BLANK

Tag: ex-husband

My Husband Is Forcing Me to Get My Inheritance From Court From My Ex-husband’s (Deceased) Brothers Otherwise He Will Divorce Me. What Should I Do?

Talk to a good (a good) lawyer about whether you even have the right to “inherit” from your ex-husband’s brothers. Unless there are bizarre circumstances at work here, odds are you have no rights to your ex-husband’s brothers’ decedents’ estates. Talk to a good lawyer who handles wills and probate matters to find out. Heck, bring your husband along to the meeting, so that he learn first-hand from the lawyer himself (that way he can’t tell you that “you don’t understand” if you come back from the lawyer’s office by yourself and tell your husband what the lawyer told you).

As for a husband who threatens to divorce you if you don’t try to obtain a portion of your ex-husband’s brothers’ decedents’ estates, if this kind of behavior on his part is the norm in your marriage, you ought next to find out if this is mental illness, whether it’s behavior that can be corrected, whether he’ll recognize the behavior as wrong, or whether he’ll choose (regardless of why) to continue to conduct himself contemptibly. If your husband is chronically manipulating or emotionally abusing you without remorse, you may be better off without him.

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

https://motherinlawmysteriesandconflicts.quora.com/My-husband-is-forcing-me-to-get-my-inheritance-from-court-from-my-ex-husband-s-deceased-brothers-otherwise-he-will-div-5

Tags: , , , , ,

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS STATE OF UTAH, Appellee, v. CODY BLAIR MURRAY, Appellant. Opinion

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

STATE OF UTAH,

Appellee,

v.

CODY BLAIR MURRAY,

Appellant.

Opinion

No. 20200890-CA

Filed May 18, 2023

Second District Court, Ogden Department

The Honorable Joseph M. Bean

No. 191902454

Emily Adams, Freyja Johnson, and Cherise Bacalski,

Attorneys for Appellant

Sean D. Reyes and William M. Hains,

Attorneys for Appellee

JUDGE RYAN D. TENNEY authored this Opinion, in which

JUDGES GREGORY K. ORME and MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN

FORSTER concurred.

TENNEY, Judge:

¶1        After Cody Murray pleaded guilty to violating a protective order, the district court ordered him to pay the victim’s moving expenses and 12 weeks of lost wages as restitution. Murray now appeals that restitution order, arguing that his criminal conduct did not proximately cause either of those losses. On the moving expenses, we agree with Murray and reverse that portion of the order. On the lost wages, however, we conclude that there was sufficient evidence to link Murray’s criminal conduct to the claimed loss. We accordingly affirm that portion of the order.

BACKGROUND

¶2        Murray married C.M. in March 2018, and they lived together throughout their short marriage. On January 2 or 3, 2019, C.M. filed a report with law enforcement alleging that Murray had engaged in sexual intercourse with her without her consent while she was medicated and sleeping. On the same day that she filed this report, C.M. obtained a temporary protective order against Murray based on this same allegation.

¶3        On January 3, 2019, law enforcement served Murray with the protective order at the residence he shared with C.M., and Murray complied with the order by packing his belongings and leaving the residence. Within an hour of leaving, however, Murray asked a friend to contact C.M. on his behalf. As subsequently alleged in a probable cause affidavit, C.M. soon received “phone calls and text messages” from the friend’s phone in which the friend relayed messages that Murray “loved her” and “missed her.” As also alleged, while the friend was on the phone speaking to C.M., Murray “passed a paper note” to the friend asking him “to let C.M. know that [Murray] was scared.” C.M. reported these communications to law enforcement as a violation of the protective order.

¶4        The State later filed two cases against Murray. The two cases were filed separately and were not consolidated. In the first case, the State charged Murray with one count of rape. That charge was based on C.M.’s allegation that Murray had sexual intercourse with her without her consent while she was sleeping. That case was later dismissed.

¶5        In the second case, which is the case at issue in this appeal, the State charged Murray with one count of violating a protective order. See Utah Code § 76-5-108 (2018). This charge was based on Murray’s indirect communications with C.M. on January 3, 2019. In March 2020, Murray pleaded guilty to the charged offense. As a result of a plea deal, the charge was reduced from a class A misdemeanor to a class B misdemeanor. In his affidavit in support of the plea, Murray admitted that “[o]n or about January 3, 2019,” he “knowingly and intentionally communicate[d] with C.M. through a mutual friend . . . through phone calls and text messages.” Murray also agreed that he “may be ordered to make restitution to any victims of [his] crimes.”

¶6        Murray agreed to be sentenced at that same hearing. During the sentencing portion of the hearing, C.M.’s attorney asked the court to leave open C.M.’s restitution claim for the “one year statutory time limit,” informing the court that she would “submit any restitution” after receiving further documentation. The court left C.M.’s restitution claim open as requested.

¶7        In July 2020, the Utah Office of Victims of Crime (UOVC) filed a motion for restitution, asserting that it had paid C.M. a total of $6,264.47.[1] Of that amount, $5,520.28 was designated as reimbursement for “[l]oss of wages” and $744.19 was designated as reimbursement for “[r]elocation.”

¶8        Murray objected to UOVC’s motion for restitution and requested a hearing. At that hearing, UOVC’s attorney called two witnesses: (1) a representative from UOVC (Representative) and (2) C.M.

¶9        Representative testified that UOVC received C.M.’s application for restitution in November 2019. Representative testified that C.M. listed both the protective order violation and the alleged rape as the bases for her restitution claim. Representative further noted that in reviewing C.M.’s restitution claim, “the reparations officer indicated that the claim was approved based on both incidents”—the alleged rape and the protective order violation—because “they were so close together” that “the reparations officer couldn’t separate them into two separate claims.”

¶10      Representative testified that UOVC ultimately approved and paid C.M.’s expenses for “loss of wages” in the amount of $5,520.28, as well as “relocation” or moving expenses in the amount of $744.19, thus totaling $6,264.47. With respect to the lost wages claim, Representative testified that UOVC received a document from C.M.’s employer that explained “how much [C.M.] made at the time and how long she was out of work.” Representative said that UOVC also received a “health provider statement” that corroborated that C.M. missed work. Representative further said that from these documents and other verification efforts with C.M.’s employer, UOVC determined that C.M. missed “over 68 days” of work, and that it had then paid “12 weeks of lost wages” for the work C.M. missed from “January 3rd of 2019 through March 15th of 2020” at “[s]ixty-six percent of the full-time salary,” which in C.M.’s case amounted to $5,520.28.

¶11      With respect to the moving expenses, Representative testified that UOVC paid C.M. $744.19 to cover “reimbursement for movers.” Representative said that C.M. told UOVC that she had moved because “she didn’t feel comfortable in having [Murray] know where she lived.”

¶12      UOVC’s attorney then called C.M., who testified that she obtained the protective order against Murray because of the “actions he was making to [her] in [her] sleep.” C.M. also provided and referred to a note from a doctor indicating that C.M. had been seen because “[f]or the duration of her marriage her husband was sexually assaulting her in her sleep,” “[s]he was experiencing UTIs on many occasions from the sexual abuse,” and she had “[m]ajor depressive disorder” and “post-traumatic stress disorder.”

¶13      During C.M.’s testimony, UOVC’s attorney asked, “[A]s a result of the violation of the protective order, can you tell us what effect the violation of the protective order, the conduct that the defendant caused—what happened to you as a result?” C.M. responded that she suffered “severe panic attacks” and flashbacks, “live[d] in fear nearly every day,” felt a “[l]oss of trust of people in general,” and had “a hard time concentrating or focusing.” She said she had “severe depression” and was simply not “able to function like [she had] always been able to.”

¶14      UOVC’s attorney then asked if Murray’s conduct “in December or January of 2018, ’19 . . . interfere[d] with [her] ability to interact with people,” to which C.M. responded, “Definitely.” C.M. testified that because these issues “interfere[d] with [her] ability to work,” there were times where she had to take leave from work. She testified that the “very first time” she “took leave was for a doctor’s appointment . . . back in December of 2018” and that she was out of work periodically after that, thus agreeing with the suggestion from the attorney that she missed work “every few days, a couple hours here, a few hours there, a full day here, a few days there” until March 2020, when she was “out of work altogether and couldn’t work at all.” UOVC’s attorney asked if C.M.’s requests to take leave from work starting in “December of 2018” were “related to [Murray’s] conduct . . . that was occurring at that time,” and C.M. responded, “It was.”

