurred if Arnold “detain[ed] or restrain[ed] [Tabitha] for any substantial period of time” or “under circumstances exposing her to risk of bodily injury.” Accordingly, the jury would have understood that the kidnapping could have taken place before, after, or during the driving. While we do not know which moment or stretch of time the jury found Tabitha to have been detained or restrained (including potentially the whole night), we are comfortable in concluding that the jury believed Arnold to have simultaneously committed one of the enumerated acts. If the jury believed that Tabitha was detained or restrained while Arnold ransacked her house and choked and punched her, Arnold was acting at that time with the intent to inflict bodily injury or terrorize Tabitha. If the jury found that Tabitha was detained while Arnold took her loaded gun and shot it very close to her, he acted simultaneously to—at least—use a dangerous weapon. If the kidnapping occurred during the drive, Arnold’s testimony establishes that he only gave the gun to Tabitha briefly several times then took it back, and we have already explained why we are not persuaded that such actions removed the threat of the gun. And if the jury found that Arnold detained Tabitha during what it classified as a sexual assault, then he also used the gun and detained her intentionally to commit that sexual assault. Simply put, we are convinced that, at any time the jury may have identified for the time of the kidnapping, it would have determined that Arnold simultaneously committed one or more enumerated acts. Thus, Arnold was not prejudiced by this alleged error.

C.        Theft

1.         Affirmative Defenses

¶66 Arnold next argues that Counsel was ineffective for not ensuring that the jury instruction on theft included reference to affirmative defenses that may have applied to Arnold. The theft count was based on Arnold’s alleged theft of the gun, and there are two affirmative defenses that Arnold argues should have been presented to the jury: that Arnold “acted under an honest claim of right” to the gun or that he “acted in the honest belief that [he] had the right to obtain or exercise control over” the gun. See Utah Code § 76-6-402(3)(a)–(b). Arnold points to where he testified, “I don’t think I took it either, but—I mean, 17 years in the oil field giving her my paycheck, I seem to think half of everything is mine.” And when the prosecutor asked, “[Y]ou didn’t have permission to take that gun, did you?” Arnold responded, “Other than the fact that I paid for it.” He did not testify that he purchased the gun but that he had paid to release the gun, which had belonged to Tabitha’s ex-husband, from pawn.

¶67 The State responds that Counsel did not perform deficiently by not requesting these instructions because they were foreclosed by the facts. The State points to the statutory language that “[i]t is not a defense . . . that the actor . . . has an interest in the property or service stolen if another person also has an interest that the actor is not entitled to infringe.” See id. § 76-6-402(2). We agree with the State. Arnold admitted that the gun was previously at Tabitha’s house and in her possession, that his ownership rights to it were never adjudicated, that Tabitha did not give him the gun, and that he took the gun to his home when he eventually left Tabitha’s house. So even if Arnold thought he had some sort of property interest in the gun, he acknowledged that Tabitha did as well. And he did not provide any convincing argument as to why he was entitled to infringe on Tabitha’s property interest. See State v. Murphy, 617 P.2d 399, 406 n.9 (Utah 1980) (Hall, J., dissenting) (“Note that even a person with an interest in the property can ‘steal’ it from another with an interest.”); State v. Larsen, 834 P.2d 586, 590–91 (Utah Ct. App. 1992) (“One may be prosecuted for theft if he takes the property of another, although the actor had an interest in it. . . . [This] comprehensive definition of property is intended to abrogate whatever still survives of the artificial common-law restrictions on the scope of larceny and the other theft offenses.” (cleaned up)), cert denied, 843 P.2d 1042 (Utah 1992). Therefore, the affirmative defenses were not available to Arnold, and it was neither deficient performance nor prejudicial for Counsel not to request instructions on them.[8]

2.         Implications for Aggravated Burglary

¶68      In line with his argument on the theft instruction, Arnold asserts that instructing the jury about the affirmative defenses would also raise a reasonable doubt as to Arnold’s intent to steal the gun, thereby impacting the aggravated burglary charge.[9] Because we are not convinced by Arnold’s argument on the theft instruction, we conclude that there would have been no likely impact on the aggravated burglary conviction if Counsel had sought instructions on the affirmative defenses to theft.

II. The Criminal Mischief Charge

¶69      Arnold next argues that Counsel performed deficiently in several ways related to the criminal mischief charge. Arnold asserts that Counsel’s errors prejudiced him because he was charged with class A misdemeanor criminal mischief rather than class B misdemeanor criminal mischief. Class A misdemeanor criminal mischief applies when “the actor’s conduct cause[d] or [was] intended to cause pecuniary loss equal to or in excess of $500 but . . . less than $1,500 in value.” Utah Code § 76-6-106(3)(d)(iii). But a loss with a value of less than $500 is a class B misdemeanor. Id. § 76-6-106(3)(d)(iv). Arnold asserts that the jury was not instructed on the statutory criteria for valuing property for this chapter of the code, which defines value as “(i) the market value of the property, if totally destroyed, at the time and place of the offense, or where cost of replacement exceeds the market value; or (ii) where the market value cannot be ascertained, the cost of repairing or replacing the property within a reasonable time following the offense.” Id. § 76-6-101(1)(f). The statute further specifies that “[i]f the property damaged has a value that cannot be ascertained by [this] criteria . . . , the property shall be considered to have a value less than $500.” Id. § 76-6-101(3).

¶70 However, the State argues that a different definition applies to value here. The criminal mischief statute indicates that “[i]n determining the value of damages under this section, . . . the value of any item . . . includes the measurable value of the loss of use of the items and the measurable cost to replace or restore the items.” Id. § 76-6-106(4). Because we, as a rule, apply the more specific definition where there is conflict, see, e.g.Grynberg v. Questar Pipeline Co., 2003 UT 8, ¶ 31, 70 P.3d 1 (“When two statutory provisions appear to conflict, the more specific provision will govern over the more general provision.” (cleaned up)), and because this latter definition explicitly applies to this section while the other applies to the chapter, compare Utah Code § 76-6-104(4), with id. § 76-6-101(1)(f), (3), it applies insofar as the definitions conflict.

¶71 Arnold does not dispute that he destroyed Tabitha’s cell phone, but he argues that Counsel should have taken action after the State provided insufficient evidence of its value. On the question of the cell phone’s value, the only testimony was Tabitha’s when she, in response to being asked, “And what’s the value of your cell phone? What does it cost?” stated, “I think I paid $600 for it. It’s got no value now.” Based on this, Arnold argues that “the State failed to produce competent evidence that Tabitha’s phone had a market value of at least $500 at the time it broke; nor did it put on evidence of a repair or replacement cost.” Accordingly, Arnold argues that Counsel performed deficiently by failing to move for a directed verdict on this point or ask that the charge be reduced to a class B misdemeanor, as well as for failing to request a jury instruction on calculating value.

¶72 We agree with the State, however, that Counsel did not perform deficiently by not taking any of these steps. In reviewing Counsel’s actions, we apply “a strong presumption that Counsel’s representation was within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance,” see Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 104 (2011) (cleaned up), and that Counsel’s decisions were “sound trial strategy,” Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 689 (1984) (cleaned up). Here, we conclude that Counsel’s decisions were sound because, “[u]nlike a later reviewing court, [Counsel] observed the relevant proceedings, knew of materials outside the record, and interacted with the client [and] with opposing counsel.” See Harrington, 562 U.S. at 105.

¶73 The State argues that Counsel could have reasonably expected that either of the indicated actions would have been futile.[10] We agree that Counsel could reasonably have believed that, had he done as Arnold now desires, the court would have allowed the State to present evidence on the value of the cell phone and any other damaged property.[11]  See Utah R. Crim. P. 17(f)(5) (indicating that after the parties present their cases-in-chief, “the parties may offer only rebutting evidence unless the court, for good cause, otherwise permits”); see also Utah R. Evid. 611(a)(1) (“The court should exercise reasonable control over the mode and order of . . . presenting evidence so as to make those procedures effective for determining the truth . . . .”). Because there is no record evidence that the cell phone’s value was actually less than $500 and that Counsel knew of its lower value, we cannot conclude that Counsel acted deficiently in this respect. Arnold bears the burden of proof, so “it should go without saying that the absence of evidence cannot overcome the strong presumption that Counsel’s conduct fell within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” See Burt v. Titlow571 U.S. 12, 17 (2013) (cleaned up). Given our strong presumption that Counsel acted reasonably and strategically according to his knowledge of facts outside the record—which here may have included the make, model, age, condition, and replacement cost of the phone—we conclude that Counsel acted objectively reasonably and that his performance was not deficient on this point.[12]

III. Counsel’s Failure to Request a Directed Verdict on the
Discharge of Firearm with Injury Count

¶74      Arnold next argues that Counsel was ineffective for failing to move for a directed verdict on the second-degree felony discharge of a firearm with injury count. This charge requires proof that a defendant’s discharge of a firearm “cause[d] bodily injury to any individual.” Utah Code § 76-10-508.1(2). The statute defines “bodily injury” as “physical pain, illness, or any impairment of physical condition.” Id. § 76-1-101.5(4). Arnold argues that reasonable counsel would have realized that Tabitha’s testimony did not satisfy this element and would have moved for a directed verdict on this charge.

¶75 Tabitha testified that after Arnold shot the gun, she “couldn’t hear” and her ears “were ringing.” She knew that Arnold was saying something to her, but for a time she couldn’t hear or understand what he was saying. She was “eventually” able to hear again.

¶76 Arnold argues that this testimony does not establish “impairment.” See id. The State disagrees, emphasizing that the statute includes “any impairment,” see id. (emphasis added), and pointing out that “substantial bodily injury”—a higher tier of injury in the criminal context, see State v. Lyden, 2020 UT App 66, ¶ 24, 464 P.3d 1155—includes “temporary loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ,” see Utah Code § 76-1­101.5(18) (emphasis added). We agree with the State. The plain meaning of “impairment” is “diminishment or loss of function or ability.” See Impairment, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam –webster.com/dictionary/impairment [https://perma.cc/3B2E-M2 EY]. Tabitha testified that—for a time—her function of hearing was diminished or entirely lost; this satisfies the plain meaning of impairment.[13] Arnold does not argue that permanent hearing loss would fail to qualify under the statute, nor does he provide any authority supporting a position that a condition that would qualify as impairment if it were permanent fails to qualify if it is temporary. Indeed, a higher tier of bodily injury includes temporary impairment, see Utah Code § 76-1-101.5(18), so we see no reason to read the broad language of this definition as excluding temporary conditions, see State v. Robinson, 2018 UT App 227, ¶ 33, 438 P.3d 35 (describing the definition as “broad”), cert. denied, 440 P.3d 694 (Utah 2019). Accordingly, we conclude that Arnold was not prejudiced when Counsel chose not to move for a directed verdict on this charge.

