Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

State v. Sanchez

Supreme Court of Utah

July 5, 2018

State of Utah, Respondent and Cross-petitioner,
v.
James Raphael Sanchez, Petitioner and Cross-respondent.

          On Certiorari to the Utah Court of Appeals Third District, Salt Lake The Honorable Denise P. Lindberg No. 111903659

          Sean D. Reyes, Att'y Gen., Karen A. Klucznik, Asst. Solic. Gen., Salt Lake City, for respondent and cross-petitioner

          Teresa L. Welch, Ralph W. Dellapiana, Salt Lake City, for petitioner and cross-respondent

          Justice Himonas authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Pearce, and Justice Petersen joined.

          OPINION

          HIMONAS JUSTICE,

         INTRODUCTION

         ¶1 For more than seven hours, James Sanchez viciously tortured his girlfriend, ultimately causing her death. Mr. Sanchez contends that he was under extreme emotional distress at the time because the victim allegedly told him that she was cheating on him with his brother and refused to promise she would stop. If proven, Mr. Sanchez's extreme emotional distress would be a special mitigating factor reducing the level of offense from criminal homicide to manslaughter. At trial, the court excluded statements Mr. Sanchez made to a detective that he contends would have supported his claim for a reduced charge based on special mitigation for extreme emotional distress. He was convicted of first-degree murder by a jury.

         ¶2 On appeal, the court of appeals determined that the trial court abused its discretion by not admitting the statements under Utah Rule of Evidence 106.[1] Nevertheless, the court of appeals found that the error was harmless because, even if the statements were admitted, Mr. Sanchez would not have met his burden of proving extreme emotional distress mitigation. See State v. Sanchez, 2016 UT App 189, ¶¶ 43-46, 380 P.3d 375. Mr. Sanchez petitioned for a writ of certiorari of the harmless error determination, and the state filed a cross petition on the rule 106 determination. We granted certiorari review on both Mr. Sanchez's petition and the state's cross petition.

         ¶3 Typically, when an appellate court reviews an alleged error in the trial court's determinations on the rules of evidence, we first look to see if there was error under the appropriate standard of review. Next, if error is found, we determine if the "error is so prejudicial and so substantial that, absent the error, it is reasonably probable that the result would have been more favorable for the defendant." State v. Thomas, 1999 UT 2, ¶ 26, 974 P.2d 269. Nevertheless, in this case, we decline the invitation of the state to decide whether the testimony should have been admitted under rule 106 because, like the court of appeals, we find that if in fact the court erred in not admitting the evidence, the error would be harmless. Additionally, we note that the court of appeals used the incorrect standard for measuring extreme emotional distress. Therefore, we vacate the portions of the court of appeals' decision that deal with rule 106 and the standard for extreme emotional distress, we clarify the correct standard for extreme emotional distress, and we affirm the court of appeals' harmlessness determination on alternative grounds.

          BACKGROUND

         ¶4 The victim in this case was killed by her boyfriend in her apartment on May 5, 2011, after a prolonged period of brutalization. The events that led to her death began the previous night when Mr. Sanchez claims she told him that she was cheating on him with his brother.[2] Mr. Sanchez's initial reaction was to pull her hair. However, over the course of the next seven to ten hours, Mr. Sanchez engaged in a brutal attack on the victim. Mr. Sanchez admitted to detectives that over the course of the night he repeatedly pulled the victim's hair, slapped her, kicked her, choked her, used the heel of his foot to stomp on her, bit her, and grabbed her stomach and clenched hard enough to leave bruises. Mr. Sanchez also grabbed the victim's lips and pulled them so hard that they tore away from her mouth and backhanded her hard enough to cause her nose to bleed uncontrollably.

         ¶5 At several points throughout the night, Mr. Sanchez choked the victim to the point of losing consciousness. When she lost consciousness, Mr. Sanchez would sometimes attempt to revive her through resuscitation. At another point that night, Mr. Sanchez took the victim to the bathroom and ran water over her head in an attempt to "fully arouse her or awaken her" and to clean her up because "she was bleeding profusely from her face." He also tried to clean the victim up using hydrogen peroxide.

