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State v. Oliver

Court of Appeals of Utah

June 7, 2018

State of Utah, Appellee,
Chandra Parry Oliver, Appellant.

          Third District Court, West Jordan Department The Honorable Charlene Barlow No. 151400755

          Marshall M. Thompson, Christine Seaman, and Alexandra S. McCallum, Attorneys for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and Lindsey L. Wheeler, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Ryan M. Harris authored this Opinion, in which Judge Jill M. Pohlman concurred. Judge Michele M. Christiansen concurred, with opinion.


          HARRIS, JUDGE:

         ¶1 Chandra Parry Oliver's boyfriend (Boyfriend) invited two young men-one eighteen years old, the other nineteen years old-over to Oliver's house for the purpose of smoking methamphetamine. After they arrived, all four of them smoked methamphetamine together. Some time later, the young men went into Oliver's bathroom and, without Oliver's knowledge, swallowed additional methamphetamine. One of the young men (Victim) overdosed, and later died.

         ¶2 Oliver eventually pled guilty to reckless endangerment, a class A misdemeanor. The district court, at the State's request, ordered Oliver to pay Victim's medical and funeral expenses as restitution. Oliver appeals that restitution order, arguing that the State did not present sufficient evidence demonstrating that her actions were the proximate cause of Victim's death, and therefore she should not have been required to pay restitution. We find Oliver's arguments persuasive, at least in part, and therefore vacate the restitution order and remand this case to the district court for further proceedings.


         ¶3 On November 16, 2013, Victim (an eighteen-year-old male) and his friend (Friend) called Boyfriend and asked if they could come over to the house in which Oliver and Boyfriend lived so that they could "get warm" and "smoke a bowl of [m]eth." Boyfriend granted them permission, and so Victim and Friend came over to Oliver's house. Once they arrived, Oliver, Boyfriend, Victim, and Friend all smoked methamphetamine together.

         ¶4 Soon thereafter, Victim and Friend went into the bathroom at Oliver's house. At the time, Oliver did not know what they were doing in the bathroom, but as it turned out they spent some of their time there ingesting additional methamphetamine through a method known as "parachuting, " a technique where an individual wraps methamphetamine in toilet paper and then swallows it.

         ¶5 Later, after emerging from the bathroom, Victim and Friend both "started acting funny." Oliver and Boyfriend "had another guy get [Victim] out to his car and go to the hospital, " but for reasons unclear from the record, that effort failed. Eventually, another person present called 911, and the paramedics came and took Victim to the hospital. Victim later died.

         ¶6 The State filed six criminal charges against Oliver, including one count of obstructing justice, a third degree felony, see Utah Code Ann. § 76-8-306(1) (LexisNexis 2017); two counts of possession or use of a controlled substance, one charged as a third degree felony, and one charged as a class B misdemeanor see id. § 58-37-8(2)(a)(i); two counts of reckless endangerment, both class A misdemeanors, see id. § 76-5-112; and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia, a class B misdemeanor, see id. § 58-37a-5(1).[1] Eventually, after plea negotiations, Oliver agreed to plead guilty to possession of a controlled substance (reduced to a class A misdemeanor) and one count of reckless endangerment (also a class A misdemeanor) in exchange for the State dropping the remaining charges.

         ¶7 On the date set for preliminary hearing, Oliver elected to waive her right to that hearing and enter her plea instead. Before it accepted Oliver's plea, however, the district court asked about the factual basis for the plea, and Oliver's counsel stated as follows:

On November 16th of 2013 in Salt Lake County, Ms. Oliver was in possession and she used methamphetamine. Additionally, she was residing in a home where she allowed two other people to use methamphetamine that resulted in the overdose of one of those . . . individuals.

(Emphasis added.) After Oliver's counsel recited the factual basis, the district court asked Oliver, "Is that what happened, Ms. Oliver?" Oliver answered "Yes." At that point, the court accepted and entered Oliver's guilty plea.