IV. Counsel’s Failure to Object to Tabitha’s Testimony that She Believed Arnold Was a Felon

¶77 Finally, Arnold argues that Counsel was ineffective for not objecting or requesting a corrective instruction when Tabitha testified that she believed Arnold was a felon. Counsel asked Tabitha, “He didn’t bring his own .22-caliber pistol to your house to kill you, as far as you know, did he?” Tabitha responded, “I believe he is a felon. He’s not allowed to own a weapon.” Arnold argues that this statement was inadmissible and that Counsel performed deficiently by not taking corrective action when he knew that the testimony was harmful. Presumably, Arnold stipulated to his status as a Category II restricted person to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to his criminal history. Arnold cites State v. Larrabee, 2013 UT 70, 321 P.3d 1136, for the proposition that “although a defense attorney can reasonably choose to not object so to not highlight harmful testimony, that failure to object is unreasonable when the inadmissible evidence is inflammatory,” id. ¶¶ 26–28, 32. Arnold asserts that “evidence of [his] felon status was inflammatory, and it was harmful to [him], especially in a case that depended heavily on [his] credibility.”

¶78      The State counters, “[T]he testimony did not tell the jury that [Arnold] was, in fact, a felon. Rather, Tabitha said only that she ‘believe[d]’ [Arnold] was.” Further, it states that “even if Tabitha had testified that [Arnold] was a convicted felon, competent counsel could . . . reasonably conclude that objecting risked further emphasizing the testimony, especially where [C]ounsel would have to ask the court to instruct the jury to disregard what it had already heard.”

¶79 We agree with the State. “Utah courts have long recognized that [defense] counsel’s decision not to request an available curative instruction may be construed as sound trial strategy.” State v. Popp, 2019 UT App 173, ¶ 50, 453 P.3d 657 (cleaned up), cert. denied, 485 P.3d 943 (Utah 2021). “Indeed, a curative instruction may actually serve to draw the jury’s attention toward the subject matter of the instruction and further emphasize the issue the instruction is attempting to cure.” Id. Counsel could have reasonably determined that he would be “ill-advised to call undue attention to the testimony,” “particularly when [it was] unanticipated and brief,” see State v. Squires, 2019 UT App 113, ¶ 43, 446 P.3d 581 (cleaned up), and particularly when the jury was already aware that Arnold was a Category II restricted person and was, accordingly, not permitted to use or possess a firearm.[14] Tabitha’s comment was made in passing and was made as to her belief rather than as to any certainty of Arnold’s felony status. Accordingly, we conclude that Counsel did not perform deficiently by deciding not to draw further attention to the issue of Arnold’s criminal history.

CONCLUSION

¶80 Arnold ultimately does not demonstrate that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. We conclude that—on each of Arnold’s claims—he fails to show deficient performance, prejudice, or both. Therefore, we affirm his various convictions.

 

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

 

[1] See Utah R. Jud. Admin. 14-807 (governing law student practice in the courts of Utah)

[2] A pseudonym.

[3] “On appeal, we review the record facts in a light most favorable to the jury’s verdict and recite the facts accordingly. We present conflicting evidence only as necessary to understand issues raised on appeal.” State v. Thomas, 2019 UT App 177, n.1, 474 P.3d 470 (cleaned up), cert. denied, 462 P.3d 804 (Utah 2020).

[4] Tabitha was fifty-eight years old at the time.

[5] We echo our supreme court’s declaration that “going forward, . . . district courts should ensure that jury instructions for rape clearly require a finding that a defendant had the requisite mens rea as to the victim’s nonconsent.” State v. Newton, 2020 UT 24, ¶ 29, 466 P.3d 135 (cleaned up). Recent decisions clearly indicate that the district court ought to ensure the correctness of these instructions. See State v. Barela, 2015 UT 22, ¶¶ 25–27, 30, 349 P.3d 676; State v. Norton, 2021 UT 2, ¶ 51, 481 P.3d 445. Our supreme court endorsed the use of Model Utah Jury Instruction 1605:

(DEFENDANT’S NAME) is charged [in Count__] with committing Rape [on or about DATE]. You cannot convict [him][her] of this offense unless, based on the evidence, you find beyond a reasonable doubt each of the following elements:

  1. (DEFENDANT’S NAME);
  2. Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly had sexual intercourse with (VICTIM’S NAME);
  3. Without (VICTIM’S NAME)’s consent; and
  4. (DEFENDANT’S NAME) acted with intent, knowledge or recklessness that (VICTIM’S NAME) did not consent.

Newton, 2020 UT 24, ¶ 29 (brackets in original) (quoting Model Utah Jury Instructions 2d CR1605 (2015), https://legacy.utcourts. gov/resources/muji/inc_list.asp?action=showRule&id=44#1605 [https://perma.cc/S78Q-PSHF]).

[6] While the jury did acquit Arnold on two charges, neither charge was related to the sexual encounter, and we have no other indication that the jury disbelieved Tabitha’s testimony on this point.

[7] In several cases, we have determined that the “in the course of” language is satisfied if the defendant threatens to use a gun but the victim never sees it, even if the gun is fictitious. See State v. Bryant, 965 P.2d 539, 541, 545–46 (Utah Ct. App. 1998) (concluding that a threat of use of an unseen—and possibly fictitious—gun occurred “in the course of” a sexual assault where the defendant threatened to kill the victim if she failed to give him her money (cleaned up)); see also State v. Meza, 2011 UT App 260, ¶¶ 2, 11, 263 P.3d 424 (determining that the State provided sufficient evidence that the defendant threatened use of a gun “in the course of” an aggravated robbery where he gestured as if he had a gun in his pocket and stated, “This is a stickup.” (cleaned up)). It makes little sense to recognize this as a qualifying threat but to take the narrow view that a real and present gun’s use does not occur “in the course of” a sexual assault if a defendant threatens use of the weapon or uses it before the sexual assault but does not again verbally state the threat or wield the gun while actually engaging in sexual activity.

[8] We are also unconvinced that the jury would have believed that Arnold had an “honest claim of right to” or an “honest belief that [he] had the right to obtain or exercise control over” the gun, see Utah Code § 76-6-402(3)(a)–(b), given that Arnold stipulated to the fact that he was a Category II restricted person. While the jury did not know the details of why Arnold fell into this category, it is common knowledge that restricted persons are not legally able to possess, use, or control firearms in this state. See id. § 76-10­503(2)(a), (3)(a). We think it practically certain that at least one juror would have raised this point with respect to the affirmative defenses. Counsel’s decision not to draw attention to this point and to avoid inviting additional focus on Arnold’s status—as well as speculation as to its cause—was not unreasonable.

[9] This charge could also rely on Arnold’s intent to assault Tabitha. See id. §§ 76-6-202(2)(c), -203(2). Arnold argues that, under the applicable statute, the State was required to prove that he formed the necessary intent when he entered her house. He is wrong. “[T]he plain language of the statute requires that the actor’s intent be formed at the time of entry or at any time while the actor remains unlawfully in the building or dwelling.” State v. Garcia, 2010 UT App 196, ¶ 13, 236 P.3d 853 (emphasis added), cert. denied, 247 P.3d 774 (Utah 2011). “Moreover, in interpreting this statute, the Utah Supreme Court has concluded that ‘a person is guilty of burglary under Utah Code section 76-6-202(1) if [that person] forms the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault at the time [the person] unlawfully enters a building or at any time thereafter while [the person] continues to remain there unlawfully.’” Id. (cleaned up) (quoting State v. Rudolph, 970 P.2d 1221, 1229 (Utah 1998)).

[10] Under Utah law, owners are “presumed to be familiar with the value of [their] possessions” and are “competent to testify on the present market value of [their] property.” State v. Purcell, 711 P.2d 243, 245 (Utah 1985). On an assertion of insufficient evidence, a “trial court is not obligated to select a value figure specifically tied to any particular testimony. Rather, evidence will be deemed to support the value set by the fact finder if it is within the range testified to.” State v. Anderson, 2004 UT App 131U, para. 7. While we are not evaluating the sufficiency of the evidence here, given this backdrop it was objectively reasonable for Counsel to believe that the court would have denied a motion for directed verdict based on Tabitha’s testimony.

[11] The cell phone was not the only property of Tabitha’s that Arnold damaged. He also ruined her bedpost by violently smashing the cell phone against it, and Tabitha testified that repair would require a new post. Additionally, he shot through Tabitha’s mirror, leaving a hole and “a shatter mark.” This action also made holes in the wall behind the mirror. Given all this, it was further reasonable for Counsel to believe that he would ultimately be unsuccessful in taking the actions Arnold desires.

[12] We are also convinced that Counsel was objectively reasonable in determining that requesting a jury instruction on valuation risked alienating the jury. Arnold was facing many charges, nine of which were felonies and involved actions much more egregious than damaging property. Counsel could have wisely decided that bickering over the value of the phone and the other property— which Arnold did not dispute destroying and which highlights his violence on the evening in question—would not be helpful. Doing so would challenge Tabitha’s testimony as to value without impacting her credibility (Arnold does not assert that her testimony on this point was erroneous), and it was objectively reasonable for Counsel to focus his efforts combatting Tabitha’s testimony on weightier issues, like whether Arnold detained her and raped her.

[13] While the legislature may not have intended this language to have such broad effect as to include a temporary reduction in hearing ability or an impairment that is so temporary as to last for mere minutes, we are bound to apply the plain language of the statute. See, e.g., Bevan v. State, 2021 UT App 107, ¶ 11, 499 P.3d 191. Moreover, the statute does not place any temporal qualification on “physical pain,” see Utah Code § 76-1-101.5(4), which may often be quite temporary. But if the legislature intended the language to be narrower than we suggest on this or any other point, it has the power to modify this language.

[14] This point also makes it unlikely that Tabitha’s testimony prejudiced Arnold. Tabitha’s testimony did not include details of any alleged crimes that would likely impact the jury’s determination of Arnold’s credibility beyond what its knowledge of his status as a restricted person would.

Tags: , , , , , ,

2023 UT App 65 – State v. Meyer – Parent Charged With Child Abuse

2023 UT App 65 – State v. Meyer

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

STATE OF UTAH,
Appellee,

v.

ELIZABETH LYDIA MEYER,

Appellant.

