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Zaragoza v. State

Court of Appeals of Utah

November 24, 2017

Jonathan Eric Zaragoza, Appellant,
State of Utah, Appellee.

         Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Paul B. Parker No. 130906346

          Jonathan Eric Zaragoza, Appellant Pro Se.

          Sean D. Reyes and Erin Riley, Attorneys for Appellee.

          Judge Ryan M. Harris authored this Opinion, in which Judges Jill M. Pohlman and Diana Hagen concurred.


          HARRIS, Judge.

         ¶1 In 2010, a jury convicted Jonathan Eric Zaragoza of one count of aggravated assault, one count of domestic violence in the presence of a child, and one count of aggravated kidnapping. This court affirmed Zaragoza's convictions on direct appeal. Thereafter, Zaragoza filed a petition for post-conviction relief, setting forth several reasons why he believed he had not received a fair trial. The district court resolved the post-conviction case by granting the State's motion for summary judgment, and Zaragoza now appeals. We affirm.


         ¶2 Zaragoza, his wife (Wife), Wife's daughter (Daughter), and one of Zaragoza's friends (Friend) were staying at a motel in Salt Lake City, and had been there for several days.[1] One night, Zaragoza left the motel in Wife's car. Friend started "calling around" and discovered that Zaragoza was at a different hotel with another person. Wife and Friend went over to the other hotel, retrieved Wife's car, and returned to the motel. Wife "took her car . . . so [Zaragoza] couldn't take the car and leave her without one." Once Wife and Friend returned, Wife "packed up [Zaragoza's] belongings and was going to tell him that she was done[, ] . . . and she was going to throw him out." After Wife packed up Zaragoza's belongings, she returned to the other hotel, gave Zaragoza his belongings, and told him, "I want a divorce and I'm leaving." Afterwards, Wife drove away and "hid the car" because she did not want Zaragoza "to come back and take the car." Wife and Friend made their way back to the motel, and Wife, Friend, and Daughter fell asleep.

         ¶3 A while later, Zaragoza came back to the motel and "was upset" and "yelling at them." Wife took Daughter to the front desk, and asked the front desk clerk to call the police. When the Police arrived, Wife and Daughter went back to the room. At that point, Wife "was under the impression that [Zaragoza had] been taken into custody [be]cause he didn't come back to the room."

         ¶4 The following morning, Zaragoza "came back to the [m]otel room[, ] and he was furious with [Wife]." Upon entering the room, Zaragoza "punched [Wife] in the nose . . . causing her nose to bleed, after which he punched her in the nose again and then in the side of the head." He also "punched her in the stomach which doubled her over and sent her to the ground . . . at which point he picked up a baseball bat." Bat in hand, Zaragoza struck Wife "in the leg . . . several times." In addition to hitting Wife in the leg, Zaragoza "would hold the bat in the middle of [Wife's] head and then yell at her and then hit her on the top of the head" with the bat. This ordeal lasted, according to Wife, for "two to three hours." Friend and Daughter were in the room the entire time.

         ¶5 After a while, Zaragoza "told [Wife] to take off her clothes and get in the shower and clean up." After Wife had taken her clothes off, Zaragoza "punched her in the stomach . . . and in her private spot." Wife showered and told Zaragoza where she had parked the car. Zaragoza finally left the room, at which point Wife and Daughter went to the motel office for help. An ambulance arrived and Wife was later treated at a hospital for her injuries.

         ¶6 After investigation, the State charged Zaragoza with one count of aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury, one count of domestic violence in the presence of a child, and one count of aggravated kidnapping.

         ¶7 Before trial, the court entered a no-contact order prohibiting Zaragoza from communicating with Wife. Despite the order, and after its issuance, Zaragoza made 276 phone calls to Wife from the jail. Also before trial, Wife invoked the spousal testimonial privilege and informed the court that she would not testify against Zaragoza. In response, the State asked the trial court, [2] pursuant to the forfeiture-by-wrongdoing doctrine, to admit two statements Wife had previously made to police. After holding a hearing, the trial court determined that Zaragoza, through his 276 phone calls and other means, had "engaged in witness tampering to attempt to induce" Wife to withhold testimony. Accordingly, the trial court concluded that Zaragoza had intentionally made Wife unavailable to testify through his own wrongful actions, and therefore the forfeiture-by-wrongdoing doctrine applied. Thus, the court allowed the State to introduce Wife's two out-of-court statements describing the incident.