¶15      With respect to the moving expenses, C.M. testified that she moved from the home she’d shared with Murray because the divorce decree ordered her to sell it. C.M. said that she moved in May 2020—17 months after Murray violated the protective order—and that her restitution request was based on the movers she had hired to assist with that move.

¶16      Murray didn’t call any witnesses at the restitution hearing. Instead, after UOVC’s attorney rested, each side presented closing arguments. UOVC’s attorney asked the court to order restitution for lost wages because C.M. had to take leave from work “[a]s a result of [Murray’s] conduct . . . because she wasn’t able to fully perform the job.” UOVC’s attorney asked for restitution for moving expenses because “it was [Murray’s] conduct which caused” C.M. to move and she “had reason to hide her whereabouts from” Murray out of fear.

¶17     Murray, however, argued that under the restitution statute, “restitution has to be tied directly” to the offense for which he’d been convicted—which, here, was a class B misdemeanor violation of a protective order. In Murray’s view, restitution for the lost wages was not appropriate because C.M. “missing all of [that] work . . . [could not] be tied” to his violation of the protective order (as opposed to the underlying rape allegation that the protective order was based on). Murray also argued that the moving expenses could not be tied to this conviction because C.M.’s decision to move was based on an order from the divorce decree requiring C.M. and Murray to sell the house.

¶18      At the close of arguments, the court ordered restitution in the amount of $6,264.47 to cover lost wages and moving expenses. In its oral ruling, the court noted that Murray was “alleged to have committed sexual offenses against [C.M.] in her sleep” in the latter part of 2018. The court said that it would “take the testimony of the witness at face value with regard to what she felt was a violation that caused the fear,” and the court then found that Murray’s “past history” of “sexual[ly] assaulting” C.M. “in her sleep” caused her “fear” and “anxiety.” With respect to C.M.’s missed work, the court found that “whatever happened, certainly enhanced or contributed to [C.M.’s] anxiety, depression, [and] fear,” and that “after the circumstances giving rise to whatever happened in December, there was a definite downturn with regard to [C.M.’s] ability . . . to work.” And with respect to the moving expenses, the court found that the “moving expenses [were] also reasonable and arising out of the crime that occurred.”

¶19      Murray objected to the court’s ruling. Murray argued that the court could “only tie restitution to what [Murray] was convicted of or pled guilty to, which would be the violation of the protective order,” and he further argued that the court should not “consider any of the alleged sexual misconduct” in its determination of restitution. In response, the court referred to the document submitted by C.M. in her restitution application, noting that “for the duration of the marriage, [Murray] was sexually assaulting [C.M.] in her sleep” and that she “was experiencing UTIs on many occasions from the sexual abuse.” The court observed that C.M. suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress as a result. Of note, the court then wondered whether these conditions were “exacerbated . . . or caused by a violation of a protective order,” “especially the loss of work after his commission of the violation of the protective order.” (Emphasis added.)

¶20      In a subsequent written restitution order, the court ordered Murray to pay UOVC a total of $6,264.47 for lost wages and moving expenses. In its Findings of Fact, the court found that C.M. “suffered emotional trauma as a result of [Murray’s] conduct in this case” and that her “fear, anxiety, and depression . . . rendered [her] unable to perform her duties and required her to miss work.” The court found that the trauma C.M. suffered “also caused her to relocate because she feared [Murray] and didn’t want him to know where she lived.” Murray filed a timely notice of appeal from that judgment.[2]

ISSUE AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶21      Murray argues that the district court improperly ordered restitution for C.M.’s lost wages and moving expenses. “We will not disturb a district court’s restitution determination unless the court exceeds the authority prescribed by law or abuses its discretion.” State v. Calata, 2022 UT App 127, ¶ 12, 521 P.3d 920 (quotation simplified), cert. denied, 525 P.3d 1268 (Utah 2023). “To the extent that the district court made legal determinations in connection with its restitution analysis, we review those legal determinations for correctness.” State v. Oliver, 2018 UT App 101, ¶ 15, 427 P.3d 495 (quotation simplified). But when “a defendant argues that the evidence was insufficient to support a restitution order, the defendant must demonstrate that the clear weight of the evidence contradicts the court’s ruling.” State v. Chadwick, 2021 UT App 40, ¶ 6, 486 P.3d 90 (quotation simplified).

ANALYSIS

¶22      The Crime Victims Restitution Act (the CVRA) requires the district court “to determine restitution for any pecuniary damages proximately caused by the defendant’s criminal conduct.” State v. Blake, 2022 UT App 104, ¶ 9, 517 P.3d 414. Here, Murray challenges the court’s decision ordering him to pay C.M.’s moving expenses and her lost wages. In Murray’s view, his criminal conduct did not proximately cause either loss.

¶23      We first quickly dispense with the moving expenses issue. Murray argues that “[n]o evidence tied C.M.’s move from the marital home” to his criminal conduct, but that “the evidence on the record was that C.M. had to move because of the divorce decree.” Based on this, Murray argues that there was no basis for requiring him to pay these expenses as part of restitution. In its responsive brief, the State concedes this point. Having reviewed the record, we conclude that Murray’s argument and the State’s concession are well taken. We accordingly reverse that portion of the restitution order.

¶24      The remaining and principal issue on appeal, then, is whether the court also erred in ordering Murray to pay C.M.’s lost wages. On this, Murray argues that the court erred in two key respects: (I) by taking into account the alleged rape and (II) by then determining that Murray’s criminal conduct proximately caused C.M. to miss work. We address each argument in turn.

I. Alleged Rape

¶25      Murray argues that the district court improperly based the restitution order for lost wages on C.M.’s rape allegation, rather than limiting itself to considering the sole offense to which he had pleaded guilty: violating a protective order. We see no legal error in the court’s decision.

¶26      As a general rule, we “apply the law in effect at the time of the occurrence regulated by that law.” State v. Wilkerson, 2020 UT App 160, ¶ 24, 478 P.3d 1048 (quotation simplified). The version of the restitution statute in effect at the time of Murray’s sentencing provided that

[w]hen a defendant enters into a plea disposition or is convicted of criminal activity that has resulted in pecuniary damages, . . . the court shall order that the defendant make restitution to victims of crime as provided in this chapter, or for conduct for which the defendant has agreed to make restitution as part of a plea disposition.

Utah Code § 77-38a-302(1) (2019); see also id. § 77-38a-302(5)(a) (2019) (“For the purpose of determining restitution for an offense, the offense shall include any criminal conduct admitted by the defendant to the sentencing court or for which the defendant agrees to pay restitution.”).[3] Under these statutes, Murray therefore could not “be ordered to pay restitution for criminal activities for which he did not admit responsibility, was not convicted, or did not agree to pay restitution.” State v. Randall, 2019 UT App 120, ¶ 13, 447 P.3d 1232 (quotation simplified)

¶27      It’s true that Murray was not convicted of raping C.M. As noted, the separate criminal case that was based on the rape allegation was dismissed. It’s also true that Murray did not admit to raping C.M. in this case either. But contrary to Murray’s arguments, this doesn’t mean that his alleged sexual misconduct against C.M. could play no role in the court’s restitution analysis.

¶28      Again, Murray pleaded guilty to violating a protective order, and the elements of that offense were that Murray was “subject to a protective order” and “intentionally or knowingly violate[d] that order after having been properly served or having been present . . . when the order was issued.” Utah Code § 76-5­108(1) (2018). In his plea agreement, Murray acknowledged these elements and agreed that he had “committed the crime.” In the factual basis portion of the plea agreement, Murray further agreed that he had “knowingly and intentionally communicate[d] with C.M. through a mutual friend . . . through phone calls and text messages.” Pulling this together, the criminal activity for which Murray was convicted (by way of plea) included these key pieces:

·        Murray was subject to a protective order;

·         Murray intentionally or knowingly violated the protective order; and

·         Murray did so by knowingly and intentionally communicating with C.M. through a mutual friend through phone calls and text messages.

¶29      Once Murray was convicted of this offense, the district court could then order restitution for any damages that were “proximately caused” by that offense. State v. Ogden, 2018 UT 8, ¶¶ 31–48, 416 P.3d 1132.[4] Our supreme court has explained that restitution is intended “to compensate the victim for pecuniary damages,” as well as “to rehabilitate and deter the defendant, and others, from future illegal behavior.” State v. Laycock, 2009 UT 53, ¶ 18, 214 P.3d 104. Because the question before a restitution court is what damages were proximately caused by the offense, the court isn’t confined to just the narrow elements of the offense of conviction. Rather, while the “restitution statute requires that responsibility for the criminal conduct be firmly established, much like a guilty plea, before the court can order restitution,” “it is only the initial crime for which liability must be legally certain.” State v. Hight, 2008 UT App 118, ¶¶ 3, 5, 182 P.3d 922 (quotation simplified). Once guilt for the offense has been firmly established, the court then has “broad discretion, after reviewing the evidence presented at the restitution hearing,” to “order restitution for any pecuniary damages clearly resulting from” that offense. Id. ¶ 5 (quotation simplified). In other words, once the defendant is convicted of “criminal conduct,” the defendant can “be held responsible for all damages proximately caused by that conduct.” State v. Huffman, 2021 UT App 125, ¶ 9, 501 P.3d 564 (emphasis in original), cert. denied, 509 P.3d 198 (Utah 2022).