Opinion

No. 20210718-CA

Filed June 15, 2023

First District Court, Brigham City Department

The Honorable Spencer Walsh

No. 181100556

Wendy M. Brown, Debra M. Nelson, and Benjamin Miller, Attorneys for Appellant

Blair T. Wardle, Attorney for Appellee

JUDGE DAVID N. MORTENSEN authored this Opinion, in which
JUDGES GREGORY K. ORME and RYAN D. TENNEY concurred.

MORTENSEN, Judge:

¶1        Elizabeth Lydia Meyer’s[1] ex-husband (Father) discovered bruising on their daughter (Child) after picking her up from Meyer’s home. The State charged Meyer with child abuse and, at a bench trial, used a process-of-elimination approach to argue that Meyer was the only possible cause of the bruising. The district court convicted Meyer, and she now appeals. Meyer asserts that the court erred in admitting the preliminary hearing testimony of her now-husband. We agree that this action was erroneous and prejudiced Meyer, so we vacate her conviction.

BACKGROUND

¶2          One Wednesday in July 2018, Father picked up Child, then two years old, from Meyer’s home for a regular midweek visit. Meyer and Father had been through a “fairly contentious” divorce, and their relationship was sometimes “volatile,” so Father had made it a habit to record via cellphone his pickups of Child. His video recording from this day shows marks on the upper portions of both of Child’s arms. But Father did not notice the marks until later, when he was at a restaurant with Child. Father exchanged texts with Meyer about the marks:

Father: I noticed that [Child] has what looks like bruises on her arm. Is she okay?

Meyer: Yes, she’s fine.

Father: How did she get those marks?

Meyer: How do children get the majority of their bruises? What direction are you trying to go with this?

Father: I’m just concerned because the bruising pattern is not consistent with normal childhood injuries.

Meyer: Since when did you become an expert in that matter? I understand that you want to pretend to care about my daughter, but I do not wish to have you go on a third witch hunt and falsely accuse someone like you already have done twice, even though we both know you’re dying to. You do not make any of her medical appointments. And the last I knew you have not completed any courses in the direction. So please leave your harassing comments to yourself.

¶3          After dinner, Father drove to the police station and asked for an officer to examine Child’s arms. An officer (Officer) and a caseworker (Caseworker) from the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) met with Father and photographed Child’s arms approximately two hours after Father had picked up Child.

¶4          Officer and Caseworker then visited Meyer’s home. Outside, they met Michael Glenn, Meyer’s then-boyfriend whom she married before the case went to trial. Glenn was initially “defiant” and did not want them to enter the house, but when they showed him photos of Child’s bruises, he was concerned and let them in.

¶5          Officer and Caseworker entered the house and spoke with Meyer, who was very upset. Officer asked Meyer what could have caused bruising on Child’s arms, and Meyer gave multiple possible explanations, including Child falling out of the car when she arrived home from daycare, Child playing with hair ties that were like rubber bands (which she snapped on her arms), or Child playing roughly with her older brother and sometimes getting rug burns from the roughhousing. Caseworker asked Meyer how she had picked Child up when Child fell out of the car after returning from daycare, and Meyer responded along the lines that she picked Child up like any mother would and cleaned her face. Meyer also reported that she had caused a mark on Child’s upper arm when Child ran into the street and Meyer pulled her back. Caseworker showed Meyer photos of Child’s bruises, and Meyer was very surprised, saying, “They were not like that.”

¶6          Glenn gave Officer contact information for Child’s daycare provider (Daycare Provider). When Officer spoke to Daycare Provider on the phone, she confirmed that Child had been in her care that day. Daycare Provider also confirmed that she had asked Meyer about a mark on Child’s arm when Meyer picked Child up that day and that Meyer told her she had grabbed Child to prevent her from running into the street.

¶7          The next day, Father took Child for a physical exam, which was completed by a forensic nurse examiner (Nurse). In her report, Nurse identified “[p]ositive physical findings of injury to bilateral upper arms and left forearm” and described the upper arm injuries as “circumferential and linear with equal spacing between” them and stated that the bruises were “highly indicative for a squeezing mechanism and physical abuse.” Child was not returned to Meyer’s care.

¶8          The case was transferred to a detective (Detective), who called Meyer two days after the alleged incident and recorded the phone call. During the call, Meyer implied that Father was the source of Child’s bruises because, according to her, Child had no bruises until she was in Father’s care and Meyer believed that “[h]e [was] trying to get [her] daughter away from [her].” Meyer was very upset during the call and indicated that she had been previously accused of child abuse, presumably by Father. Meyer also stated that she did not see any bruises or marks on Child— other than the mark from the incident she reported of grabbing Child to stop her from running into the road—before giving Child to Father. But she explained that Child would sometimes scratch herself, leaving marks, and hit and bite things. Meyer also spoke about Glenn’s whereabouts on the day of the incident, indicating that Glenn was asleep when Child came home and remained asleep until after Father had picked Child up.

¶9          Detective wrote in his police report that Child’s older brother, then four years old, “was asked where his sister got the marks on her arm and he said that it was from someone who had power and squeezed hard.” Detective spoke to Daycare Provider, though he did not inspect her home; perform a background check on her; or speak with the parents of other children she babysat or with the three children she had living with her, who were ages fourteen, ten, and eight and may have had access to Child. Detective later testified that he didn’t really consider Daycare Provider a suspect after speaking with her. He also ruled out Glenn as a suspect based on Meyer’s statement that Glenn had been asleep between the time Child came home from daycare and the time Father picked up Child. However, in his report he wrote that he told Meyer he didn’t think the incident causing the bruising had happened on that day. But at trial he testified that, based on his investigation, the timeline he established was that there were no visible bruises—other than the one caused by Meyer stopping Child from running into the street—until the time between Meyer picking Child up from daycare and Father picking her up from Meyer within the next forty-five minutes.

¶10 In August 2018, another officer (Sergeant) interviewed Meyer in person at Detective’s request. Meyer’s statements were consistent with those she had made previously. Specifically, Meyer again stated that Glenn was asleep when Child returned from daycare and did not wake up until after Child left with Father.

¶11        In December 2018, the State charged Meyer with one count of child abuse, a class A misdemeanor.

¶12        The district court held a preliminary hearing in May 2019. Among other witnesses, the State subpoenaed Glenn to testify at the hearing. When he was called to testify, he was hostile, and the court threatened to hold him in contempt and take him into custody. But Glenn ultimately did testify. While he first declared that it was “100 percent incorrect” that he told Officer and Caseworker that the marks had not been on Child in the morning, after reviewing Officer’s bodycam footage, he admitted that he did say that. He also testified that after waking up that morning, he went straight to the car and didn’t notice any marks on Child’s arms, but he said he was busy “concentrating on driving and getting to and from.” He described how he went with Meyer to drop Child off at daycare in the morning. He testified that he was asleep when Meyer brought Child home. And he declared that he did not cause Child’s bruising.

¶13 Sometime after the preliminary hearing, Meyer married Glenn, and Meyer’s defense counsel (Defense Counsel) informed the State via email that Glenn intended to invoke his spousal privilege related to testifying at trial. The State told Defense Counsel that Glenn was “still required to show up to court to produce evidence that he [was], in fact, married . . . and take the stand to actually invoke the privilege.” The prosecutor insisted, “This is important because then he will become an unavailable witness. As an unavailable witness, I will then be able to play his preliminary hearing audio in lieu of his testimony.” Defense Counsel indicated that she “had anticipated that [the State] would be able to get Glenn’s preliminary hearing testimony in at trial.”

¶14        When Defense Counsel later informed the State that Glenn would be on bed rest following surgery on the date of trial (which had been continued multiple times), they discussed the possibilities of Glenn testifying via video during trial or of filing stipulated facts related to his testimony. But Glenn filed a motion to quash the subpoena against him. The State then sent Defense Counsel a transcript and redacted audio file of Glenn’s preliminary hearing testimony that it intended to have admitted at trial, and Defense Counsel responded, “I would absolutely object to both the transcript and the audio coming in at trial. . . . Glenn’s testimony is hearsay[,] and to introduce it would also be a violation of my client’s confrontation rights.” Defense Counsel explained, “The Utah Supreme Court has ruled that because there is a different motive for examining witnesses at a preliminary hearing than that at a trial, said testimony is inadmissible.”

¶15        The State then filed a motion to admit Glenn’s preliminary hearing testimony. After receiving briefing and hearing oral argument, the court found that Glenn’s testimony fell under the exception to hearsay in rule 804(b)(1) of the Utah Rules of Evidence for former testimony of an unavailable witness. The court acknowledged caselaw indicating that defendants are restricted in developing testimony at preliminary hearings, see State v. Goins, 2017 UT 61, ¶¶ 32–33, 423 P.3d 1236, but it distinguished that caselaw from the facts of this case and admitted the testimony.

¶16 The court held a bench trial in May 2021. In its opening statement, the State indicated that “through the process of elimination,” it would “show beyond a reasonable doubt that it was . . . Meyer who committed child abuse.”

¶17 In addition to Glenn’s testimony, Daycare Provider testified at trial that Child had been in her care from roughly 9:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. that day. She stated that she did not see any marks or injuries on Child when Child was dropped off and she never saw marks like those photographed, but she did notice a different mark on Child’s arm later in the day, and this was the mark she asked Meyer about. She also testified that on the day of the bruising, she did not take Child to the park, she did not know of any equipment Child could have accessed that would have caused the injuries, Child did not get injured playing with toys, Child did not receive any injuries while in her care, and Child did not cry or appear to be in pain while in her care. She admitted, though, that she was aware that Child had been “kicked out of her previous day care . . . for playing too rough” and that Child “play[ed] really rough with toys and hit[] dolls a lot.”

¶18        Nurse testified that after examining Child, she “speculated . . . that because of the spacing, and the shape, and the location of the injuries, the colors that [she] saw, they were most definitely bruises,” the spacing of which “could fit a hand.” She said, “I’m not telling you it’s fitting a hand because—you know, I can’t say it was a hand unless I watched it happen, but I can tell you that those are bruises that are in a linear form that you don’t just get from falling down.” She further testified that based on the location, direction, and shape of the bruising, she did not believe that the incidents Meyer had described as possible accidental sources of injury had caused Child’s bruises. She also testified that the marks were “fresher bruises” that, based on coloration, could have been caused within hours of when Officer and Caseworker photographed Child’s injuries. But she acknowledged that “there’s no scientific way to date a bruise” and said that while it was “likely that it occurred” that day, “literally there is no way to determine when it happened.”

¶19 The State played a clip from the recorded interview between Meyer and Sergeant, in which Meyer stated that Child had a temper tantrum after arriving home from daycare and that Child tried to get out of being held and Meyer needed to grab her arm from the side.

