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Arriaga v. State

Court of Appeals of Utah

August 23, 2018

Benjamin Arriaga, Appellant,
v.
State of Utah, Appellee.

          Third District Court, West Jordan Department The Honorable Charlene Barlow No. 120404690

          Emily Adams, Attorney for Appellant [1]

          Sean D. Reyes and Mark C. Field, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Gregory K. Orme authored this Opinion, in which Judge Michele M. Christiansen Forster concurred. Judge Jill M. Pohlman concurred in part and concurred in the result in part, with opinion.

          OPINION

          ORME, Judge.

         ¶1 Appellant Benjamin Arriaga (Defendant) appeals the district court's order granting the State's summary judgment motion and denying his petition for postconviction relief. Defendant pled guilty to murder, a first degree felony, and was sentenced to prison in 2011. He now challenges his guilty plea on the grounds that it was not knowing or voluntary and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. We affirm the summary judgment denying his petition for postconviction relief.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Defendant admitted to police that, on April 4, 2010, he shot and killed the man (Victim) who was having an affair with his wife. He explained that, having discovered the affair, he angrily confronted Victim in a park. Defendant then pointed a gun at Victim, intending to scare him into admitting to the affair. When Victim admitted to sleeping with Defendant's wife, Defendant replied that "this kind of thing is not forgiven." Defendant said that Victim then lunged for the gun, and a struggle ensued. Defendant told police that the gun discharged several times in the course of the struggle, and Victim was shot once in the abdomen, once in the leg, twice in the back, and once in the back of the head.

         ¶3 The State charged Defendant with murder, a first degree felony, see Utah Code Ann. § 76-5-203(3)(a) (LexisNexis 2017); the purchase, transfer, possession, or use of a firearm by a restricted person, a second degree felony, see id. § 76-10-503(2)(a); and obstruction of justice, a second degree felony, see id. § 76-8-306(3)(a).[2] Defendant entered into a plea bargain, agreeing to plead guilty to murder if the other charges were dismissed. At the plea hearing, Defendant acknowledged he knew that by pleading guilty he was waiving his constitutional rights, including the right to the presumption of innocence and the right to a jury trial.[3] Defendant further acknowledged that he understood everything that his counsel had discussed with him, including the plea affidavit. The court then inquired whether Defendant had any questions about the plea affidavit, to which Defendant replied that he did not.

         ¶4 After trial counsel described the factual basis for Defendant's murder charge, Defendant made statements implying that he acted in self-defense:

[TRIAL COUNSEL]: Your Honor, on April 4th 2010 in Salt Lake County [Defendant] confronted a man who had been sleeping with his wife. An argument and subsequent fight took place at which time he pulled out a firearm and he shot the man killing him.
THE COURT: Is that what happened, [Defendant]?
THE DEFENDANT: I defended myself. It was not my intention. I never thought about hurting him.
. . . .
[TRIAL COUNSEL]: Your Honor, we had- discussed the imperfect self-defense concept and that he did pull out a gun to get the man to confess to sleeping with his wife. And that the man charged at him but ...

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