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State v. Holland

Court of Appeals of Utah

October 25, 2018

State of Utah, Appellee,
v.
Talea Louise Holland, Appellant.

          Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Katie Bernards-Goodman No. 151903001

          Justin Knell, Attorney for Appellant

          Simarjit S. Gill and Richard J. Pehrson, Attorneys for Appellee.

          Judge Diana Hagen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Kate A. Toomey and David N. Mortensen concurred.

          OPINION

          HAGEN, JUDGE.

         ¶1 Talea Louise Holland appeals her conviction for possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person. She contends that the State presented insufficient evidence to establish that she was a restricted person, namely an unlawful user of a controlled substance. We affirm.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         ¶2 A police officer responded to a local hardware store to investigate a report of retail theft by Holland. After speaking with Holland and the loss prevention employee, the officer arrested Holland for shoplifting. In performing a search incident to that arrest, the officer found several suspicious items in Holland's purse. Specifically, the officer found brass knuckles and a small, black kit that contained a pick and two spoons covered with brown residue. Relying on sixteen years of experience as a police officer and his drug-specific training, the officer believed that the pick was a type commonly associated with drug use and that the brown residue on the spoons was consistent with heroin.

         ¶3 Based on "the way she looked that day" and her "demeanor," the officer suspected that Holland was "struggling" and asked her whether "she had a problem with drugs." According to the officer, Holland responded that "she is a drug user," "she was having some issues with it," and she had "been struggling to control her addiction."

         ¶4 The State charged Holland with possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person, possession of drug paraphernalia, and retail theft. With respect to the possession of a dangerous weapon charge, the State contended that the brass knuckles in Holland's purse constituted a "dangerous weapon" and that she was a restricted person based on her status as an "unlawful user of a controlled substance." At Holland's request, the court bifurcated the trial on that count. The jury would consider whether Holland intentionally or knowingly possessed a dangerous weapon. If it found that she had, the district court would then determine whether she was an unlawful user of a controlled substance restricted from possessing such a weapon.

         ¶5 At the conclusion of trial, the jury found Holland guilty of possession of a dangerous weapon, possession of drug paraphernalia, and retail theft. The district court then considered the bifurcated element and found beyond a reasonable doubt that Holland was an unlawful user of a controlled substance. In reaching this conclusion, the district court focused on Holland's statement that she was "struggling" with her drug addiction, which the court interpreted as currently relapsing or using controlled substances. In its oral ruling, the court also pointed to the drug paraphernalia in Holland's purse as evidence that she was currently using drugs. The court entered a judgment of conviction on all three counts.

         ¶6 Holland appeals.

         ISSUE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶7 Holland initially raised three issues on appeal, contending that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to prove three elements beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) that the brass knuckles were a "dangerous weapon" as defined in Utah Code section 76-10-501(6); (2) that the black kit constituted drug paraphernalia under the factors in Utah Code section 58-37a-4; and (3) that she was an "unlawful user of a controlled ...


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