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State v. Trujillo

Court of Appeals of Utah

July 13, 2017

State of Utah, Appellee,
v.
Timothy James Trujillo, Appellant.

         Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Vernice S. Trease No. 131907893

          Nathalie S. Skibine and Christopher J. Jones, Attorneys for Appellant.

          Sean D. Reyes and Jeanne B. Inouye, Attorneys for Appellee.

          Judge Gregory K. Orme authored this Opinion, in which Judges David N. Mortensen and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.

          ORME, JUDGE:

         ¶1 Timothy James Trujillo appeals his conviction for retaliation against a witness, victim, or informant, a third degree felony. See Utah Code Ann. § 76-8-508.3(2) (LexisNexis 2012). On appeal, Trujillo argues that his statements to police did not constitute a threat; that any threat he might have made was not directed against a witness, victim, or informant; and that the trial court erroneously admitted evidence of gang affiliation. We affirm.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         ¶2 While on patrol one evening, a police officer encountered an intoxicated minor who appeared to have been assaulted. Although several other people were nearby, this initial officer determined that none of them were the culprits. He cited the minor for underage drinking and left. Later that night, the initial officer returned to the scene after receiving a report of a man wielding a knife.

         ¶3 Upon arrival, the initial officer saw two groups of people arguing. One of these groups included the minor encountered previously, the minor's brother, Trujillo, and another man. The other group consisted of neighbors. The initial officer detained the minor and his brother and told Trujillo and the other man to leave. After further surveying the scene, the initial officer located three butcher knives and called for backup. When the backup officers arrived, the initial officer told them that Trujillo and the other man might be the owners of the knives, and he gave the backup officers their likely location.

         ¶4 After locating Trujillo and the other man, the backup officers asked both individuals to speak with them, but they ran inside a nearby house. The officers followed, knocked on the door, and announced that they were police officers. They received no response. Fearing the men might retrieve weapons, the officers kicked down the door. The backup officers arrested Trujillo and the other man and then confirmed their identities with the initial officer, who informed Trujillo and the other man that they were being charged with aggravated assault and failing to stop at the command of a police officer.

         ¶5 At this point, Trujillo began to argue with the officers and proclaim his innocence. After Trujillo brought up the neighbors, the officers told Trujillo that the neighbors had not been involved in the minor's assault, that they were trying to help the minor, and that Trujillo should "stay away from them." Trujillo responded by saying that "if I'm being charged with [aggravated assault], " then "my boys will be paying [them] a visit . . . and it's [the officers'] fault." Trujillo repeated this several times before continuing, "Do you expect me to go to . . . jail and nothing happen?"

         ¶6 The State charged Trujillo with one count of retaliation against a witness, victim, or informant. Following his bindover on the charge, Trujillo filed a motion to quash, arguing that the State did not present sufficient evidence that he made a threat of harm. The trial court denied the motion. Later, the State filed a motion in limine, seeking leave to admit evidence of Trujillo's gang affiliation because of its importance in demonstrating that Trujillo's comments constituted a threat of harm. The trial court granted the motion. At trial, the State called one of the backup officers as an expert witness, and he testified as to the history of gangs in prison, gang culture generally, and Trujillo's role as a leader in the gang with which he was affiliated. The jury convicted Trujillo, and the trial court sentenced him to an indeterminate prison term not to exceed five years. Trujillo appeals.

         ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         ¶7 Trujillo first claims that there was insufficient evidence to support a conclusion that his statements constituted a threat. "In assessing a claim of insufficiency of the evidence, 'we review the evidence and all inferences which may reasonably be drawn from it in the light most favorable to the verdict of the jury.'" State v. Cruz, 2016 UT App 234, ...


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