¶30      Our decision in Huffman is illustrative. Therethe defendant pleaded guilty to possessing drugs. Id. ¶ 7. Although the offense of drug possession doesn’t include, as an element, the destruction of property, we held that it was appropriate for the court to order restitution for damage that was done to the victim’s motorhome. This was so because evidence before the court established that the defendant’s possession of drugs inside the motorhome proximately caused those damages. Id. ¶¶ 12–14.

¶31      A similar dynamic is in play here. Again, Murray pleaded guilty to violating a protective order. In doing so, he acknowledged both the existence of the protective order and that he had violated its terms. Once these things were firmly established through the guilty plea, the court then had broad discretion to order restitution for any damage that was proximately caused by Murray’s criminal conduct.

¶32      When making that proximate cause determination, the court had at least some latitude to consider the conduct that had led to the protective order, and this is largely so because of the nature of the offense. After all, Murray wasn’t convicted of a crime because he contacted a stranger with whom he had no prior history. Rather, Murray was convicted of intentionally or knowingly contacting a person who had obtained a protective order against him. In this key sense, it was the protective order that made Murray’s communications criminal.

¶33      A protective order acts as a “mechanism” for giving victims a measure of “protection against their abusers.” State v. Hardy, 2002 UT App 244, ¶ 17, 54 P.3d 645; see also State v. Baize, 2019 UT App 202, ¶ 20 n.5, 456 P.3d 770. One of the principal ways that a protective order does this is by creating a legal barrier between the victim and the abuser. If a person who is subject to a protective order subsequently breaches that barrier, a court couldn’t realistically be expected to decide whether the victim was traumatized by the violative act by considering that act as if it had occurred in a vacuum. Given that the victim had previously obtained judicial protection from the person, the nature of the alleged prior conduct would very likely have some bearing on the interconnected questions of whether and why the illegal contact had proximately caused any trauma or harm to the victim (not to mention how much damage the victim had actually suffered).

¶34      In short, because Murray pleaded guilty to violating a protective order, the district court could consider the fact that C.M. had obtained a protective order against him as part of its restitution analysis. And from there, it then had discretion to consider the conduct that led to the issuance of the protective order, at least to the extent that such conduct could inform its decision about whether Murray’s actions proximately caused any harm to C.M.

II. Proximate Cause

¶35      Murray next argues that the evidence before the district court was insufficient to show that his criminal conduct proximately caused C.M. to miss 12 weeks of work. We disagree.

¶36      The “proximate cause standard requires a showing that the crime, in a natural and continuous sequence, unbroken by any new cause, produced the injury and that the injury would not have occurred absent the crime.” Blake, 2022 UT App 104, ¶ 9 (quotation simplified). The “burden is on the State to prove proximate cause,” State v. Morrison, 2019 UT App 51, ¶ 13, 440 P.3d 942, and this “requires proof of two elements: (1) but-for causation and (2) foreseeable harm,” State v. Watson, 2021 UT App 37, ¶ 15, 485 P.3d 946.

¶37      Proximate cause is generally a “fact question[] to be resolved by the fact finder.” State v. Barzee, 2007 UT 95, ¶ 81, 177 P.3d 48; see also Mackay v. 7-Eleven Sales Corp., 2000 UT 15, ¶ 7, 995 P.2d 1233 (noting that proximate cause is a fact question). Because of this, we review a district court’s finding of proximate cause for clear error. State v. Grant, 2021 UT App 104, ¶¶ 24, 35, 499 P.3d 176, cert. denied, 505 P.3d 56 (Utah 2022). Thus, when “a defendant argues that the evidence was insufficient to support a restitution order, the defendant must demonstrate that the clear weight of the evidence contradicts the court’s ruling.” State v. Chadwick, 2021 UT App 40, ¶ 6, 486 P.3d 90 (quotation simplified).

¶38      Here, we see no clear error in the court’s finding that Murray’s violation of the protective order proximately caused C.M. to miss 12 weeks of work.

¶39      At the restitution hearing, C.M. testified that she obtained the protective order because of “actions [Murray] was making to [her] in [her] sleep” that began “at the end of December of 2018.” She further agreed that this “conduct” was “the reason for the ongoing protective order.” Of note, C.M. then testified that, “as a result of the violation of the protective order,” she has “severe panic attacks,” “severe depression,” and flashbacks; that she “live[s] in fear nearly every day”; that she has a “[l]oss of trust in people” generally; that she has a “hard time concentrating or focusing”; and that she was unable “to function like [she has] always been able to.” (Emphasis added.) When C.M. was then asked whether “the problems” that she was having “interfere[d] with [her] ability to work,” she responded, “Definitely.” While she said that the “very first time” she “took leave was for a doctor’s appointment . . . back in December of 2018” (which would have predated Murray’s violation of the protective order), C.M. also agreed that she missed work “every few days, a couple hours here, a few hours there, a full day here, a few days there” until March 2020, when she was “out of work altogether and couldn’t work at all.” The district court determined that C.M.’s testimony was credible, and on appeal, we give deference to that credibility determination. See State v. Miles, 2020 UT App 120, ¶ 34, 472 P.3d 978 (noting that “because of the district court’s advantaged position in observing the witnesses firsthand, we defer to its credibility findings” (quotation simplified)); State v. Taylor, 2017 UT App 89, ¶ 10, 402 P.3d 790 (noting that “we accord deference to the trial court’s ability and opportunity to evaluate credibility and demeanor” (quotation simplified)).

¶40      As also noted, UOVC introduced evidence showing that C.M. missed “over 68 days” of work, and UOVC’s Representative testified that UOVC paid for 12 weeks of work that she missed “span[ning] from January 3rd of 2019 through March 15th of 2020” because that missed work was “related to the incident in this particular case, which is the violation of a protective order.” When coupled with C.M.’s testimony about the effects of the protective order violation itself on her psyche and her ability to function, this provided an evidentiary basis for the court to find that Murray’s criminal conduct proximately caused C.M. to miss this work.

¶41      Murray nevertheless pushes back on several fronts, none of which are availing.

¶42      First, Murray points to testimony showing that C.M. was traumatized by the alleged rape (as opposed to the protective order violation), as well as testimony establishing that C.M. began missing work even before the unlawful communication. Both things are, on this record, unquestionably true. But even if the alleged rape caused psychological trauma to C.M. on its own, and even if that trauma caused her to miss work (either before or even after January 3, 2019), this doesn’t mean that Murray’s violation of the protective order couldn’t proximately cause her to miss work too.

¶43      Again, if there was sufficient evidence to establish that C.M.’s losses were proximately caused by the communication, then those losses were compensable. The fact that the losses may have been linked to some other causal source does not change this. In civil cases, it has long been recognized that there can be multiple causes for an injury or a trauma. See, e.g.McCorvey v. Utah State Dep’t of Transp., 868 P.2d 41, 45 (Utah 1993) (confirming “there can be more than one proximate cause” of “an injury”); Steffensen v. Smith’s Mgmt. Corp., 820 P.2d 482, 486 (Utah Ct. App. 1991) (“There can be more than one proximate cause of an injury so long as each is a concurrent contributing factor in causing the injury.” (quotation simplified)). And this is true in a criminal case too. See, e.g.State v. Gonzales, 2002 UT App 256, ¶ 21, 56 P.3d 969 (“A defendant’s acts may be found to be the proximate cause of the victim’s death even if the victim actually died as a result of the combination of the defendant’s acts plus some other contributing factor.” (quotation simplified)).[5]

¶44      Here, we agree with Murray that C.M.’s trauma and associated anxiety from the violation of the protective order was likely linked in some measure to the alleged rape. As discussed above, however, the alleged rape was the very reason that C.M. had previously obtained a protective order against Murray. And as also discussed, C.M.’s testimony at the restitution hearing supported the conclusion that when Murray contacted her in violation of that order, this both exacerbated her prior trauma and caused additional trauma too, thereby further interfering with her ability to work. Given this sworn and court-credited testimony, we cannot conclude that it was against the clear weight of the evidence for the court to conclude that, even accounting for the trauma associated with the alleged rape, the violation of the protective order itself proximately caused C.M. to miss work.