¶20        In its closing argument, the State asked, “[W]ho caused the abuse?” and answered that “this is where we get into the process of elimination.” The State then explained its theory that the evidence proved that no one else could have caused the bruising, including Glenn, who “slept through the whole thing.”

¶21 The court ultimately found Meyer “guilty of a lesser-included offense of [c]lass B misdemeanor, child abuse, for having inflicted this injury on [Child] in a reckless manner.” The court provided its rationale, explaining in part that it “found highly credible the testimony” of Nurse that the “bruising was consistent with the types of bruising she has seen in her child abuse conferences and trainings.” The court ruled out Glenn as a potential source of the injuries by saying, “You know, . . . Glenn is asleep by the time [Child] gets home and doesn’t really interact at all. And then we know for a fact that the injuries took place . . . definitively prior to when [Father] arrive[d] based off of the video.” The court concluded, “And so there’s just no doubt in the [c]ourt’s mind that Mom, you lost your cool, you crossed a line, you squeezed your daughter’s arms, and it left that injury. It couldn’t have been anyone else.” The court sentenced Meyer to 180 days of jail but suspended 179 days. It also ordered a fine and probation.

¶22        Meyer subsequently filed a motion for a new trial through Defense Counsel. Defense Counsel then withdrew from representing Meyer. Meyer appeared pro se and asked the court to appoint counsel, but the State objected, and the court decided that Meyer did not qualify for appointed counsel based on her income. The court ultimately denied Meyer’s motion for a new trial. Meyer now appeals.

ISSUE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶23        Meyer argues on appeal that Glenn’s “preliminary hearing testimony should not have been admitted at trial” under an exception to the bar on hearsay.2 “When reviewing rulings on hearsay, [appellate courts] review legal questions regarding admissibility for correctness, questions of fact for clear error, and the final ruling on admissibility for abuse of discretion.” State v. Leech, 2020 UT App 116, ¶ 31, 473 P.3d 218 (cleaned up), cert. denied, 481 P.3d 1039 (Utah 2021). But even “if we determine that the hearsay testimony should not have been admitted, we will reverse only if a reasonable likelihood exists that absent the error,

  1. Meyer also argues that the district court “committed plain error by failing to obtain a valid waiver of counsel before having [Meyer] represent herself on her motion for a new trial.” Because we rule in her favor on the first issue, we need not address this argument.

the result would have been more favorable to the defendant.” Id. (cleaned up).

ANALYSIS

  1. Similar Motive and Opportunity

¶24 Meyer argues that the district court erred in admitting Glenn’s preliminary hearing testimony. She asserts that Glenn’s testimony fails to qualify for the rule 804 exception to the evidentiary bar on hearsay. This exception applies when “the declarant is unavailable” and the declarant’s testimony was “given . . . at a trial, hearing, or lawful deposition” and is now “offered against a party who had . . . an opportunity and similar motive to develop it by direct, cross-, or redirect examination.” Utah R. Evid. 804(b)(1). Meyer argues that caselaw on this point “compels the conclusion that the admission of Glenn’s preliminary hearing testimony was erroneous” because that caselaw indicates that the motive to develop an adverse witness’s testimony at a preliminary hearing differs from the motive to do so at trial.

¶25        In State v. Goins, 2017 UT 61, 423 P.3d 1236, our supreme court discussed the effect of the 1994 amendment to Article I, Section 12 of the Utah Constitution, which limited “the function of preliminary examination to determining whether probable cause exists,” id. ¶ 31 (cleaned up) (discussing Utah Const. art. I, § 12). The court stated that, “by and large,” this provision “places most credibility determinations outside the reach of a magistrate at a preliminary hearing.” Id. ¶ 33. Therefore, “[o]ur constitution specifically limits the purpose of preliminary hearings in a manner that can undercut defense counsel’s opportunity to cross-examine witnesses at a preliminary hearing and thereby modify the interest counsel has in developing testimony on cross-examination.” Id. ¶ 41. But the court “eschewed a blanket rule” of inadmissibility for preliminary hearing testimony because it could “envision scenarios where, for whatever reason, defense counsel possesses the same motive and is provided the same opportunity to cross-examine as she would have at trial.” Id. ¶¶ 36–37. However, the court indicated that “such cases might prove rare.” Id. ¶ 36.

¶26 The Goins court then analyzed the motive for cross-examining a witness at the preliminary hearing by considering the facts of the case, which included the defendant allegedly brandishing a knife and accusing the later-unavailable witness of stealing his phone, after which the witness fled and the defendant assaulted the witness’s acquaintance. Id. ¶¶ 3–6. The court held that it was “apparent on the record . . . that [the defendant’s] counsel did not possess the same motive to develop testimony at the preliminary hearing that she would have had at trial” because the witness’s “testimony referenced concerns with [the defendant] and a prior incident between” the pair, so the defendant’s “counsel had a motive to develop this testimony and question [the witness’s] credibility” at trial “that went beyond a preliminary hearing’s constitutionally limited purpose.” Id. ¶ 46.

¶27 Subsequent cases have reached similar conclusions. In State v. Ellis, 2018 UT 2, 417 P.3d 86, a defendant faced a charge of aggravated robbery for allegedly robbing a cupcake shop at gunpoint, id. ¶¶ 1, 4. The store clerk testified at trial as to the events within the store, id. ¶ 19, but another witness—a witness who saw the perpetrator leave the scene, run across the road, and get into a car whose license plate she then reported—was not able to be in court on the day of the trial, id. ¶¶ 7–8, 16. The court admitted her preliminary hearing testimony, id. ¶ 19, but our supreme court held that this was improper, id. ¶ 40. It stated that in Goins, it had “conditioned the admissibility of preliminary hearing testimony on a showing that defense counsel really did possess the same motive and was permitted a full opportunity for cross-examination at the preliminary hearing.” Id. ¶ 39 (cleaned up). And it said that “Goins foreclose[d] the admissibility of the . . . preliminary hearing testimony” because, “as in Goins, . . . [the court had] no basis to conclude that [the defendant’s] counsel’s preliminary hearing motive to cross-examine was similar to what would have existed at trial.” Id. ¶ 40 (cleaned up).

¶28        Similarly, in State v. Leech, 2020 UT App 116, 473 P.3d 218, cert. denied, 481 P.3d 1039 (Utah 2021), this court applied the holding of Goins where a defendant faced charges related to the alleged kidnapping of two men and murder of one of them, id. ¶¶ 22–24. The court considered the admissibility of preliminary hearing testimony from a man who helped tie up the victims, drove the group to the murder site, supplied the gun, and observed the murder. Id. We noted that “whether the defense had a similar motive to develop prior testimony for purposes of rule 804(b)(1) will often turn on the nature of a witness and her testimony.” Id. ¶ 40 (cleaned up). Where the witness in question “was not only a critical eyewitness, but also an accomplice to each of the crimes,” we determined that “[t]he opportunity to cross-examine this type of witness at a preliminary hearing will likely be a poor substitute for confronting the witness at trial, where the jury can observe [the witness’s] demeanor and assess . . . credibility firsthand.” Id. Accordingly, we held that “the State did not demonstrate that [the defendant] had an adequate opportunity and similar motive to cross-examine [the witness] at the preliminary hearing as he would have had at trial.” Id. ¶ 41.

¶29 The district court believed that the present case was distinguishable from Goins because that case involved an “incident that could have caused motive for [the witness] to fabricate or fashion . . . testimony in such a way that would be damaging to [the defendant].” See Goins, 2017 UT 61, ¶ 46. On the other hand, the court stated, “in the case before the [c]ourt, there’s nothing that has been pointed to specifically that would indicate that there is a similar motive for . . . Glenn to have fabricated any of his testimony.” But the court’s analysis on this point was inadequate, as a witness’s motive for fabrication is not the only circumstance that might impact a defendant’s motive for questioning a witness at a preliminary hearing. This is obvious from Ellis, where the witness had no motive to fabricate testimony and our supreme court still held that it had “no basis to conclude that [the defendant’s] counsel’s preliminary hearing motive to cross-examine was similar to what would have existed at trial.” 2018 UT 2, ¶ 40 (cleaned up).

¶30 The district court erred in concluding that the motives at the preliminary hearing and at trial were the same. The court stated that during the preliminary hearing “there was an opportunity to cross-examine [Glenn] as to whether he was the source of . . . the injuries, whether he abused [Child].” “In fact,” it pointed out, “the State specifically questioned him on that.” It continued, “[The preliminary hearing judge] would have never shut that down and said, ‘No, even though the State had questioned specifically, did you cause the injuries, [d]efense you’re prohibited from going after him to follow up on that question.’ Certainly that would have been permitted by . . . the [j]udge.” But this analysis does not align with our supreme court’s in Goins. The Goins court specifically addressed the reality that a per se rule of admissibility for preliminary hearing testimony of unavailable witnesses “places magistrates in the uncomfortable position of choosing between conducting preliminary hearings in fidelity with article I, section 12 and permitting the type of examinations” that were standard before the constitutional amendment limited the scope of preliminary hearings. 2017 UT 61, ¶ 34. The district court fails to accept that, as the supreme court suggests, Defense Counsel could have reasonably expected the court to limit questioning to that which was necessary for probable cause and prepared to cross-examine Glenn accordingly. See id. We reasoned similarly in Leech, where the defendant’s “counsel admitted that he did not pose a question during his cross-examination of [the witness] that was objected to and sustained, but he maintained that he did not have the same opportunity and motive to cross-examine [the witness] as he would have had at trial because he understood the limited scope of the hearing.” 2020 UT App 116, ¶ 28 (cleaned up). Accordingly, the district court erred in determining that Meyer had the same motive and opportunity to question Glenn in the preliminary hearing as she did at trial because the judge would— presumably—not have prevented follow-up questions to those that were asked.