         ¶6 The victim's downstairs neighbors could hear portions of the attack. One downstairs neighbor testified that she could hear crying from at least one to six a.m., with quiet periods lasting no longer than five minutes. In the middle of the night, that neighbor said that she could "hear[] a lot of crying, more so like despair, and then . . . excessive like crying, and . . . muffled yelling or grunting." The neighbor became so concerned by the noises that she asked her mother to call the police. The mother went upstairs several times and knocked on the victim's door and tried to call the victim's phone. When the victim did not answer the door or the phone, the mother finally called 9-1-1. Police arrived around 6:40 a.m. They knocked on the door several times, but nobody answered. Dispatch also tried calling phone numbers associated with the apartment, but they went unanswered. Police listened at the door for several minutes to see if they could hear noises coming from inside, but they could not hear anything. The call was cleared around seven a.m. Between 6:30 and 7:15 a.m., the downstairs neighbor did not hear any noises. And by the time she left for work at 8:15 a.m., the apartment above was silent.

         ¶7 Around eight or nine in the morning, Mr. Sanchez choked the victim for the final time. Mr. Sanchez, realizing that his first method of choking-a headlock-was not working, tried a second method-placing his elbow on her throat while on top of her. And then, when that method also proved ineffective, Mr. Sanchez turned to a third method-placing his forearm on her throat and leaning into her. This third method caused the victim to lose consciousness, which she never regained.

         ¶8 After the victim lost consciousness, Mr. Sanchez lay down next to her and took a nap. When he woke up one to two hours later, the victim was still unresponsive, so he called a friend to come and get him. When his friend arrived around twenty minutes later, Mr. Sanchez called 9-1-1 for an ambulance and then got in his friend's car and left. Police were able to track Mr. Sanchez to his friend's house a few hours later, and Mr. Sanchez eventually surrendered after taking several methadone pills. Mr. Sanchez was taken to the hospital and later interviewed by Detective Chad Reyes.

         ¶9 At trial, Detective Reyes provided lengthy testimony about his interview with Mr. Sanchez. The trial court denied Mr. Sanchez's attempt to get additional statements he made to Detective Reyes admitted under rule 106 of the Utah Rules of Evidence. Mr. Sanchez appealed this decision to the court of appeals. The court of appeals held that the trial court should have admitted the evidence under rule 106, but that the error was harmless. State v. Sanchez, 2016 UT App 189, ¶ 46, 380 P.3d 375. Mr. Sanchez appealed the harmless error determination. The state cross-appealed the rule 106 decision. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Utah Code section 78A-3-102(3)(a).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶10 "On certiorari, we review the decision of the court of appeals for correctness, giving no deference to its conclusions of law." State v. White, 2011 UT 21, ¶ 14, 251 P.3d 820. "The correctness of the court of appeals' decision turns on whether that court correctly reviewed the trial court's decision under the appropriate standard of review." State v. Dean, 2004 UT 63, ¶ 7, 95 P.3d 276 (citation omitted). In reviewing the admissibility of evidence, "[w]e review the legal questions to make the determination of admissibility for correctness[;] . . . [w]e review the questions of fact for clear error[;] . . . [and w]e review the district court's ruling on admissibility for abuse of discretion." State v. Workman, 2005 UT 66, ¶ 10, 122 P.3d 639 (citations omitted).

         ANALYSIS

         ¶11 This case presents us with three potential issues for review. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court erred in not admitting Mr. Sanchez's proffered statements under rule 106 of the Utah Rules of Evidence but determined that the error was harmless. Mr. Sanchez sought certiorari review of this decision, arguing that the court of appeals erred (1) by using the incorrect harmlessness standard and (2) in its construction and application of the extreme emotional distress special mitigation statute. The state cross petitioned, arguing that the court of appeals was incorrect in holding that rule 106 required admission of statements that would otherwise constitute self-serving, inadmissible hearsay.