         ¶8 At the close of the State's case-in-chief, defense counsel moved to dismiss the aggravated kidnapping charge, arguing that the charge merged with the aggravated assault charge. The trial court took the matter under advisement and later denied the motion, explaining that "the crime of aggravated assault is in a different category" than the crime of aggravated kidnapping "because there is no detention that is necessarily incidental to the crime of aggravated assault."

         ¶9 During the defense's case, counsel asked Wife to testify in Zaragoza's defense. She agreed to do so, and testified generally that Zaragoza did not lock her in the motel room or otherwise physically restrain her from leaving the motel room. She added that she did not sustain any injuries that caused a protracted loss of bodily function.

         ¶10 After hearing the evidence, the jury convicted Zaragoza of aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault involving bodily injury (a lesser included offense of aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury), and domestic violence in the presence of a child. Zaragoza appealed his convictions, and this court affirmed. See State v. Zaragoza, 2012 UT App 268, ¶ 10, 287 P.3d 510. In that direct appeal, Zaragoza argued, first, that the trial court should have "instruct[ed] the jury on the lesser-included relationship between aggravated assault and aggravated kidnapping." Id. ¶ 4. And second, he argued that the trial court should not have admitted Wife's out-of-court statements. Id. ¶ 7. We rejected those arguments, explaining that Zaragoza did not preserve his first argument, id. ¶ 6, and that the forfeiture-by-wrongdoing doctrine applied to Wife's out-of-court statements, id. ¶ 9.[3]

         ¶11 After this court affirmed Zaragoza's convictions, he petitioned for post-conviction relief. In his petition, Zaragoza argued, first, that the prosecutor had been improperly permitted to "testify about phone calls, letter[s] referred to in phone calls, and prior bad acts and pending charges not yet adjudicated." He also alleged he was denied effective assistance of counsel when trial counsel: (1) called Wife to testify against his wishes, (2) failed to independently investigate and pursue an alibi defense, (3) failed to properly argue for a lesser included offense instruction on the aggravated kidnapping charge, and (4) failed to object to the "prosecutor's testimony" regarding the jail phone calls between Zaragoza and Wife while the case was pending. In addition to his claims that his trial counsel was ineffective, Zaragoza also asserted in his petition that his appellate attorneys on direct appeal were ineffective for: (a) failing to "raise and thoroughly investigate" whether trial counsel had been constitutionally ineffective, (b) failing to file a writ of certiorari in the Utah Supreme Court, and (c) failing to argue that Zaragoza's right to a speedy trial had been violated.

         ¶12 After filing his post-conviction petition, Zaragoza requested that the district court appoint an attorney to represent him in the post-conviction case. The district court denied the request, explaining that "[t]here does not appear to be anything unusually complex or difficult about the issues in this case, and the appointment of counsel is not warranted." Zaragoza then moved for reconsideration. The district court denied Zaragoza's request, again explaining that "the issues presented in the Petition are not complex and the petitioner appears to be fully capable of presenting his claims in a clear and articulate manner."

         ¶13 The State moved for summary judgment on all of Zaragoza's claims for post-conviction relief. The district court granted the motion, and Zaragoza now appeals.


         ¶14 First, Zaragoza contends that the district court should have appointed an attorney to assist him with his post-conviction claims. We review the district court's denial of a motion to appoint counsel under the Post-Conviction Remedies Act (the PCRA) for an abuse of discretion. Ross v. State, 2012 UT 93, ¶ 57, 293 P.3d 345. "An appellate court will find an abuse of discretion only if it can be said that no reasonable person could adopt the view of the [district] court." State v. Atkinson, 2017 UT App 83, ¶ 8, 397 P.3d 874 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted) (discussing abuse of discretion in the context of a sentencing decision).

         ¶15 Next, Zaragoza argues that the district court should not have granted the State's motion for summary judgment on his substantive claims for relief under the PCRA. A district court correctly grants summary judgment "if the moving party shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Utah R. Civ. P. 56(a). "We review an appeal from an order dismissing or denying a petition for post-conviction relief for correctness . . . ." Ross, 2012 UT 93, ΒΆ 18 (citation ...

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