¶31        Instead, the court should have recognized that the motives changed with respect to questioning witnesses at the preliminary hearing versus at trial. The State was clear that its case was based on a process of elimination. This point is hardly significant at a preliminary hearing, which seeks to determine if there was probable cause—a low standard—for a jury to conclude Meyer caused the bruising. See id. ¶ 20 (reciting the magistrate’s explanation at the defendant’s preliminary hearing that “different standards of proof apply at a probable cause hearing than apply at trial” and that “probable cause means enough evidence that the court is convinced that a reasonable jury could find, not that they necessarily would, but that they could find the offenses charged were committed and that [the defendants] were the individuals who committed them” (cleaned up)). Moreover, at a preliminary hearing, the facts are construed in the light most favorable to the State’s case. See id. (indicating that the magistrate informed the defendant that “one of the most important [differences] is that any doubts or questions about evidence at a preliminary hearing get resolved in favor of the State and against the defendants” and explained that “the benefit of the doubt goes to the State in a preliminary hearing” (cleaned up)). On the other hand, at trial the State must prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, see, e.g.id. ¶ 64, and here the State needed to eliminate all other possible suspects beyond a reasonable doubt during trial. So the motive in questioning each witness at the preliminary hearing was to show lack of probable cause that Meyer was the source of Child’s bruises, while the motive at trial was to introduce reasonable doubt as to Meyer causing the bruises by convincing the court that someone else may have done so. In other words, with respect to Glenn, the motive shifted from showing that Glenn was the more likely source of the bruising to showing that Glenn could have caused the bruising such that there was reasonable doubt that Meyer caused it. Therefore, we hold, as did the Goins court, that it was “apparent on the record . . . that [Meyer] did not possess the same motive to develop testimony at the preliminary hearing that she would have had at trial” because at trial Meyer “had a motive to . . . question [Glenn’s] credibility that went beyond a preliminary hearing’s constitutionally limited purpose.” See 2017 UT 61, ¶ 46.

  1. Prejudice

¶32 “A determination of error in admitting [Glenn’s] preliminary hearing testimony is not alone enough to sustain a reversal. We must also find that error prejudicial. Prejudice in this setting requires a showing of a reasonable likelihood that the decision to admit [Glenn’s] preliminary hearing testimony altered the . . . verdict.” See State v. Ellis, 2018 UT 2, ¶ 41, 417 P.3d 86 (cleaned up).

¶33 The relevant caselaw indicates that errors in admitting preliminary hearing testimony are sometimes harmless. In Goins, the court held that the error was prejudicial as to one charge but harmless as to another because on the first charge, the “testimony was the primary evidence admitted in support of” that charge but on the second charge, the testimony did not address the major underlying facts and the guilty verdict was supported by other witness testimony and corroborating photographs. State v. Goins, 2017 UT 61, ¶¶ 50–51, 423 P.3d 1236.

¶34        Similarly, in Leech, this court identified prejudice with respect to one count but not as to three others. State v. Leech, 2020 UT App 116, ¶ 48, 473 P.3d 218, cert. denied, 481 P.3d 1039 (Utah 2021). For the first, we determined that the “charge could not be proven without crediting” the testimony of the kidnapping victim who wasn’t killed and “there [was] a reasonable likelihood that the jury would not have believed” this person “without the corroboration [the unavailable witness’s] testimony provided.” Id. ¶ 63. But we held that two of the convictions were independently supported by three other witnesses. Id. ¶ 52. And for the final charge, one of its elements “was not disputed at trial” and the other two elements “did not depend on the veracity of the [unavailable witness’s] account of the murder itself.” Id. ¶ 62.

¶35        In Ellis, the court found prejudice where “the preliminary hearing testimony in this case was central to the prosecution’s case on this charge.” 2018 UT 2, ¶ 2. The court so concluded because the witness “provided key pieces of evidence that the jury likely credited,” including her being “the only witness who could testify that the robber fled in a car”—making her “the crucial link for what occurred after [the clerk] lost sight of the robber.” Id. ¶¶ 43, 45.

¶36 Here, the court’s error in admitting Glenn’s testimony prejudiced Meyer because there is a “reasonable likelihood that the decision to admit [Glenn’s] preliminary hearing testimony altered the . . . verdict.” See id. ¶ 41 (cleaned up). The State’s presentation of the case against Meyer as a “process of elimination” impacts the fact-finder’s weighing of the evidence such that, for Glenn’s testimony to have been prejudicial, Meyer need show only that without the testimony, the court would have had a reasonable doubt that she was the source of the injuries. Meyer points us to this helpful insight offered by the Supreme Court of Illinois: “[I]f [the prosecution] intend[s] to obtain a conviction by the process of elimination by showing that no one else but [the] defendant could have been guilty, the burden [is] upon it to show that there was no one else in the other room.” People v. Boyd, 161 N.E.2d 311, 315 (Ill. 1959).

¶37        We agree with Meyer that removing Glenn’s erroneously admitted testimony makes a finding of reasonable doubt as to Meyer’s guilt much more likely. While Meyer’s own testimony corroborated Glenn’s account from the preliminary hearing that he was sleeping during the time Child was home from daycare until Father picked her up, that is not the only information Glenn provided. Glenn also testified that he did not cause the bruising. And he testified that, on the morning in question, he woke up and went directly to the car to drive Child to daycare, giving him no opportunity to interact with Child such that he could have caused her bruising that day.

¶38        The court, in providing the rationale for its conviction of Meyer, explained that it “found highly credible the testimony of” Nurse that the “bruising was consistent with the types of bruising she has seen in her child abuse conferences and trainings.” And it said, “You know, . . . Glenn is asleep by the time [Child] gets home and doesn’t really interact at all. And then we know for a fact that the injuries took place . . . definitively prior to when [Father] arrive[d] based off of the video.” The court clearly found that the bruises were caused before Father arrived, but it did not make a specific finding that the bruises could not have been caused earlier in the day. And Nurse, whose testimony the court found “highly credible,” testified multiple times that she could not provide a timeline for the cause of the bruising. When asked if it was “possible to at least rule out certain time frames,” Nurse responded, “What we were trained was that a fresher bruise is red or purple. . . . Red or purple means that this happened probably fairly close to the time that I saw her because of the darkness of the color, but . . . there’s no scientific way to date a bruise.” Nurse agreed that the bruises could have been caused “within hours.” But when Defense Counsel pressed, asking, “You testified a minute ago that you—it’s your opinion that with bruising, from what you observed, it’s more likely that it occurred like four hours before?” Nurse answered, “That day.” Defense Counsel stated, “That day. Two hours before, five hours before.” Nurse responded, “Purple-red is the colors you see first with bruising and there is—literally there is no way to determine when it happened.”

¶39 Given that removing Glenn’s testimony would have heightened the possibility that Glenn caused the injuries at some time outside the window between Child’s return from daycare and Father’s arrival, we conclude that Meyer was prejudiced. The State’s process-of-elimination approach makes Glenn’s preliminary hearing statements that he did not cause the bruising and did not have the opportunity to cause the bruising before Child went to daycare all the more significant. The State admitted as much when it argued for the admission of Glenn’s testimony, saying that “his testimony [was] necessary to the State to prove the case at trial.” We are hard-pressed to conclude that the testimony’s faulty admission was harmless when the State was so adamant that the testimony was essential in the first place. And the State fails to argue that Meyer was not prejudiced by the faulty admission or to point us to other evidence corroborating these key points of Glenn’s testimony. So without the preliminary hearing testimony, Glenn was not excluded—or at least not as easily excluded as he would have otherwise been. The State’s theory required it to eliminate all other possible suspects; without Glenn’s preliminary hearing testimony, it did not do so, and it is likely that the court would have concluded as much. In this respect, Glenn’s testimony is like that at issue in Ellis, because it was “central to the prosecution’s case” and “provided key pieces of evidence” under the State’s process-of-elimination approach. See 2018 UT 2, ¶¶ 2, 43. And this testimony is unlike that deemed nonprejudicial in Goins and Leech because Meyer’s conviction did “depend on the veracity of [Glenn’s] account.” See Leech, 2020 UT App 116, ¶ 62. Accordingly, the court’s error in admitting Glenn’s preliminary hearing testimony prejudiced Meyer.

CONCLUSION

¶40 The district court erred in admitting Glenn’s preliminary hearing testimony, and Meyer was prejudiced by that error. We therefore vacate Meyer’s conviction and remand this matter for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

 

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

 

[1] Since the time of her charges, the defendant has remarried. She uses a different last name but still accepts the use of “Meyer.” We continue to use “Meyer” for simplicity and for consistency with the case name.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

State v. Redden – 2022 UT App 14 – protective orders – enhanced penalties

2022 UT App 14

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

STATE OF UTAH,
Appellant,
v.
JOEL CHANCE REDDEN,
Appellee.

Opinion

No. 20200700-CA

Filed January 27, 2022

Fifth District Court, Cedar City Department

The Honorable Keith C. Barnes

No. 191500842

Sean D. Reyes and Karen A. Klucznik, Attorneys
for Appellant

Gary W. Pendleton, Attorney for Appellee

JUDGE JILL M. POHLMAN authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES GREGORY K. ORME and RYAN D. TENNEY concurred.

POHLMAN, Judge:

¶1       Joel Chance Redden committed two domestic violence offenses in October 2019, and the district court entered judgment on those convictions in January 2020. In the present case, Redden was charged with violating a protective order in October 2019 when he allegedly called his former girlfriend ten times. Later, the State sought to amend the information to add new charges for violating the protective order, enhanced from class A misdemeanors to third degree felonies based on the domestic violence enhancement statute. Redden opposed the enhancement, arguing that the new crimes had to be committed after his January 2020 convictions. The magistrate agreed with Redden and bound him over for trial on the new charges as class A misdemeanors. The State now appeals, arguing that it could enhance the charges so long as Redden is actually convicted of the new crimes within ten years after his January 2020 convictions. We agree with the State and therefore reverse.

BACKGROUND[1]

¶2       Redden was subject to a protective order that prohibited him from contacting or communicating in any way with Michelle,[2] his former girlfriend. Notwithstanding this directive, Redden contacted Michelle on October 4, 2019, and threatened her. This conduct led the State to prosecute Redden in Weber County, and he pleaded guilty to stalking and violating a protective order, both third degree felonies. Redden entered his plea on December 4, 2019, and the judgment was entered on January 22, 2020 (the January 2020 convictions).

¶3       The present case arises out of Redden’s conduct on October 9, 2019. At that time, Redden was jailed in Texas on unrelated charges, and Michelle was visiting Cedar City, Utah. Beginning at 8:34 a.m., Redden allegedly telephoned Michelle ten times over the next three hours. According to Michelle, she answered the second call, which was a collect call from Redden from the Texas jail. Michelle accepted the call and spoke to Redden briefly. She told him, “Just don’t ever call me again,” and hung up. She also answered one of Redden’s later calls and recorded it, but she did not accept it to speak with him.