¶45      Second, Murray argues that it could not have been “reasonably foreseeable that C.M. would miss 12 weeks of work” because he sent her “a single indirect text message.” As an initial matter, it’s unclear from the record if this case really does involve just a single text message. For “the purpose of determining restitution for an offense, the offense shall include any criminal conduct admitted by the defendant to the sentencing court or for which the defendant agrees to pay restitution.” Utah Code § 77-38a-302(5)(a) (2019). Here, the probable cause affidavit alleged that C.M. had “received phone calls and text messages” from Murray through their mutual friend. And in his plea affidavit, Murray agreed under oath that he “knowingly and intentionally communicate[d] with C.M. through a mutual friend . . . through phone calls and text messages.” On this record, the court could therefore assess the restitution question in light of Murray’s admission that there had been multiple communications.

¶46      In any event, whether viewed as multiple communications or even just a single communication, this argument still fails because the effect of the communication(s) can’t meaningfully be divorced from the surrounding context. Again, Murray wasn’t convicted of sending a message to a stranger with whom he had no prior history. Rather, Murray was convicted because he knowingly or intentionally communicated with C.M. in violation of a protective order. By communicating with C.M. despite the existence of an order from a judge that prohibited him from contacting her, Murray undermined the sense of distance and security that the protective order was intended to give her. Because of this context and history, we disagree with Murray’s assertion that it could not have been reasonably foreseeable that C.M. would be traumatized and miss work as a result.

¶47      Finally, Murray argues that the restitution order was at odds with our decision in State v. Bickley, 2002 UT App 342, 60 P.3d 582. We disagree. In Bickley, the defendant was charged with criminal nonsupport, and the “Amended Information listed the nonpayment period from February 1, 1997 to January 10, 2000.” Id. ¶ 3. After the defendant pleaded guilty to this offense, however, the district court awarded restitution for arrears that occurred prior to 1997. Id. ¶¶ 3–4. We reversed that decision on appeal, concluding that the court could not impose restitution for pre-1997 arrears “without making inferences.” Id. ¶ 12 (quotation simplified). Because of this, we held that it was not “firmly established” that the defendant was in fact responsible for the pre-1997 arrears. Id.

¶48      Bickley is readily distinguishable. The arrears at issue in Bickley plainly fell outside the conviction (which, again, was specifically limited to arrears that occurred from February 1997 on). As discussed above, however, the offense at issue here was the violation of a protective order, and that protective order was by definition linked to some prior conduct. Thus, unlike Bickley, it’s not at all clear that this restitution order was based on damages that fell outside of the offense at issue. In addition, there’s no suggestion that the district court in Bickley based its restitution award for the pre-1997 arrears on any evidence or testimony. Id. ¶¶ 2–4, 12. This is why we faulted the court for “making inferences” and imposing restitution for arrears that were not “firmly established.” Id. ¶ 12 (quotation simplified). But again, this was not the case here, where the restitution order was based on sworn testimony from the hearing itself.

¶49      In short, we can overturn the court’s proximate cause determination only if Murray has established “that the clear weight of the evidence contradicts the court’s ruling.” Chadwick, 2021 UT App 40, ¶ 6 (quotation simplified). Having reviewed the record, we conclude that C.M.’s testimony about the effects of the protective order violation on her psyche and her ability to function, coupled with the evidence presented by UOVC about the days that she missed at work, was sufficient to support the court’s finding that Murray’s criminal conduct proximately caused C.M. to miss this work, thereby causing these damages. Because the court’s ruling was not against the clear weight of the evidence before it, we affirm that determination.

CONCLUSION

¶50      The district court erred when it required Murray to pay $744.19 in restitution for moving expenses. We accordingly vacate that portion of the court’s order. But the court did not err when it ordered restitution in the amount of $5,520.28 for lost wages. We accordingly affirm the restitution award of $5,520.28 for lost wages.

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

Click to access State%20v.%20Murray20230518_20200890_52.pdf

———————————————————————————————————

[1] UOVC was represented by an attorney from the Utah Attorney General’s office who serves as “agency counsel” for UOVC.

[2] In between the court’s oral and written rulings, Murray filed a motion to reconsider. But after the written ruling was entered, Murray filed a timely notice of appeal. Despite the fact that this notice of appeal had been filed, and over an objection from UOVC, the district court subsequently held oral argument on Murray’s motion to reconsider, after which it denied the motion.

On appeal, both parties now agree that Murray’s notice of appeal divested the district court of jurisdiction to rule on the motion to reconsider. We agree with the parties. Because the motion to reconsider was filed before the written ruling, it was a prejudgment motion to reconsider the oral ruling. While the court was “free to consider” what was essentially a request for “reargument” at “any time before entering the final judgment,” Gillett v. Price, 2006 UT 24, ¶ 7 n.2, 135 P.3d 861, the court did not do so. Instead, it issued the written final judgment. When Murray then filed his notice of appeal after that final judgment had been entered, his notice of appeal “divest[ed] the district court of jurisdiction.” Garver v. Rosenberg, 2014 UT 42, ¶ 11, 347 P.3d 380. Of note, our supreme court has held that a prejudgment motion to reconsider does “not toll the time for appeal once a final judgment [is] entered.” Gillett, 2006 UT 24, ¶ 7 n.2. We likewise see no basis for holding that a prejudgment motion to reconsider would somehow undermine the finality of a written final judgment or allow the court to retain jurisdiction after a notice of appeal has been filed. As a result, we agree with the parties that the only ruling properly before us is the original restitution order.

 

[3] The legislature recently amended the CVRA. The most recent version of the statute provides that the “court shall order a defendant, as part of the sentence imposed,” to “pay restitution to all victims: (i) in accordance with the terms of any plea agreement in the case; or (ii) for the entire amount of pecuniary damages that are proximately caused to each victim by the criminal conduct of the defendant.” Utah Code § 77-38b-205(1)(a) (2023).

[4] The version of the statute that governed at the time of Murray’s sentencing did not expressly state that restitution could be awarded for damages “proximately caused” by the offense, see Utah Code § 77-38a-302(1) (2019), but our supreme court had interpreted that statute as containing such an allowance, see State v. Ogden, 2018 UT 8, ¶¶ 31–48, 416 P.3d 1132. The statute has since been amended to expressly incorporate the proximate cause standard. See Utah Code § 77-38b-205(1)(a)(ii) (2023).

[5] Something somewhat similar can be true outside the proximate cause context too. In State v. O’Bannon, 2012 UT App 71, ¶ 38, 274 P.3d 992, for example, we recognized “a basis under Utah law for holding a defendant culpable for causing death even when other factors contributed to the victim’s death.”

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: , , , , , ,

When are my ex’s things deemed abandoned?

I was awarded the house in the divorce. My ex’s things are still here and he/she won’t pick them up. When are they deemed abandoned? 

Utah Code § 67-4a-201 provides, in pertinent part that property is presumed abandoned if the property is unclaimed by the apparent owner “the earlier of three years after the owner first has a right to demand the property or the obligation to pay or distribute the property arises.” 

Utah Code § 67-4a-208 (Indication of apparent owner interest in property) provides, in pertinent part: 

(1) The period after which property is presumed abandoned is measured from the later of: 

(a) the date the property is presumed abandoned under this part; or 

(b) the latest indication of interest by the apparent owner in the property. 

(2) Under this chapter, an indication of an apparent owner’s interest in property includes: 

(a) a record communicated by the apparent owner to the holder or agent of the holder concerning the property or the account in which the property is held; 

(b) an oral communication by the apparent owner to the holder or agent of the holder concerning the property or the account in which the property is held, if the holder or the holder’s agent contemporaneously makes and preserves a record of the fact of the apparent owner’s communication; 

(c) presentment of a check or other instrument of payment of a dividend, interest payment, or other distribution, or evidence of receipt of a distribution made by electronic or similar means, with respect to an account, underlying security, or interest in a business association; 

(d) activity directed by an apparent owner in the account in which the property is held, including accessing the account or information concerning the account, or a direction by the apparent owner to increase, decrease, or otherwise change the amount or type of property held in the account; 

(e) a deposit into or withdrawal from an account at a banking organization or financial organization, including an automatic deposit or withdrawal previously authorized by the apparent owner other than an automatic reinvestment of dividends or interest; 

(f) any other action by the apparent owner which reasonably demonstrates to the holder that the apparent owner knows that the account exists; and 

(g) subject to Subsection (5), payment of a premium on an insurance policy. 