         ¶12 Although we granted the state's cross petition as a separate issue for our review, it functions as an alternative ground for us to affirm the court of appeals. Since we determine that if error existed, it was harmless, we first provide some discussion as to whether rule 106 would apply to the proffered statements, but we decline to reach the issue, proceeding to the prejudice prong. We do so because, even under the assumption that the trial court erred, the court of appeals used the correct prejudice standard in finding any potential error harmless and reached the correct result. Finally, we discuss and apply the correct standard for the extreme emotional defense mitigation and conclude that any error was harmless.

         I. ADMISSIBILITY OF DEFENDANT'S STATEMENTS TO DETECTIVE REYES UNDER RULE 106

         ¶13 The first issue we consider is whether the court of appeals was correct in concluding that Mr. Sanchez's statements to Detective Reyes should have been admitted under Utah Rule of Evidence 106. We begin by discussing the relevant trial court testimony and the lower court rulings. After that, we discuss the threshold questions necessary to determine whether rule 106 applies. The parties did not brief these threshold questions. And we decline to render an opinion where the parties have not "provide[d] reasoned argument and [valid] legal authority." A.S. v. R.S., 2017 UT 77, ¶ 16, 416 P.3d 465 (second alteration in original) (citation omitted). Further, because we determine that any error in not admitting the evidence under rule 106 would be harmless, we do not need to determine if there was error.

         A. Trial Testimony and Lower Court Rulings

         ¶14 At trial, Detective Reyes provided lengthy testimony regarding his interview with Mr. Sanchez. Relevant to the rule 106 argument, Detective Reyes testified that Mr. Sanchez told him that the fight started the night before when "he got mad at her and he pulled her hair." Additionally, Detective Reyes asked Mr. Sanchez "specifically about the choking," and "if [the victim] was saying anything or reacting at all to him when he was choking her[, ] and [Mr. Sanchez] said that she wasn't saying much[;] she was just screaming."

         ¶15 On cross-examination, Mr. Sanchez wanted to elicit testimony from Detective Reyes about statements Mr. Sanchez made during the interview where he claimed that the victim repeatedly told him that she was having an affair with his brother and refused to say she would stop. Mr. Sanchez acknowledged that his statements to the detective were hearsay, not admissible under rule 801(d)(2) of the Utah Rules of Evidence, [3] but argued several theories for admissibility, including Utah Rule of Evidence 106. The trial court ruled that the proffered statements were not admissible under any of the theories Mr. Sanchez presented.

         ¶16 Before us, Mr. Sanchez has only presented the argument that his statements should have been admitted under rule 106 of the Utah Rules of Evidence. Rule 106 provides as follows: "If a party introduces all or part of a writing or recorded statement, an adverse party may require the introduction, at that time, of any other part-or any other writing or recorded statement-that in fairness ought to be considered at the same time." Utah R. Evid. 106.

         ¶17 The trial court rejected Mr. Sanchez's rule 106 argument, concluding that fairness did not require admitting the statements because they were a self-serving, after-the-fact explanation, temporally unrelated to the inculpatory portions of the interview previously admitted.

         ¶18 A majority of the court of appeals concluded that rule 106 covers both timing and admissibility and that the trial court abused its discretion by not admitting the proffered portions of the testimony. State v. Sanchez, 2016 UT App 189, ¶¶ 18, 30-31, 380 P.3d 375. Nevertheless, the court of appeals affirmed, holding that the error was harmless. Id. ¶ 46. Mr. Sanchez filed a writ of certiorari on this determination, and the state cross petitioned, arguing that the court of appeals erred by (1) deciding rule 106 applied without first determining whether the introduced statements were misleading and (2) concluding that rule 106 can overcome other rules of evidence that prevent admissibility.

         B. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.