¶4       After Michelle reported these phone calls to law enforcement, the State filed an information against Redden in Iron County on December 30, 2019. It charged Redden with two counts of violation of a protective order for his October 9 conduct. It pursued both counts as third degree felonies enhanced from class A misdemeanors based on Redden’s conduct underlying his January 2020 convictions. Yet the State did not present evidence of the January 2020 convictions at a May 2020 preliminary hearing, and consequently, Redden moved to reduce both counts to class A misdemeanors. Although the State moved to continue the hearing, the magistrate denied that request. The magistrate then agreed with Redden and found the State had not met its burden on enhancing the misdemeanors to felony charges, and the magistrate instead bound Redden over on the two counts as class A misdemeanors.[3]

¶5       The State next moved for leave to amend the information. While it would still pursue the two misdemeanor counts (Counts 9 and 10) that had already been bound over for trial, the State sought to include eight additional counts of violation of a protective order, which would be enhanced to third degree felonies based on Redden’s prior convictions. Over Redden’s objection, the magistrate allowed the State to amend the information.

¶6       At the preliminary hearing on the eight additional charges, the State presented evidence to support those eight counts. And unlike in the first preliminary hearing, the State included evidence of the January 2020 convictions. Still, Redden argued that the eight counts could be bound over only as misdemeanors because the January 2020 convictions did not qualify as “prior conviction[s]” to the eight alleged offenses

committed on October 9, 2019. Relying on Utah Code section 77-36-1.1(2)(c)(ii)(B), which applies when “the individual is convicted of the domestic violence offense . . . within 10 years after the individual is convicted of a qualifying domestic violence offense,” Utah Code Ann. § 77-36-1.1(2)(c)(ii)(B) (LexisNexis Supp. 2019), Redden asserted that to be enhanced to third degree felonies, the new offenses had to be committed within ten years after his January 2020 convictions. The State responded that even though “the prior conviction was for facts arising from October 4,” the enhancement provision in Utah Code section 77-36-1.1(2)(c)(ii)(B) required only that Redden be convicted of the new crimes within ten years after his January 2020 convictions.

¶7       The magistrate agreed with Redden that the eight counts could not be enhanced to third degree felonies under the statute. He then determined that the State had presented sufficient evidence to establish probable cause “that the offenses of violation of [a] protective order were committed in eight instances.” Accordingly, the magistrate bound Redden over for trial on all ten counts as class A misdemeanors.

¶8       In light of the magistrate’s decision finding no probable cause that Redden had committed the eight third-degree felonies as charged in the amended information, the State “decline[d] to file a second amended information bringing the charges in line with the Court’s findings.” Instead, it moved to dismiss all charges in lieu of amending the information.

¶9       The magistrate granted the State’s request and dismissed all charges against Redden. The two original misdemeanor charges were dismissed pursuant to rule 25(a) of the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure, and the eight additional charges were dismissed pursuant to rule 7B(c).[4] The State now appeals the order of dismissal. See Utah Code Ann. § 77-18a-1(3)(a) (LexisNexis 2017) (“The prosecution may, as a matter of right, appeal from . . . (a) a final judgment of dismissal, including a dismissal of a felony information following a refusal to bind the defendant over for trial . . . .”); id. § 78A-4-103(2)(e) (2018) (providing that the Utah Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over appeals from criminal cases not involving first degree felonies).

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶10     The State contends that the magistrate misinterpreted the

enhancement statute when he refused to bind Redden over on the eight counts as third degree felonies. The decision to bind over a criminal defendant for trial typically presents a mixed question of law and fact to which we grant some deference to the magistrate. See State v. Prisbrey, 2020 UT App 172, ¶ 18, 479 P.3d 1126. But because the bindover decision here turned on a question of statutory interpretation, we review it for correctness. See State v. Thompson, 2020 UT App 148, ¶ 13, 476 P.3d 1017.

¶11 Rather than defending the magistrate’s decision on its merits, Redden contends that this court lacks jurisdiction over the State’s appeal, asserting that the State was not entitled to appeal from a dismissal order entered at its own request. “Whether appellate jurisdiction exists is a question of law which we decide in the first instance.” State v. Arghittu, 2015 UT App 22, ¶ 12, 343 P.3d 709 (cleaned up).

ANALYSIS

  1. The State’s Argument on Appeal

¶12     The State argues that the magistrate erred in determining that the domestic violence enhancement statute did not apply to the eight additional counts that it raised in the amended information. According to the State, it could enhance those charges from class A misdemeanors to third degree felonies so long as Redden is ultimately convicted on the charges within ten years after his January 2020 convictions. Thus, the State argues, “until and unless the State fails to convict Redden of the new domestic violence charges before January 22, 2030, the [statute] allows the State to prosecute the new charges as third-degree felonies.” We agree.

¶13 When we interpret a statute, “we look first to the best evidence of a statute’s meaning, the plain language of the act, and we do not look beyond a statute’s plain language unless it is ambiguous.” State v. Thompson, 2020 UT App 148, ¶ 33, 476 P.3d 1017 (cleaned up). “Wherever possible, we give effect to every word of a statute, avoiding any interpretation which renders parts or words in a statute inoperative or superfluous.” State v. Stewart, 2018 UT 24, ¶ 12, 438 P.3d 515 (cleaned up).

¶14 The crime that Redden is alleged to have committed— violating a protective order—is a class A misdemeanor but is subject to increased penalties in accordance with the domestic violence enhancement statute. See Utah Code Ann. § 76-5-108 (LexisNexis Supp. 2019). That enhancement statute states, in relevant part,

(2) An individual who is convicted of a domestic violence offense is: . . .

(c) guilty of a felony of the third degree if:

(i) the domestic violence offense described in this Subsection (2) is designated by law as a class A misdemeanor; and

(ii)(A) the domestic violence offense described in this Subsection (2) is committed within 10 years after the individual is convicted of a qualifying domestic violence offense that is not a criminal mischief offense; or

(B) the individual is convicted of the domestic violence offense described in this Subsection (2) within 10 years after the individual is convicted of a qualifying domestic violence offense that is not a criminal mischief offense.

Id. § 77-36-1.1 (emphases added). As we read this plain language, section 77-36-1.1(2)(c) allows the State to enhance a class A misdemeanor charge to a third degree felony when a defendant either “commit[s]” or “is convicted of” the current crime “within 10 years after” the defendant “is convicted of a qualifying domestic violence offense.” Id. Thus, we agree with the State’s reading of the statute. Redden, tellingly, has not offered an alternative interpretation.

¶15 Further, we agree with the State’s application of the statute to this case. The parties do not dispute that Redden’s January 2020 convictions constitute “a qualifying domestic violence offense” under the statute.[5] Because it is still possible that Redden could be “convicted of” the eight current charges “within 10 years” after he was convicted of qualifying domestic offenses in January 2020, section 77-36-1.1(2)(c)(ii)(B) permits the State to enhance the eight counts to third degree felonies. The magistrate erred in concluding otherwise. The magistrate appears to have reasoned that subsection 77-36-1.1(2)(c)(ii)(B) applies only if the defendant’s current charges stem from conduct that occurred after the defendant was convicted of the qualifying domestic offense. But this interpretation would render subsection 77-36-1.1(2)(c)(ii)(A) superfluous because that subsection expressly addresses such circumstances—when the current offense “is committed” after the conviction on the qualifying domestic offense. We will not read the statute in a way that would conflate both subsections and make one subsection inoperative. See Stewart, 2018 UT 24, ¶ 12.

¶16 In sum, we conclude that for the enhancement under subsection 77-36-1.1(2)(c)(ii)(B) to apply, the State has until January 22, 2030, to obtain a conviction against Redden for the eight counts. We therefore reverse the magistrate’s decision binding Redden over on these counts as class A misdemeanors and direct that Redden be bound over on them as third degree felonies.

  1. Redden’s Procedural Arguments

¶17 While Redden concedes that the State’s reading of the enhancement statute is appropriate, he nevertheless argues that the State’s appeal is improper, given that the State itself moved for the order of dismissal. In Redden’s view, the State could have petitioned for interlocutory review of the magistrate’s second bindover decision, but it was not allowed to “circumvent the appellate court’s discretion to grant or deny petitions for review by requesting a dismissal and then relying on the statutory provision granting [the] prosecution an appeal of right from a final judgment of dismissal.”[6] Redden thus asserts that this court does not have jurisdiction over this appeal.

¶18     Redden’s argument is foreclosed by precedent. In State v. Gomez, 722 P.2d 747 (Utah 1986), the trial court agreed with the defendant that the charges should be reduced to a lesser offense. Id. at 748. In response, the State refused to amend the information to conform to the court’s ruling and instead urged the court to dismiss the information. Id. The court then dismissed the information and the State appealed that dismissal. Id. at 748–49. On appeal, the Utah Supreme Court addressed the defendant’s threshold argument that the State could not use the order of dismissal, which the State itself requested, as a means of obtaining review of “a decision that would not otherwise be appealable as a matter of right.” Id. at 749. The supreme court explained that “the trial court’s determination that the charges should be reduced to an offense carrying a lesser penalty not charged in the original information prevented the State from proceeding on the original charges.” Id. Importantly, “[t]he effect of the trial court’s ruling was to block prosecution and, in effect, to dismiss the original charges.” Id. The supreme court concluded that, under these circumstances, “the State properly suggested that the trial court formally dismiss the information and then appealed from a final judgment of dismissal.” Id. (cleaned up). This court reached the same conclusion on similar facts in State v. Arghittu, 2015 UT App 22, 343 P.3d 709. Id. ¶¶ 15– 17 & n.4 (allowing the State to appeal after it had voluntarily moved for dismissal after the magistrate bound the defendant over on only a lesser and uncharged offense).[7]

¶19 Like Gomez, the magistrate’s decision binding Redden over on eight new misdemeanors rather than the charged eight third-degree felonies had the “effect of . . . block[ing] prosecution and . . . dismiss[ing] the [eight] original charges.” See Gomez, 722 P.2d at 479. The State therefore acted properly in moving to dismiss the information and then appealing from “a final judgment of dismissal.” See Utah Code Ann. § 77-18a-1(3)(a) (LexisNexis 2017) (“The prosecution may, as a matter of right, appeal from . . . (a) a final judgment of dismissal, including a dismissal of a felony information following a refusal to bind the defendant over for trial . . . .”); see also Gomez, 722 P.2d at 479; Arghittu, 2015 UT App 22, ¶¶ 15–17. Thus, Redden’s challenge to appellate jurisdiction is unavailing.