(3) An action by an agent or other representative of an apparent owner, other than the holder acting as the apparent owner’s agent, is presumed to be an action on behalf of the apparent owner. 

(4) A communication with an apparent owner by a person other than the holder or the holder’s representative is not an indication of interest in the property by the apparent owner unless a record of the communication evidences the apparent owner’s knowledge of a right to the property. 

(5) If the insured dies or the insured or beneficiary of an insurance policy otherwise becomes entitled to the proceeds before depletion of the cash surrender value of the policy by operation of an automatic premium loan provision or other nonforfeiture provision contained in the policy, the operation does not prevent the policy from maturing or terminating. 

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

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

What will the court do if I do not sign a letter sent by my ex-husband?

What will the court do if I do not pick up a letter my ex-husband sent that needs to be signed by me from the courts about his back court ordered alimony of $20,000.00 that he is in default already and has been ordered by the courts several times? 

This is a question you need to ask of a local divorce attorney in your jurisdiction. 

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Can someone legally move out without notice and turn off utilities?

The judge finalized our divorce a month ago. My ex-husband decided to move out without any notice and then he turned off all utilities service. Can he legally do that without saying anything?

It depends upon 1) the rules and statutes that apply in your jurisdiction; and 2) the provisions in your decree of divorce (and related orders, if in your jurisdiction divorces end with multiple orders, as opposed to all of the orders in one “Decree of Divorce” document). 

For example, in the jurisdiction where I practice divorce and family law (Utah), there is no law that specifically prevents a divorced spouse from canceling the accounts for the household utilities.* Indeed, if, in a divorce proceeding, the house is awarded to one of the spouses and the other spouse must now move out, many such divorced spouses have good reason for canceling the accounts for the household utilities, and that is to ensure they are no longer billed and held liable for utilities for a house in which they no longer reside.  

If the provisions in your decree of divorce (and related orders, if in your jurisdiction divorces end with multiple orders, as opposed to all of the orders in one “Decree of Divorce” document) prohibit one’s ex-spouse from canceling or otherwise interfering with the other’s utilities, then the affected ex-spouse could move the court to hold the offending ex-spouse in contempt of court and seek to have the offending ex-spouse sanctioned for contempt.  

Now clearly there are usually better ways of handling the situation than secretly closing the accounts notifying the ex-spouse after the fact or not telling the other spouse at all and letting him/her discover it on his/her own, but just because it’s ill-mannered does not make illegal. And if there is no provision in the decree of divorce or related orders that don’t expressly prohibit you and your ex from canceling the utilities that are presumably in your joint names (because you presumably open the accounts when you were married to each other), there may be nothing (and their likely is nothing) that you could do through the courts to punish your ex-spouse for his/her actions.

———————————

*If a divorced couple has minor children, it might be possible to argue that cutting off the utilities to the house could constitute child abuse under Utah Code § 76-5-109. If the couple has a disabled child, one might argue that canceling the utilities account(s) is abuse or neglect of a disabled child. § 76-5-110 (Abuse or neglect of a child with a disability). I don’t know if one could argue that canceling the utilities to the house could be construed as “criminal mischief” as defined in Utah Code § 76-6-106(2)(b)(i)(A) or (B) or (ii). 

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

https://www.quora.com/The-judge-finalized-our-divorce-a-month-ago-My-ex-husband-decided-to-move-out-without-any-notice-and-then-he-turned-off-all-utilities-service-Can-he-legally-do-that-without-saying-anything/answer/Eric-Johnson-311  

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Why do people get married only to divorce a few years later?

Why do people get married only to divorce a few years later? Doesn’t really sound like love to me. 

With the exception of those divorces that take place shortly after a marriage due to abuse, mental illness, fraud, and those kinds of things OR a divorce for which there are common law or statutory grounds (adultery, impotency of the respondent at the time of marriage, willful desertion, willful neglect, habitual drunkenness of the respondent, conviction of the respondent for a felony, irreconcilable differences of the marriage, incurable insanity), a divorce after a just a few years of marriage between two otherwise normal people is usually due (in no particular order) to: 

  • realizing the marriage was a mistake, that it’s a genuinely good idea and mutually beneficial to both spouses to end the marriage and a bad idea to spend any more time or effort trying to salvage it; or 
  • selfishness and/or fear or shame; something that renders one to feel unworthy or unwilling to commit to the success of the marriage and family 

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

https://www.quora.com/Why-do-people-get-married-only-to-divorce-a-few-years-later-Doesnt-really-sound-like-love-to-me/answer/Eric-Johnson-311  

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

What will the court do if I do not pick up a letter my ex husband sent?

What will the court do if I do not pick up a letter my ex husband sent that needs to be signed by me from the courts about his back court ordered alimony of 20,000.00 that he is in default already and has been ordered by the courts several times? 

This is a question you need to ask of a local divorce attorney in your jurisdiction. 

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

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I suspect my husband fathered a child with someone else. Can I challenge our divorce ruling?

If I suspect my ex-husband fathered a child with someone else while we were married, can I challenge our divorce ruling?

If, by this question, you mean that

  1. you are the wife; and
  2. you discovered, after you divorced, that your husband had fathered a child during the marriage, but this fact was not known or adjudicated during the divorce proceedings,

it is unlikely that raising the discovery of the bastard/illegitimate (whatever term you want to use to describe the innocent) child would benefit you as the wife, if you tried to assert the discovery of this child as the basis for “challenging” or modifying the terms of the decree of divorce. Why? Because unless you could show that the discovery of this child has led to the discovery that the terms of your decree of divorce are unfair to you and would have been different had the court been aware of and taken the child’s existence into consideration when entering the orders that comprise your decree of divorce, discovery of the child may be irrelevant.

However, it may be worth your while to raise the discovery of this child with the divorce court, if for no other reason than to protect yourself from being deemed the child’s mother, given that the child was born, or at least conceived, during your marriage because it is possible for your husband to claim that the child is now your legal responsibility.

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

https://www.quora.com/If-I-suspect-my-ex-husband-fathered-a-child-with-someone-else-while-we-were-married-can-I-challenge-our-divorce-ruling?__nsrc__=4

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

I was divorced and lied to during my divorce and I am disabled can I take my ex back to court for spousal support?

I was divorced and lied to during my divorce and I am disabled can I take my ex back to court for spousal support?

Can you try? Yes. Will you succeed? Probably not. Unless you can prove (not persuade, but demonstrate by objectively, independently verifiable proof) that your ex-husband defrauded the court, you’re likely stuck with the decree and court orders you’ve got. This is extremely difficult in its own right. This is also extremely expensive and most people don’t have that kind of money.

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

https://www.quora.com/I-was-divorced-and-lied-to-during-my-divorce-and-I-am-disabled-can-I-take-my-ex-back-to-court-for-spousal-support/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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

I was divorced and lied to during my divorce and I am disabled can I take my ex back to court for spousal support?

I was divorced and lied to during my divorce and I am disabled can I take my ex back to court for spousal support?

Can you try? Yes.

Will you succeed? Probably not.

Unless you can prove (not persuade, but demonstrate by objectively, independently verifiable proof) that your ex-husband defrauded the court, you’re likely stuck with the decree and court orders you’ve got. This is extremely difficult in its own right. This is also extremely expensive and most people don’t have that kind of money.

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

https://www.quora.com/I-was-divorced-and-lied-to-during-my-divorce-and-I-am-disabled-can-I-take-my-ex-back-to-court-for-spousal-support/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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

In re C.C.W. – 2019 UT App 34 – termination of parental rights

In re C.C.W.
http://www.utcourts.gov/opinions/view.html?court=appopin&opinion=In re C.C.W.20190307_20170360_34.pdf

2019 UT App 34

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

IN THE INTEREST OF C.C.W. AND Z.C.W., PERSONS UNDER EIGHTEEN YEARS OF AGE.
R.D.T. AND GUARDIAN AD LITEM, Appellants,
v.
C.L.W., Appellee.

Opinion No. 20170360-CA
Filed March 7, 2019

Third District Juvenile Court, West Jordan Department
The Honorable Renee M. Jimenez
No. 1135445

Troy L. Booher, Julie J. Nelson, Erin B. Hull, and Shane A. Marx, Attorneys for Appellant R.D.T.
Martha Pierce, Attorney for Appellant Guardian ad Litem
David Pedrazas, Attorney for Appellee

JUDGES RYAN M. HARRIS and MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER jointly authored this Opinion. JUDGE GREGORY K. ORME concurred in the result.

