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State v. Horvath

Court of Appeals of Utah

August 23, 2018

State of Utah, Appellee,
Breanna Lynn Horvath, Appellant.

          Filed August 23, 2018

          Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Todd M. Shaughnessy No. 141910232

          Alexandra S. McCallum, Attorney for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and Karen A. Klucznik, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Jill M. Pohlman authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory K. Orme and Diana Hagen concurred.


          POHLMAN, JUDGE

         ¶1 Breanna Lynn Horvath appeals her convictions of one count of obstruction of justice and one count of reckless driving. Regarding her obstruction of justice conviction, Horvath argues that the trial court erred by refusing her request for a lesser-included-offense instruction and that she received constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel because her counsel failed to object to an allegedly erroneous instruction. As to her reckless driving conviction, she argues that the court incorrectly entered the conviction as a class A misdemeanor rather than a class B misdemeanor. We affirm Horvath's obstruction of justice conviction, but we vacate her reckless driving sentence and remand the case to the trial court to correct the penalty classification and to amend her sentence accordingly on that count.


         The Car Chase

         ¶2 Horvath's convictions arise from a car chase involving Horvath, another driver (Other Driver), and a detective (Detective). In July 2014, West Valley City police officers were surveilling a house near 4000 West and 3500 South. The police had received information that a witness to a homicide frequented this particular house. The officers were in plain-clothes, and their vehicles were unmarked. One of the officers (Officer) was parked in a lot facing the house, while Detective was parked in a grocery store parking lot on 4000 West, facing the street.

         ¶3 Officer observed two people exit the house around the same time, and he alerted Detective. The first person to exit, Other Driver, entered a Pontiac. The second person, Horvath, entered a Subaru. Both cars drove away from the house "[w]ithin seconds" of each other, with Other Driver leading.

         ¶4 Meanwhile, Officer and Detective confirmed Other Driver's identity through a records check and discovered that he was on parole, that the car he was driving was registered to him but uninsured, and that his license was invalid. Officer and Detective determined Detective would initiate a traffic stop with Other Driver and Officer would assist him once the stop was made.

         ¶5 From his parked location, Detective watched Other Driver drive past him. Other Driver looked at Detective "quite heavily," making sustained eye contact with Detective while he drove by. Detective observed Horvath pass by him "immediately" afterward, at which point Detective "pulled out on to the street" behind the two cars. Once Detective did so, both cars "began to accelerate very, very rapidly" toward the intersection of 4000 West and 3500 South. Detective then saw both cars make right turns onto 3500 South "against the red light with . . . no signal."

         ¶6 Detective continued to follow Other Driver and Horvath, observing them drive aggressively and apparently in tandem with one another. They merged into the center passing lane on 3500 South, using it "as a travel lane" to speed past the traffic waiting for the light at the Bangerter Highway intersection. Detective estimated that the cars were traveling at approximately sixty miles per hour. Both cars then ran the red light at Bangerter Highway, continuing east on 3500 South toward the I-215 interchange. Detective followed them, working his way closer through the traffic.

         ¶7 The center turn lane that both cars had been using as a travel lane became a bus lane after Bangerter Highway, and 3500 South eastbound opened up to three travel lanes. Detective observed both cars merge right, out of the center lane, and into slower traffic. At that point, both Other Driver and Horvath continued to drive "very aggressively," cutting off other vehicles, making abrupt lane changes without signaling, and accelerating around other vehicles. To keep up with the cars, Detective had to employ similarly aggressive driving tactics.

         ¶8 After several blocks, at approximately 3300 West, Detective caught up to Other Driver, ending up "directly behind" him within one car length. In doing so, Detective lost sight of Horvath. Detective activated his lights and siren, signaling Other Driver to pull over. Although Detective's vehicle was unmarked, Detective testified at trial that it was equipped with a combination of white, red, and blue flashing lights around all sides of the vehicle at various heights and locations, and that the lights were "very, very visible" from every direction. When activated, lights flashed in the headlights, the brake lights, the grill, the fog lights, and on bars around the front, sides, and back.

          ¶9 Other Driver did not stop. Instead, he "continued to accelerate" and drive aggressively, "cutting off cars, driving around cars quickly, [and] not using [his] signal." From Detective's perspective, Other Driver appeared to be "run[ning] from [him]." Detective tried to keep up with Other Driver by driving in the same aggressive manner over several blocks. During this time, Detective did not observe Horvath's location.

         ¶10 As Other Driver and Detective approached 2900 West, Other Driver merged into the innermost lane to pass a slowing vehicle in the center lane, and Detective followed. After passing the slowing vehicle, Other Driver merged back into the center lane. Detective tried to follow Other Driver into that lane, but as he began to merge, Detective saw "out of [his] peripheral vision" Horvath accelerating toward his vehicle into the center lane at the same time, "almost causing a collision." Indeed, Detective testified that he "had to jerk [his] wheel back into the [innermost] lane to avoid a collision." While she merged into the center lane, Horvath kept her car parallel with Detective's vehicle, and Detective testified that Horvath "maintained direct eye contact" with him for three to five seconds, that he did not observe "any panic" or "shock on her face" as if she had merged accidentally, and that she was looking at him with an aggressive expression on her face, as though she was "mad at [him]."

         ¶11 Thereafter, Horvath did not move out of Detective's way, but continued to stay in the center lane, blocking him from pursuing Other Driver. Although Detective was eventually able to work his way around other vehicles to continue the pursuit, Other Driver had gained too much ground. When Detective saw Other Driver merge onto I-215, he broke off pursuit.

         The ...

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