¶20     Lastly, in two ways, Redden challenges the fairness of the State’s actions. He first suggests that the State’s filing of the eight new charges against him violated the principles set forth in State v. Brickey, 714 P.2d 644 (Utah 1986). In Brickey, the Utah Supreme Court held that a prosecutor is prohibited from “refiling criminal charges earlier dismissed for insufficient evidence unless the prosecutor can show that new or previously unavailable evidence has surfaced or that other good cause justifies refiling.” Id. at 647 (emphasis added). Redden’s reliance on Brickey is misplaced, however, because no charges have been refiled against him. Rather, the State amended the information to add eight new charges that had not been addressed at the first preliminary hearing. The rules of criminal procedure allow such amendments “at any time before trial has commenced so long as the substantial rights of the defendant are not prejudiced.” Utah R. Crim. P. 4(d). The court also held a second preliminary hearing to address the eight additional charges. See id. (“If an additional or different offense is charged, the defendant has the right to a preliminary hearing on that offense . . . .”). Moreover, as the United States Supreme Court has recognized, a prosecutor’s initial charging decision “should not freeze future conduct” and “does not necessarily define the extent of the legitimate interest in prosecution.” United States v. Goodwin, 457 U.S. 368, 380, 382 (1982); accord State v. Finlayson, 2014 UT App 282, ¶ 23 n.11, 362 P.3d 926.

¶21 Second, Redden generically complains that he pleaded guilty to the charges in Weber County as “a global resolution of the charges” related to Michelle and that he did not realize the resulting convictions “would later be asserted as a basis for enhancing additional charges” filed in Iron County. Although he suggests that his due process rights have therefore been violated, he has not established his lack of understanding as a factual matter. Nor has he established that he was not actually afforded all the process to which he was entitled under the law.

¶22 For the foregoing reasons, Redden’s counterarguments are unpersuasive.

CONCLUSION

¶23 Having rejected Redden’s contention that we lack jurisdiction over this appeal, we conclude that the State’s appeal is well taken and that the magistrate erred in binding Redden over on the eight new counts as class A misdemeanors. Accordingly, we reverse the magistrate’s bindover and dismissal orders and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

[1] “At a preliminary hearing, the magistrate should view the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution and resolve all inferences in favor of the prosecution.” State v. Arghittu, 2015 UT App 22, ¶ 2 n.2, 343 P.3d 709 (cleaned up). Because this appeal arises from a preliminary hearing, we recite the background facts with that standard in mind.

[2] A pseudonym.

[3] The State does not contest this bindover ruling on appeal.

[4] Rule 25(a) states, “In its discretion, for substantial cause and in furtherance of justice, the court may, either on its own initiative or upon application of either party, order an information or indictment dismissed.” Utah R. Crim. P. 25(a). Rule 7B(c) provides, “If the magistrate does not find probable cause to believe the crime charged has been committed or the defendant committed it, the magistrate must dismiss the information and discharge the defendant. The magistrate may enter findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order of dismissal. The dismissal and discharge do not preclude the state from instituting a subsequent prosecution for the same offense.” Id. R. 7B(c).

[5] As used in the statute, the term “domestic violence offense” includes “commission or attempt to commit” stalking and violating a protective order when committed “by one cohabitant against another.” Utah Code Ann. § 77-36-1(4)(j), (l) (LexisNexis Supp. 2019). The term “cohabitant” includes, among other things, individuals who “reside[] or [have] resided in the same residence” or who are or were “in a consensual sexual relationship.” Id. § 77-36-1(1); id. § 78B-7-102(2)(f), (g) (2018).

[6] Rule 5 of the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure sets forth the procedure regarding discretionary appeals from interlocutory orders. The Utah Code allows the prosecution an appeal, as a matter of right, from a final judgment of dismissal. Utah Code Ann. § 77-18a-1(3)(a) (LexisNexis 2017) (“The prosecution may, as a matter of right, appeal from . . . (a) a final judgment of dismissal, including a dismissal of a felony information following a refusal to bind the defendant over for trial . . . .”).

[7] Redden relies on State v. Waddoups, 712 P.2d 223 (Utah 1985), to support his position. In that case, the trial court granted a defense motion to suppress certain evidence, and the State chose to dismiss the information and attempted to appeal the dismissal in order to challenge the suppression ruling. Id. at 223. The supreme court concluded that the State’s appeal was improper under those facts. Id. at 224. The case at hand, however, is much more like Gomez than Waddoups, and Redden overlooks that the supreme court in Gomez specifically decided that the facts of Waddoups were “quite different” given that Waddoups did not involve the trial court reducing the original charges. See State v. Gomez, 722 P.2d 747, 749 (Utah 1986).

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

What is the percentage of people who commit/are prosecuted for perjury?

What percentage of people lie while under oath in a courtroom, and how often does someone get prosecuted for perjury? 

Re: What percentage of people lie under oath in a courtroom: 

  • If anyone knows this, I don’t know who he/she/they is/are.  
  • If such statistics could accurately be obtained, I don’t know how they could be.  
  • As with so many things, what constitutes “a lie” is not as cut and dried as it may seem, even to intellectual people. 
  • If accurate statistics do exist, I’m sure most in the legal system don’t want anyone to know about them because I’d bet that if such statistics exist they are not flattering to the legal system.
    • I’m not sure how much we can blame the courts for “failing” to catch lies, however, given that no one is infallible and nobody is capable of detecting lies more than roughly 50% of the time* 

Re: How often someone who committed perjury is prosecuted for perjury: 

  • very rarely 

*Sender Demeanor: Individual Differences in Sender Believability Have a Powerful Impact on Deception Detection Judgments 

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277  

https://www.quora.com/What-percentage-of-people-lie-while-under-oath-in-a-courtroom-and-how-often-does-someone-get-prosecuted-for-perjury/answer/Eric-Johnson-311  

Tags: , , , , , , ,

In court cases, how does taking an oath make any difference?

In court cases, how does taking an oath make any difference?

From what I can tell, yes, it appears that taking an oath or affirming to tell the truth before being questioned as a witness in a legal proceeding (whether in court or whether the testimony is being given in relation to the court proceedings) does make a difference because lying under oath or affirmation is an element of the crime of perjury. No oath or affirmation, no perjury.

Lying without being under oath or affirmation can still be a crime or otherwise punished by law in other settings other than a court proceeding (for example, lying a law enforcement officer), so bear that in mind.

Clearly, the purpose of questioning a witness in a court proceeding is to gather factual and/or honest (truthful) information to help the court decide the case. Some information is factual, meaning it is not in dispute, it can be independently verified as true. Other information is “honest,” meaning that it may not be true but the witness believes what he or she is saying is true and is doing his/her best to testify as to what he/she remembers.

If one can be convicted of lying in court or in relation to court proceedings without having sworn an oath or affirmed to tell the truth I do not know of such a law (but that’s not to say such a law does not exist). Why one cannot be convicted of lying in court without having sworn an oath or affirmed to tell the truth I do not know.

I see no good reason why a law could simply be passed that any witness is guilty of perjury if the witness, when, after first being notified that the witness is questioned in the course of or in relation to the court proceedings, the witness makes a false statement of a material fact; and knowledge of the falsity made in a proceeding, or in relation to a matter, within the jurisdiction of the tribunal or officer before whom the proceeding was held or by whom the matter was considered.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/In-court-cases-how-does-taking-an-oath-make-any-difference/answer/Eric-Johnson-311?prompt_topic_bio=1

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What happens if you get caught lying in family court?

I’ve been a divorce and family law attorney for 23 years and gone back and forth over the years on my opinion of how the courts feel about and how they treat lying.

  1. At this point in my career, I think the most accurate way to answer your question is this way: judges have to go out of their way in hearings and trials to wear a poker face. It is their job to be and appear impartial in the course of the proceedings. People who are not aware of this often perceive the judge’s impartiality and the outward manifestation of such to be apathy and indifference. This is something that even I, an attorney, would perceive, so I don’t blame you if you had similar feelings. But keep this in mind when you’re in court, so you don’t mistake the judge’s professional detachment and impartiality for inattention or being duped.
  2. I’m a little ashamed for believing in the past that judges care so little about the divorce and other domestic relations cases that come before them. But just a little ashamed because:
    • While some judges care more than I gave them credit for, the fact remains that judges generally hate divorce and domestic relations cases. Divorce cases are often extremely acrimonious and are often characterized by emotional outbursts and, frankly, a lot of irrelevant information. It is not surprising that judges become jaded quickly with divorce and domestic relations cases and, as a consequence, often tune out much of what is said and presented to them. I once spoke to a retired judge on this very subject. When I asked him, “How much went in one ear and out the other in divorce cases?,” I was shocked but grateful for his candid response: “Oh,” he said, “about 50%.”
    • So one of the best ways you can bolster your credibility with the judge is to dispense with the melodrama, be very businesslike in your presentation of your arguments, stick to the facts you can verifiably prove or for which you can make very persuasive compelling arguments. Do not go into court believing that the judge need only hear your sincere voice to be persuaded that every word that falls from your lips is true and that every word from your spouse ( including “and” and “the”[1]) is a lie.
  1. Even when the judge catches your spouse in a lie, your judge will weigh the seriousness of the lie in determining how the judge will react to the lie. Perjury is both contempt of court and a criminal act, so the judge in your divorce case can sanction and jail you for perjury, and you can also be criminally prosecuted for perjury, if you committed perjury.
    • Not every lie told to a judge or in court is perjury, by the way. Perjury is defined as “The act or an instance of a person’s deliberately making material false or misleading statements while under oath.” (Black’s Law Dictionary (7th ed. 1999). St. Paul MN: West Group. p. 1160).
    • If, for example, your spouse is late in arriving the court and lies by claiming that he or she had a flat tire, the court will probably not lock your spouse up for contempt of court. The judge may (and likely will), however, take note of the fact that your spouse was willing to lie over such a small matter. And many judges will conclude that if you are willing to lie about small things, you may be willing to lie about big things. Don’t lie. It’s wrong. Even if you believe you can get away with lying, it’s wrong. If being morally upstanding is not reason enough for you to tell the truth, remember that once your credibility is called into question or destroyed, it will often not matter whether you tell the truth thereafter. See The Boy Who Cried Wolf. If the court believes you’re a liar, then it may believe that every thing you say is a lie or at least cannot be trusted to be true.

[1] Hat tip to Dorothy Parker

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/What-happens-if-you-get-caught-lying-in-family-court/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

Tags: , , , , , ,

Is it illegal to video record people in your home without their knowledge?

Not absolutely, but it can be illegal to video record someone in your home without his/her knowledge. Here is the answer for my jurisdiction (Utah):

Utah Code § 76-9-401. Definitions.

For purposes of this part:

(1) “Private place” means a place where one may reasonably expect to be safe from casual or hostile intrusion or surveillance.

(2) “Eavesdrop” means to overhear, record, amplify, or transmit any part of a wire or oral communication of others without the consent of at least one party thereto by means of any electronic, mechanical, or other device.