HARRIS and CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER, Judges:

¶1        R.D.T. (Mother) petitioned the juvenile court to terminate the parental rights of her ex-husband, C.L.W. (Father), as to their children, C.C.W. and Z.C.W. (collectively, the Children). After Mother presented her case-in-chief, Father asked the court to dismiss Mother’s petition. The court granted the motion on the ground that—although Father had abandoned the Children and had twice been incarcerated for violently attacking Mother and, later, another woman—it was not in the Children’s best interest to terminate Father’s parental rights. Mother and the Guardian ad Litem (the GAL) appeal, contending that the court misapplied the law to the facts. In one significant respect, we agree, and therefore vacate the juvenile court’s determination and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

BACKGROUND

¶2        Mother and Father married in September 2005. Z.C.W. was born in August 2006 and C.C.W. in January 2009. Shortly after C.C.W. was born, and when Z.C.W. was three years old, Father brutally attacked Mother and threatened to kill her at gunpoint after the two had an argument about Father’s infidelity. Father was charged with aggravated kidnapping and two counts of aggravated assault, and ultimately pled guilty to kidnapping and aggravated assault. The court presiding over his criminal case sentenced him to prison, where he was incarcerated from April 2010 to March 2013.

¶3        While Father was incarcerated, Mother filed for divorce, and a divorce decree was entered in 2010 that awarded Mother sole physical custody of the Children. Mother and Father have each remarried thereafter.

¶4        In 2014, one year after his release from prison, Father violated his parole by leaving the state, attacked another woman in Missouri, and later pled guilty to domestic assault. For this crime, he was incarcerated in Missouri from May 2014 to December 2016.

¶5        In October 2016, just before Father was released from prison for the second time, Mother petitioned the juvenile court to terminate Father’s parental rights. Mother filed the petition because she believed, among other things, that Father had abandoned the Children, and because she believed that reintroducing Father into the Children’s lives would be disruptive and potentially violent. The case proceeded to trial.

¶6        After Mother presented her case-in-chief, but before he put on any evidence of his own, Father asked the court to dismiss Mother’s petition. The juvenile court granted Father’s motion and entered findings of fact and conclusions of law, wherein it found that Father had abandoned the Children but that Mother had not shown that it was in the Children’s best interest to terminate Father’s parental rights.

¶7        The juvenile court first found that there were grounds for termination because Father did not attempt to communicate at all with the Children beginning in 2012, during his first incarceration, and through 2016 when Mother filed her termination petition. Significantly, Father did not attempt to communicate with the Children during the year between his two terms of incarceration, even though an order of therapeutic reintroduction had been entered to reestablish Father’s relationship with the Children. The court found that, rather than take advantage of this opportunity, Father left the state, violated his parole, and committed another assault. As a result of Father’s neglect of his parental responsibilities, the court found that he destroyed the parent-child relationship. Accordingly, the court found that Father had abandoned the Children.

¶8        The court also found that Mother’s testimony regarding Father’s attack on her was credible. In the court’s words, “Father’s crimes were extremely violent, and they caused his victims, [Mother] in particular, unthinkable physical and emotional injuries.”[1] Notwithstanding this determination, the court found that Father’s history of violence toward women did not make him an unfit parent because those acts were against adults, not children. In particular, the juvenile court stated that, while Father’s “crimes may have made him a terrible husband, . . . assaulting your spouse or another person[] does not necessarily mean that you are unable to fulfill your duties as a parent.” The court found it significant that “[t]here is no evidence that [Father] is an inherently violent person or that he has been violent with his own or other children.”

¶9        Having found that there were grounds for termination—namely, abandonment—the court began its best-interest analysis. The court found that under Mother’s care, the Children were good students, excelled in extracurricular activities, and enjoyed “security and stability.” Somewhat contradictorily, the court then stated that Mother “has not necessarily had consistently stable relationships in her own life which [h]as resulted in some instability or inconsistency in the [C]hildren’s lives.” The court added that the Children “have experienced a changing landscape of parental figures during their entire lives, and two of these significant changes have nothing to do with [Father].” The court stressed that, at the time, there was no plan for Mother’s current spouse to adopt the Children, and therefore “there is no other individual, step-parent or otherwise, available to take over that legal parental role.” However, the court also found that Mother’s spouse was “developing a parent relationship” with the Children.

¶10 The court found that the Children have not asked about Father and “have no information” about him. But the court expressed its view that “Father’s circumstances are different now.” Although Father suffers from post-traumatic stress and bipolar disorders, he “obtained treatment for his mental health needs while incarcerated and he currently receives therapy and medication management” through the federal government’s Department of Veterans Affairs. Since being released from prison, Father has been “a coach and a mentor to other children.” Father now resides with his second wife and two stepchildren. He has also maintained contact with his older daughter who is the Children’s half-sister and whom the Children know. The court stressed that Father “does not have the ability to ever assume full custody of the [C]hildren,” that he is willing to participate in reunification services, and that he “desires the opportunity to provide love, support and guidance to the [C]hildren.” The court specifically found that, if the reunification process were “done properly, Father could be a positive person in the [C]hildren’s lives . . . . There are adequate and protective measures built into the reunification process that take into consideration the [C]hildren’s needs.” The court concluded that “[t]here is insufficient evidence that [Father] exercising parent-time with the [C]hildren would cause significant harm or risk of harm to the [C]hildren’s physical, mental or emotional well-being.”

¶11 Also, during its best-interest determination, the court found it significant that the Children might be eligible to receive support payments from the federal government as a result of Father’s military service. While Father was incarcerated, Mother was able to apply for an apportionment of his benefits to be used as support for the Children. During Father’s incarcerations, the Children obtained approximately $38,000 in support. The court found that these payments amounted to child support.

¶12 After considering all of its findings, the court concluded that there were no “compelling reasons to terminate [Father’s] parental rights and that it [was] not strictly necessary to terminate [Father’s] parental rights.”

ISSUE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶13      Mother and the GAL contend that the juvenile court erred in granting Father’s motion to dismiss, asserting that Mother presented clear and convincing evidence that Father’s parental rights should be terminated. A court may grant such a motion “if (1) the claimant has failed to introduce sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case, or (2) the trial court is not persuaded by that evidence.” In re J.A., 2018 UT App 29, ¶ 26, 424 P.3d 913 (quotation simplified).[2]

¶14 In this case, although the juvenile court determined that statutory grounds existed to terminate Father’s parental rights, the court granted Father’s motion on best-interest grounds, concluding that the evidence Mother presented in her case-in-chief did not provide “compelling reasons” to terminate Father’s rights. Because termination decisions “rely heavily on the [trial] court’s assessment and weighing of the facts in any given case,” its decision “should be afforded a high degree of deference.” In re B.R., 2007 UT 82, ¶ 12, 171 P.3d 435. For us “to overturn the [trial] court’s decision the result must be against the clear weight of the evidence or leave [us] with a firm and definite conviction that a mistake has been made.” Id. (quotation simplified).

ANALYSIS

¶15 Mother and the GAL contend that the juvenile court misapplied the law to the facts. While expressing no opinion on the ultimate decision to be made in this case, we agree that the juvenile court’s analysis was materially flawed and that remand is therefore required.

¶16 Under Utah law, before terminating a parent-child relationship, a court must find (1) that there are grounds for termination and (2) that terminating parental rights is in the child’s best interest. Utah Code Ann. § 78A-6-506(3) (LexisNexis 2018). There is no dispute that the juvenile court properly found that, as a result of Father’s abandonment of the Children, there were grounds for termination. The dispute solely concerns the court’s best-interest analysis.

¶17 Mother first argues that it “is well settled” that where grounds for termination are established, it is “almost automatically” in the child’s best interest to terminate parental rights. Because the juvenile court found that Father had abandoned the Children, she asserts that the court should have automatically concluded that it was in the Children’s best interest to terminate Father’s parental rights.

¶18 We have indeed previously stated that “where grounds for termination are established, the conclusion that termination will be in a child’s best interest follows almost automatically.” In re G.J.C., 2016 UT App 147, ¶ 25, 379 P.3d 58 (emphasis added) (quotation simplified), abrogated by In re B.T.B., 2018 UT App 157. But, as we recently concluded in In re B.T.B., our “almost automatically” line of cases was not supported by statutory language or Utah Supreme Court case law, and we disavowed all of our cases that had relied upon the concept. 2018 UT App 157, ¶ 44 & n.12.[3] We noted that the “almost automatically” characterization had gone too far, and that the “‘best interest’ inquiry requires courts to examine all of the relevant facts and circumstances surrounding the child’s situation, not just the specific statutory grounds for termination.” Id. ¶ 55. We therefore determined that “the ‘best interest’ inquiry should be applied in a more thorough and independent manner than some of our cases might suggest.” Id. ¶ 2. We therefore reject Mother’s contention that, after determining there were grounds for termination, the juvenile court should have automatically concluded that it was in the Children’s best interests to terminate Father’s parental rights.