         ¶8 After Oliver pled guilty, she provided the following statement to probation officers who were preparing a presentence report for the court:

[Friend and Victim] had called my boyfriend at the times phone to see if they could come into our house to get warm smoke a bowl of Meth and he told them yes. They came in and we all smoked and then [Friend and Victim] went into the bathroom and swallowed some meth and I did not know this at the time then the guys both started acting funny and we had another guy [there] get [Victim] out to his car and go to the hospital but then [another friend] [ended] up having to call 911 and the paramedics came took [Victim] to [the] hospital where he later had passed.

         ¶9 The district court held a sentencing hearing in February 2016. The court ordered Oliver to serve 120 days in jail (with the remainder of two one-year jail terms suspended), and to serve twenty-four months on probation, and imposed various terms and conditions of probation. The court ordered that the issue of restitution would "remain open" for ninety days. A few weeks later, the State filed a motion seeking an order compelling Oliver to pay $14, 151.64 in restitution to Victim's father to pay for Victim's hospital and funeral expenses. The State also asked the court to order that the restitution amount be paid jointly and severally by Oliver and Boyfriend.

         ¶10 Oliver objected to the State's restitution request, arguing generally that she "did not admit to facts which constitute the proximate cause of [Victim's] death." Specifically, Oliver's causation objection was based entirely upon a superseding cause argument, in which Oliver asserted that Victim's "own ingestion of a large quantity of methamphetamine . . . was the proximate cause of his death" and that it was Victim's own decision to swallow methamphetamine that was "the direct and proximate cause of his hospitalization and ultimate death resulting in the restitution amounts." Oliver made no specific argument that the State had failed to prove a causal link between Victim's overdose and Victim's death, and made no specific argument that she should not be required to pay restitution jointly and severally with Boyfriend.

         ¶11 After briefing, the district court held a hearing on the State's restitution request. The hearing was very short; the entire transcript is only six pages long. Neither side presented any actual evidence, whether through witnesses or through documents, and the court heard no testimony from any witness. Instead, attorneys for the State and for Oliver made legal arguments regarding causation. Oliver's attorney reiterated the superseding cause argument made in the briefing, arguing generally that Oliver's conduct was not "the proximate cause of [Victim's] death, " and arguing specifically that "the proximate cause of [Victim's] death unfortunately and practically was his own independent decision to ingest a lethal quantity of methamphetamine." As in her briefing, Oliver made no specific argument that the State had failed to demonstrate a causal link between the overdose and the death and made no specific argument about joint and several liability. At the conclusion of the hearing, the district court took the matter under advisement.

         ¶12 About a week later, the district court issued a decision granting the State's request for restitution, and ordering Oliver to pay Victim's hospital and funeral expenses. The court reasoned that Oliver "allowed the victim to come to her home to smoke methamphetamine" and that "[t]his in itself was recklessly engaging in conduct that created a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury to the victim." The court added that "[i]t was also foreseeable that allowing someone to ingest methamphetamine either by smoking or swallowing could lead to death or serious bodily injury."


         ¶13 Oliver now appeals the district court's restitution order, and asks us to consider two issues. First, Oliver argues that the district court should not have ordered her to pay restitution, because (according to Oliver) the State failed to present sufficient evidence to prove that Oliver's actions were the proximate cause of Victim's overdose or death. The State asserts that this entire argument is unpreserved. To preserve an issue for appellate review, the issue "must be specifically raised, in a timely manner, and must be supported by evidence and relevant legal authority." Donjuan v. McDermott, 2011 UT 72, ¶ 20, 266 P.3d 839. "An issue is preserved for appeal when it has been presented to the district court in such a way that the court has an opportunity to rule on [it]." State v. Johnson, 2017 UT 76, ¶ 15, 416 P.3d 443 (quotation simplified). We agree with the State that part of Oliver's first argument is unpreserved.

         ¶14 The lack-of-causation argument that Oliver advances on appeal has two components: (1) that the State failed to present sufficient evidence of a causal link between Oliver's actions and Victim's overdose, and (2) that the State failed to present sufficient evidence of a causal link between Victim's overdose and Victim's death. As we explain below, the second part of Oliver's challenge on appeal-that there is not a sufficient causal link between Victim's overdose and Victim's death-was not preserved below; ...

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