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State v. Bruhn

Court of Appeals of Utah

February 7, 2019

State of Utah, Appellee,
v.
Sandra Dee Bruhn, Appellant.

          Fourth District Court, Nephi Department The Honorable Jennifer A. Brown No. 141600121

          Nathan Phelps, Attorney for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and Jeffrey S. Gray, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Diana Hagen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Jill M. Pohlman and Ryan M. Harris concurred.

          HAGEN, JUDGE:

         ¶1 Sandra Dee Bruhn appeals her convictions for possession of a controlled substance and operating or riding in a motor vehicle with an open container. Bruhn contends that her trial counsel provided ineffective assistance and requests that we reconsider our prior denial of her rule 23B motion to remand to the district court for fact-finding.

         ¶2 In her rule 23B motion, Bruhn argues that, because her trial counsel was aware that Bruhn could not remember the details of the events surrounding her criminal charges, he provided ineffective assistance by failing to request a competency evaluation before trial. Because knowledge of Bruhn's memory loss alone did not require her trial counsel, under the facts of this case, to request a competency evaluation and Bruhn has alleged no other facts that would have suggested that she was incompetent to stand trial, we decline to reconsider our denial of her rule 23B motion. And because Bruhn has conceded that she cannot prevail on appeal without a rule 23B remand, we affirm her convictions.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶3 Two individuals were involved in a single-vehicle accident. When law enforcement arrived on the scene of the accident, they discovered a woman "inside the vehicle over on the passenger side in the front seat" and a man who "appeared to have been ejected [from the vehicle] that was lying on the left side of the vehicle towards the back of it" who later identified himself as the driver. After the driver and the woman were transported to the hospital, law enforcement searched the interior of the vehicle and the scattered debris. Documents in the vehicle glovebox identified Bruhn as the registered owner of the vehicle. Bruhn's driver license was also found in a purse in the debris, identifying Bruhn as the woman found in the passenger side of the wrecked vehicle.

         ¶4 In Bruhn's purse, an officer discovered a purple latex glove with the open end tied in a knot. In the process of removing the glove from the purse, the officer felt a crystal substance inside the glove. Suspecting that the crystal substance was methamphetamine, he cut the glove open and performed a field test that confirmed his suspicion.

         ¶5 In another bag found at the scene, law enforcement discovered three "dime baggies" of methamphetamine, a pipe for smoking methamphetamine, a prescription bottle of Metadate pills, [1] a small baggie of marijuana, and a pipe for smoking marijuana. Among the debris around the wrecked car, officers also discovered an open container of alcohol inside a bag, plastic baggies and latex gloves inside another bag, and a prescription bottle of methylphenidate pills. According to the labels on both bottles of prescription pills, neither had been prescribed to Bruhn.

         ¶6 Based on the drugs, drug paraphernalia, and open container discovered at the accident scene, the State charged Bruhn with possession of methamphetamine, possession of Metadate, possession of methylphenidate, possession of marijuana, and operating or riding in a motor vehicle with an open container. Bruhn and the driver were tried together.

         ¶7 During opening statements, Bruhn's trial counsel told the jury that Bruhn "was seriously injured in [the] accident" and, as a result, "she lost a lot of her memory and not a lot of [it] . . . has returned to her." Her trial counsel added that Bruhn "is going to be listening to what transpires today, look[ing] at the exhibits, and then she'll make a determination as to whether or not she can remember anything that she can offer to you by way of testimony." Bruhn ultimately chose not to testify. In closing argument, Bruhn's trial counsel again referenced Bruhn's memory loss and her injuries from the accident, stating, "I can tell you that Sandra Bruhn has gone through a lot on this, I've indicated that she couldn't testify because there is a lot of her memory that is gone from the accident." He urged the jury to "not assume that she knew what was in those bags just because her driver's license was in there" and suggested that there were questions regarding possession that "it would have been [helpful] to have been able to answer but we cannot." At the conclusion of the trial, the jury convicted Bruhn of all charges.

         ¶8 After trial but before sentencing, Bruhn submitted a letter to the district court in which she "admit[ted] possession of meth, possession of marijuana, and possession of the prescriptions." At her sentencing hearing, Bruhn stated that she was prepared to "take accountability" for her actions and admitted that she moved her identification into the purse "with all of the drugs." Bruhn also stated that she appeared to behave differently at sentencing than she had during her initial court appearances because she had previously been suffering from ...


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