¶19 It does not follow, however, that Mother’s appeal is unsuccessful. In particular, we are troubled by the juvenile court’s treatment of Father’s history of domestic violence. Although it recognized that “Father’s crimes were extremely violent, and they caused his victims, [Mother] in particular, unthinkable physical and emotional injuries,” the juvenile court concluded that “assaulting your spouse or another person[] does not necessarily mean that you are unable to fulfill your duties as a parent,” and that “when assessing the issue of unfitness to parent . . . the focus is on the parent’s interactions with children” rather than on the parent’s interactions with other adults.[4] While it is true that a history of domestic violence does not necessarily lead to parental termination in every case, we nevertheless find the juvenile court’s statements problematic, and emphasize that—even where there is no evidence of violence toward children—it is inappropriate to completely separate or compartmentalize a parent’s history of domestic violence toward other adults from the best-interest inquiry regarding that parent’s child.[5]

¶20 Such compartmentalization conflicts with the statutory view that a history of violent behavior has relevance, especially when committed against “the other parent of the child.” See Utah Code Ann. § 78A-6-316(2)(iv); cf. id. § 76-5-109.1 (criminalizing actions of domestic violence committed “in the presence of a child,” even if the child is not the direct victim). And both common sense and expert opinion indicate that a parent’s acts of domestic violence can have adverse impacts on a child, even if that child is not the direct object of such violence, and even if the child does not directly witness the violence. See Winston J. v. State Dep’t of Health & Social Services, Office of Children’s Services, 134 P.3d 343, 348 (Alaska 2006) (concluding that a father’s acts of domestic violence against his children’s mother, coupled with his history of violence against other women, created a substantial risk of harm even though the children had not yet been born when the acts occurred); In re V.V., 349 S.W.3d 548, 555 (Tex. Ct. App. 2010) (en banc) (concluding that a parent’s history of domestic violence, even if not directed at his child, provided support for the trial court’s termination decision because this conduct placed his child in jeopardy); Marjory D. Fields, The Impact of Spouse Abuse on Children and Its Relevance in Custody and Visitation Decisions in New York State, 3 Cornell J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 221, 228 (1994) (“Studies show that violence by one parent against another harms children even if they do not witness it.”). Indeed, numerous studies clearly show that violence directed at a parent—even where not directed at the children—can have a significant impact on the abused parent’s children, especially when the abused parent is the children’s primary caretaker. See Michal Gilad, Abraham Gutman & Stephen P. Chawaga, The Snowball Effect of Crime and Violence: Measuring the Triple-C Impact, 46 Fordham Urb. L.J. 1, 4, 9–10 (2019); Karen Czapanskiy, Domestic Violence, The Family, and the Lawyering Process: Lessons from Studies on Gender Bias in the Courts, 27 Fam. L.Q. 247 (1993); see also Naomi R. Cahn, Civil Images of Battered Women: The Impact of Domestic Violence on Child Custody Decisions, 44 Vand. L. Rev. 1041, 1055–56 (1991) (stating that, “even if they are not physically harmed, children suffer enormously from simply witnessing the violence between their parents,” and that “children of abusive fathers are likely to be physically abused themselves”). These notions are not new; more than three decades ago, health professionals were making efforts to tell judges about the potential impact a parent’s domestic violence could have on children, emphasizing that children who are exposed to abuse may be taught that violence is an acceptable way to handle issues with loved ones:

Children learn several lessons in witnessing the abuse of one of their parents. First, they learn that such behavior appears to be approved by their most important role models and that the violence toward a loved one is acceptable. Children also fail to grasp the full range of negative consequences for the violent behavior and observe, instead, the short term reinforcements, namely compliance by the victim. Thus, they learn the use of coercive power and violence as a way to influence loved ones without being exposed to other more constructive alternatives.

. . . .

Spouse abuse results not only in direct physical and psychological injuries to the children, but, of greatest long-term importance, it breeds a culture of violence in future generations. Up to 80 percent of men who abuse their wives witnessed or experienced abuse in their family of origin. Abused children are at great risk of becoming abusive parents.

Patricia Ann S. v. James Daniel S., 435 S.E.2d 6, 18 (W. Va. 1993) (Workman, C.J., dissenting) (quoting L. Crites & D. Coker, What Therapists See That Judges May Miss, The Judges’ Journal, 9, 11–12, (Spring 1988)).[6]

¶21      When a parent whose parental rights are subject to being terminated has a history of violence, particularly domestic violence, trial courts should carefully weigh the potential impact of that violence on the children as part of considering whether termination of the parent’s rights would be in the best interest of the children, even if the parent has not visited any of that violence directly upon the children. See In re B.T.B., 2018 UT App 157, ¶ 47 (stating that “the ‘best interest’ inquiry is broad, and is intended as a holistic examination of all of the relevant circumstances that might affect a child’s situation”); see also In re K.K., 2017 UT App 58, ¶ 4, 397 P.3d 745 (per curiam) (explaining that Mother’s “unresolved domestic violence issues” made it “unsafe for the children to be around her”); In re R.T., 2013 UT App 108, ¶ 7, 300 P.3d 767 (per curiam) (concluding that it was in the children’s best interest to terminate their father’s parental rights given his history of violence and anger issues).

¶22 In this case, Father not only attacked two women, but he brutally beat Mother, choked her to the point of momentary unconsciousness, and threatened to kill her at gunpoint. Yet in its findings, the juvenile court brushed aside Father’s violent history and the risk that Father’s conduct might pose to the Children, emphasizing the fact that there was no evidence that Father had ever been violent toward children. We find such compartmentalization troubling, especially given the fact that individuals prone to domestic violence tend to reoffend.[7] See United States v. Bryant, 136 S. Ct. 1954, 1959 (2016) (“As this Court has noted, domestic abusers exhibit high rates of recidivism, and their violence ‘often escalates in severity over time.’”) (quoting United States v. Castleman, 572 U.S. 157, 160 (2014)); see also Linell A. Letendre, Beating Again and Again and Again: Why Washington Needs a New Rule of Evidence Admitting Prior Acts of Domestic Violence, 75 Wash. L. Rev. 973, 977–78 (2000) (stating that a person’s past violent behavior is “the best predictor of future violence,” because “studies demonstrate that once violence occurs in a relationship, the use of force will reoccur in 63% of these relationships,” and that “even if a batterer moves on to another relationship, he will continue to use physical force as a means of controlling his new partner” (quotation simplified)).

¶23      Of course, not every parent who has committed an act of domestic violence deserves to have his or her parental rights terminated. Each case must be judged on its own merits, and in appropriate cases a trial court might reasonably find, among other things, that the domestic violence issues in the case are not sufficient to counsel in favor of termination; that the parent in question has taken meaningful steps to change his or her life and make amends; that under the circumstances presented there is no significant risk of continued violence; or that, even when all incidents of past violence are fully considered, the children would be better off with the parent still playing an active role in their lives than they would be if the parent’s rights were terminated. But the trial court must carefully explain its reasons for so finding, and it is not sufficient to say, as the juvenile court essentially did here, that acts of domestic violence are not relevant in a termination case simply because none of the violence was directly visited upon the Children.

¶24 Again, we recognize that the juvenile court made these comments in the context of assessing Father’s fitness as a parent under statutory grounds. While the juvenile court did not repeat these comments in the “best interest” portion of its analysis, and while the juvenile court did make general findings that Father’s “circumstances are different now” because, among other things, Father has “obtained treatment for his mental health needs” and “currently receives therapy,” the juvenile court never directly grappled with Father’s violent history in its best interest analysis. It may be that the juvenile court espouses the view that, in this case, the steps Father has taken to address his situation have ameliorated any risk that his violent past might pose to his successful reintroduction into the Children’s lives. But the juvenile court did not expressly explain why it believes this is so and, evaluated against the backdrop of the compartmentalizing comments it made in the course of its “fitness” analysis, we cannot construe the juvenile court’s best-interest discussion as containing adequately articulated reasons for its decision.[8]

Second, Mother asserts that the juvenile court relied too heavily on the possibility that termination of Father’s parental rights might result in the Children losing any right to receive any of Father’s veterans’ benefits. This issue was not well briefed by the parties from a legal standpoint, and its resolution also depends upon factual issues not specifically found by the juvenile court, which phrased its findings on this issue in hypothetical, conditional terms (e.g., the Children “would potentially” lose veterans’ benefits because Father “could object” to their receiving them). To the extent this issue remains relevant on remand, the juvenile court may invite the parties to explore it in a more meaningful way.