(3) “Public” includes any professional or social group of which the victim of a defamation is a member.

Utah Code § 76-9-402. Privacy violation.

(1) A person is guilty of privacy violation if, except as authorized by law, the person:

(a) trespasses on property with intent to subject anyone to eavesdropping or other surveillance in a private place;

(b) installs, or uses after unauthorized installation in a private place, without the consent of the person or persons entitled to privacy in the private place, any device for observing, photographing, hearing, recording, amplifying, or broadcasting sounds or events in the private place; or

(c) installs or uses outside of a private place a device for observing, photographing, hearing, recording, amplifying, or broadcasting sounds or events originating in the private place which would not ordinarily be audible, visible, or comprehensible outside the private place, without the consent of the person or persons entitled to privacy in the private place.

(2) A person is not guilty of a violation of this section if:

(a) the device used is an unmanned aircraft;

(b) the person is operating the unmanned aircraft for legitimate commercial or educational purposes in a manner consistent with applicable Federal Aviation Administration rules, exemptions, or other authorizations; and

(c) any conduct described in Subsection (1) that occurs via the unmanned aircraft is solely incidental to the lawful commercial or educational use of the unmanned aircraft.

(3) Privacy violation is a class B misdemeanor.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

Spousal (and Ex-Spousal) Spying – You Can Go to Prison, If You Do It Wrong

https://www.quora.com/Is-it-illegal-to-video-tape-someone-in-your-home-without-their-knowledge/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Why Are Criminals Stigmatized After They Do Their Time?

When someone serves his/her sentence to do time, and completes it, why is it still not be enough to have paid their ‘debt to society’? Why must they bear the stigma of a criminal long after they paid their debt?

The answer is (unfortunately for those who regret their crimes—as opposed to those who are evil and choose to commit crime knowing it is wrong) obvious: many criminals tend to commit more crimes again. We can’t know who is going to learn from his/her mistakes and commit no more crime in the future (even the guilty party doesn’t know that). Innocent members of society deserve to know who an ex-con is so that we may all protect ourselves as best we can against that criminal potentially victimizing us in the future. It would thus be foolish and reckless to take the position that a convicted criminal should be given the benefit of the doubt merely because he/she “did her time.”

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/When-did-a-person-sentenced-to-do-time-and-having-completed-it-still-not-be-enough-to-have-paid-their-debt-to-society-Why-must-they-bear-the-stigma-of-a-criminal-long-after-they-paid-their-debt/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

Tags: , , , , ,

Is having an affair a misdemeanor or a felony in Utah?

In the jurisdiction where I practice (Utah), the law is:

Utah

76-7-103. Adultery.

(1) A married person commits adultery when he voluntarily has sexual intercourse with a person other than his spouse.

(2) Adultery is a class B misdemeanor.

There are few states, however, where adultery is a felony. And here is all you need to verify:

Idaho

Idaho Statutes, Title 18, Crimes and Punishments, Chapter 66, Title 18, Section 6601

18-6601. ADULTERY. A married man who has sexual intercourse with a woman not his wife, an unmarried man who has sexual intercourse with a married woman, a married woman who has sexual intercourse with a man not her husband, and an unmarried woman who has sexual intercourse with a married man, shall be guilty of adultery, and shall be punished by a fine of not less than $100, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not less than three months, or by imprisonment in the state penitentiary for a period not exceeding three years, or in the county jail for a period not exceeding one year, or by fine not exceeding $1000.

Massachusetts

Massachusetts general laws Title I, Chapter 272, Section 14:

A married person who has sexual intercourse with a person not his spouse or an unmarried person who has sexual intercourse with a married person shall be guilty of adultery and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than three years or in jail for not more than two years or by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars.

Because adultery is a crime can lead to a prison sentence of up to three years it is a felony.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Statutes, Title 21. Crimes and Punishments §21-871. Adultery defined – Who may institute prosecution.

Adultery is the unlawful voluntary sexual intercourse of a married person with one of the opposite sex; and when the crime is between persons, only one of whom is married, both are guilty of adultery. Prosecution for adultery can be commenced and carried on against either of the parties to the crime only by his or her own husband or wife as the case may be, or by the husband or wife of the other party to the crime: Provided, that any person may make complaint when persons are living together in open and notorious adultery.

Oklahoma law provides that adultery offenders face felony charges, punishable by imprisonment in the state penitentiary for up to five years or a fine up to $500 or both:

Oklahoma Statutes, Title 21. Crimes and Punishments §21-872. Punishment for adultery.

Any person guilty of the crime of adultery shall be guilty of a felony and punished by imprisonment in the State Penitentiary not exceeding five (5) years or by a fine not exceeding Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00), or by both such fine and imprisonment.

Oklahoma Statutes :: Title 43. Marriage and Family :: §43-123. Remarriage and cohabitation – Appeal from judgment.:

It is also unlawful for a divorced party to remarry again in Oklahoma within six months of the decree of divorce.

Unlawful to Marry Within 6 Months from Date of Divorce Decree:

Oklahoma Statutes, Title 43. Marriage, Divorce and Alimony, Section 123 – Unlawful to Marry Within 6 Months from Date of Divorce Decree – Penalty for Remarriage and Cohabitation-Appeal

It shall be unlawful for either party to an action for divorce whose former husband or wife is living to marry in this state a person other than the divorced spouse within six (6) months from date of decree of divorce granted in this state, or to cohabit with such other person in this state during said period if the marriage took place in another state; and if an appeal be commenced from said decree, it shall be unlawful for either party to such cause to marry any other person and cohabit with such person in this state until the expiration of thirty (30) days from the date on which final judgment shall be rendered pursuant to such appeal. Any person violating the provisions of this section by such marriage shall be deemed guilty of the felony of bigamy. Any person violating the provisions of this section by such cohabitation shall be deemed guilty of the felony of adultery.

An appeal from a judgment granting or denying a divorce shall be made in the same manner as in any other civil case.

Michigan

Michigan Penal Code, Act 328 of 1931, 750.30 Adultery; punishment. Sec. 30.

Punishment—Any person who shall commit adultery shall be guilty of a felony; and when the crime is committed between a married woman and a man who is unmarried, the man shall be guilty of adultery, and liable to the same punishment.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin Statutes

944.16  Adultery. Whoever does either of the following is guilty of a Class I felony:

(1) A married person who has sexual intercourse with a person not the married person’s spouse; or

(2) A person who has sexual intercourse with a person who is married to another.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/Is-having-an-affair-a-misdemeanor-or-a-felony-or-does-it-depend-on-the-State/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Is adultery a misdemeanor or a felony, or does it depend on the State?

In the jurisdiction where I practice (Utah), the law is:

76-7-103. Adultery.

(1) A married person commits adultery when he voluntarily has sexual intercourse with a person other than his spouse.

(2) Adultery is a class B misdemeanor.

There are few states, however, where adultery is a felony. And here is all you need to verify:

Idaho Statutes, Title 18, Crimes and Punishments, Chapter 66, Title 18, Section 6601

18-6601. ADULTERY. A married man who has sexual intercourse with a woman not his wife, an unmarried man who has sexual intercourse with a married woman, a married woman who has sexual intercourse with a man not her husband, and an unmarried woman who has sexual intercourse with a married man, shall be guilty of adultery, and shall be punished by a fine of not less than $100, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not less than three months, or by imprisonment in the state penitentiary for a period not exceeding three years, or in the county jail for a period not exceeding one year, or by fine not exceeding $1000.

Massachusetts general laws Title I, Chapter 272, Section 14:

A married person who has sexual intercourse with a person not his spouse or an unmarried person who has sexual intercourse with a married person shall be guilty of adultery and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than three years or in jail for not more than two years or by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars.

Because adultery is a crime can lead to a prison sentence of up to three years it is a felony.

Oklahoma Statutes, Title 21. Crimes and Punishments §21-871. Adultery defined – Who may institute prosecution.

Adultery is the unlawful voluntary sexual intercourse of a married person with one of the opposite sex; and when the crime is between persons, only one of whom is married, both are guilty of adultery. Prosecution for adultery can be commenced and carried on against either of the parties to the crime only by his or her own husband or wife as the case may be, or by the husband or wife of the other party to the crime: Provided, that any person may make complaint when persons are living together in open and notorious adultery.

Oklahoma law provides that adultery offenders face felony charges, punishable by imprisonment in the state penitentiary for up to five years or a fine up to $500 or both:

Oklahoma Statutes, Title 21. Crimes and Punishments §21-872. Punishment for adultery.

Any person guilty of the crime of adultery shall be guilty of a felony and punished by imprisonment in the State Penitentiary not exceeding five (5) years or by a fine not exceeding Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00), or by both such fine and imprisonment.

Oklahoma Statutes :: Title 43. Marriage and Family :: §43-123. Remarriage and cohabitation – Appeal from judgment.:

It is also unlawful for a divorced party to remarry again in Oklahoma within six months of the decree of divorce.

Unlawful to Marry Within 6 Months from Date of Divorce Decree:

Oklahoma Statutes, Title 43. Marriage, Divorce and Alimony, Section 123 – Unlawful to Marry Within 6 Months from Date of Divorce Decree – Penalty for Remarriage and Cohabitation-Appeal

It shall be unlawful for either party to an action for divorce whose former husband or wife is living to marry in this state a person other than the divorced spouse within six (6) months from date of decree of divorce granted in this state, or to cohabit with such other person in this state during said period if the marriage took place in another state; and if an appeal be commenced from said decree, it shall be unlawful for either party to such cause to marry any other person and cohabit with such person in this state until the expiration of thirty (30) days from the date on which final judgment shall be rendered pursuant to such appeal. Any person violating the provisions of this section by such marriage shall be deemed guilty of the felony of bigamy. Any person violating the provisions of this section by such cohabitation shall be deemed guilty of the felony of adultery.

An appeal from a judgment granting or denying a divorce shall be made in the same manner as in any other civil case.

Michigan Penal Code, Act 328 of 1931, 750.30 Adultery; punishment. Sec. 30.

Punishment—Any person who shall commit adultery shall be guilty of a felony; and when the crime is committed between a married woman and a man who is unmarried, the man shall be guilty of adultery, and liable to the same punishment.

Wisconsin Statutes

944.16  Adultery. Whoever does either of the following is guilty of a Class I felony:

(1) A married person who has sexual intercourse with a person not the married person’s spouse; or

(2) A person who has sexual intercourse with a person who is married to another.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/Is-having-an-affair-a-misdemeanor-or-a-felony-or-does-it-depend-on-the-State/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

Tags: , , , ,
Click to listen highlighted text!