CONCLUSION

¶25 Accordingly, we conclude that the juvenile court’s best-interest determination was materially flawed, because the court did not appropriately consider what effect, if any, Father’s history of domestic violence might have on his efforts to re­establish a relationship with the Children. We therefore vacate the juvenile court’s order dismissing Mother’s petition, and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion. We do not, however, make any effort to urge the juvenile court to reach one conclusion or another upon reconsideration. Given the juvenile court’s superior position and specialized training and experience in matters involving children, supported factual findings from the juvenile court on remand, entered after adequately considering all of the proper factors, are, of course, always entitled to deference by appellate courts.

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

———————————————————–

[1] While the juvenile court’s finding is accurate, it lacks detail and uses relative terms. Mother’s testimony regarding the attack, credited by the juvenile court, bears fuller explication. The attack lasted over two hours, during which Father (1) grabbed Mother by the neck and threw her against a wall “from one place to the other,” denting the sheetrock; (2) repeatedly choked Mother to the point that she could not breathe, causing her to gasp for air and briefly lose consciousness; (3) ordered her to the basement, where he interrogated her at gunpoint; (4) punched, slapped, and hit Mother in the face and head with a gun; (5) threatened to kill Mother with the gun; (6) smothered Mother’s face in a pillow, causing Mother to gasp for air, and pressed the gun against the pillow and asked, “Now that you think you’re going to die, are you finally going to tell me the truth?”; and (7) after leaving the house in a car with Mother to take formula and diapers to Mother’s parents who were watching the Children, threatened to kill Mother if she left the car.

[2] At the time he made his motion, Father cited rule 41(b) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. A previous version of that rule stated that, “[i]n a bench trial, after the plaintiff ‘has completed the presentation of [her] evidence, the defendant . . . may move for dismissal on the ground that upon the facts and the law the plaintiff has shown no right to relief.’” See In re J.A., 2018 UT App 29, ¶ 26, 424 P.3d 913 (quoting the 2015 version of rule 41 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure). As we noted in In re J.A., rule 41(b) was amended in 2016, and now speaks only of motions to dismiss for failure to prosecute. Id. ¶ 26 n.4; see also Utah R. Civ. P. 41(b). Under the current version of the rules, it is rule 52(e) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure that allows a party to move for dismissal at the close of the other side’s evidence. See Utah R. Civ. P. 52(e); see also id. advisory committee note (stating that “the 2016 amendments move a provision found in Rule 41(b) to this rule”). In this case, the parties and the juvenile court appear to have been applying the 2015 version of the rules in making and adjudicating the motions at issue. But in any event, the standard of review is the same, regardless of whether the motion is grounded in rule 41(b) or rule 52(e).

[3] The briefing and argument in this case took place prior to the issuance of our opinion in In re B.T.B., 2018 UT App 157. After that opinion issued, the GAL filed a motion (which Mother joined) for “emergency relief” asking us to stay proceedings in this case “pending resolution” of petitions for rehearing in In re B.T.B. We decline that invitation, and hereby deny the motion.

[4] In the context of assessing the severity of Father’s violent acts toward Mother, the juvenile court also mentioned that, after Father assaulted Mother, Father “continued to reside in the family home with” Mother and the Children for another few weeks, and that even after their separation, Father and Mother “continued in a sexual and/or romantic relationship” for a while, and noted that “[a]t no time” during this period did Mother “prohibit [Father] from taking the [C]hildren” or “seek a child protective order prohibiting” Father from exercising parent-time. We caution trial courts to avoid unnecessarily drawing negative inferences from a battered spouse’s decision to maintain a relationship with the batterer, or from a battered spouse’s decision to decline to immediately seek help. In many instances, victims of domestic violence stay in abusive relationships, at least for a time, because they may not feel like they have any other option, or because they may feel they are at least partly to blame for the violence. See Mary Ann Dutton, Understanding Women’s Responses to Domestic Violence: A Redefinition of Battered Woman Syndrome, 21 Hofstra L. Rev. 1191 (1993); Martha R. Mahoney, Legal Images of Battered Women: Redefining the Issue of Separation, 90 Mich. L. Rev. 1, 6 (1991).

[5] We recognize that the juvenile court made these comments in the context of analyzing whether Father was “unfit” to parent the Children, which is one of the statutory grounds for termination, Utah Code Ann. § 78A-6-507(1)(c) (LexisNexis 2018), rather than in the context of analyzing whether termination of Father’s parental rights would be in the Children’s best interest. The juvenile court was incorrect in refusing to take Father’s history of domestic violence into account when considering Father’s fitness to parent the Children, because our legislature expressly requires courts to consider a parent’s “history of violent behavior” against anyone—not just children—in assessing a parent’s fitness. See id. § 78A-6-508(2)(f) (mandating that, “[i]n determining whether a parent . . . [is] unfit . . . the court shall consider . . . [the parent’s] history of violent behavior”); see also, e.g., In re A.C.M., 2009 UT 30, ¶ 27, 221 P.3d 185 (affirming a juvenile court’s decision to take into account a parent’s violence toward his “domestic partner[s],” even though there was no evidence of violence toward children); In re K.C., 2014 UT App 8, ¶ 4, 318 P.3d 1195 (per curiam) (affirming a juvenile court’s decision to take into account a parent’s commission of “domestic violence in the presence of the children,” even though no mention was made of violence toward the children themselves). But in addition, for the reasons we explain herein, a parent’s history of domestic violence, even against other adults, is a factor that the court should consider as part of the “best interest” analysis, even if that history might also be relevant to one or more of the statutory grounds for termination. Cf., e.g., In re B.T.B., 2018 UT App 157, ¶ 55 (stating that “[t]he ‘best interest’ inquiry requires courts to examine all of the relevant facts and circumstances surrounding the child’s situation”).

[6] Relevant literature indicates that men who saw their mothers abused are more than twice as likely to abuse their spouses as adults, and that women who saw their mothers abused are twice as likely to be victimized as adults. See Matthew Robins, State of Fear: Domestic Violence in South Carolina, 68 S.C. L. Rev. 629, 661 (2017) (citing Charles L. Whitfield et al., Violent Childhood Experiences and the Risk of Intimate Partner Violence in Adults, 18 J. Interpersonal Violence 166, 178 (2003)); see also Michal Gilad, Abraham Gutman & Stephen P. Chawaga, The Snowball Effect of Crime and Violence: Measuring the Triple-C Impact, 46 Fordham Urb. L.J. 1, 10 (2019) (“The rattling presence of violence in the home can also lead to erroneous beliefs: the conceptualization that aggression is a functional and legitimate part of intimate relationships and family dynamics, and the belief that men are intrinsically dominant and privileged.”) (citing Sandra A. Graham-Bermann & Victoria Brescoll, Gender, Power and Violence: Assessing the Family Stereotypes of the Children of Batterers, 14 J. Fam. Psychol. 600, 605 (2000)).

[7] In this case, as noted above, Father did reoffend, and did so within one year of his release from prison on his first offense.

[8] Mother raises two other potential flaws with the juvenile court’s analysis. First, she asserts that the juvenile court focused too heavily on Mother’s fitness as a parent, in violation of our earlier pronouncement that “the best interests prong of the termination statute does not anticipate an evaluation of a parent whose fitness has not been challenged by a cross-petition to terminate parental rights.” See In re A.M., 2009 UT App 118, ¶ 23, 208 P.3d 1058. At issue in that case was an effort by the parent whose rights were at issue to subpoena the other parent’s “health records” in an effort to prove her unfitness. Id. ¶¶ 18, 21. We affirmed the juvenile court’s order quashing that subpoena, on the grounds that those health records were irrelevant because the other parent’s fitness was not at issue. Id. ¶ 23. That case is easily distinguishable from this one, in that here, the juvenile court’s discussion of Mother’s living situation came in the context of assessing whether the Children were “stable,” and in evaluating Mother’s own argument that adding Father back into their lives would affect their stability. Taking such things into account as part of the holistic “best interest” inquiry is entirely proper, and a far cry from, for instance, giving the respondent in a termination case access to the petitioner’s health records.

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