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State v. Martinez-Castellanos

Court of Appeals of Utah

April 4, 2019

State of Utah, Appellee,
Abisai Martinez-Castellanos, Appellant.

          Fourth District Court, Nephi Department The Honorable M. James Brady No. 101600146

          Linda M. Jones and Noella A. Sudbury, Attorneys for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and Christopher D. Ballard, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Kate Appleby authored this Opinion, in which Judge David N. Mortensen concurred.

          APPLEBY, JUDGE:

         ¶1 This case is on remand from the Utah Supreme Court. Abisai Martinez-Castellanos was convicted of two counts of possession of or use of a controlled substance, one count of possession of drug paraphernalia, and one count of driving with a controlled substance in the body after a Utah Highway Patrol trooper (Officer) found drugs and drug paraphernalia in his car during a traffic stop.

         ¶2 Martinez-Castellanos appealed his convictions to this court, arguing that his trial attorney (Trial Counsel) was ineffective during jury selection and for failing to adequately litigate a motion to suppress evidence. He also argued that the district court erred in post-trial proceedings in which separate conflict counsel was appointed to represent Martinez-Castellanos on whether Trial Counsel was ineffective during the motion to suppress stage.

         ¶3 On appeal, this court determined that, although each of Martinez-Castellanos's claims constituted error, based on the lack of sufficient prejudice, none of those errors warranted reversal on its own. We made that determination, in part, because his claims regarding the motion to suppress required a showing that the motion was meritorious, and the lack of representation that he received on that motion made us reluctant to resolve the issue based on the facts in the record. We nonetheless reversed and remanded for a new trial because the cumulative effect of the errors undermined our confidence that Martinez-Castellanos received a fair trial.

         ¶4 On certiorari, the Utah Supreme Court reversed our decision, concluding that, without a determination that the motion to suppress was meritorious, two of the three errors could not have caused Martinez-Castellanos any harm and therefore could not cumulate into reversible error. But the court noted that, with such a determination, each of those errors would support a reversal on its own. Thus, the court remanded the case for us to determine the narrow issue of whether the motion to suppress was meritorious.

         ¶5 Based on the record and arguments before us, we conclude that the motion to suppress was not meritorious. Specifically, Martinez-Castellanos has failed to demonstrate a reasonable probability that the motion would have been granted but for Trial Counsel's ineffective assistance. We therefore affirm Martinez-Castellanos's convictions because the errors in the district court did not result in sufficient prejudice to warrant reversal. But because of an error in Martinez-Castellanos's sentence for one of the counts of possession of a controlled substance, we vacate his sentence on that count and remand for the district court to correct the error.


         ¶6 During a traffic stop in 2010, Officer discovered drugs and drug paraphernalia in Martinez-Castellanos's car.[1] Officer arrested Martinez-Castellanos and obtained a blood sample that later tested positive for a marijuana metabolite at a level consistent with recent use. The State charged Martinez-Castellanos with two counts of possession or use of a controlled substance, one count of possession of drug paraphernalia, and one count of driving with a controlled substance in the body.

         ¶7 Before trial, Trial Counsel filed a motion to suppress all evidence seized "at the time of [Martinez-Castellanos's] arrest," including the drugs and drug paraphernalia found in the car and the blood sample. The motion asserted that this evidence "was seized in violation of Martinez Castellanos's constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures." In the motion, Trial Counsel requested an evidentiary hearing "to determine if appropriate consent was given and, if there was no consent given, that all evidence seized be suppressed and not be admitted as evidence in any proceeding hereafter."

         ¶8 A week after Trial Counsel filed the motion to suppress, the district court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion, at which Officer was the only witness. Officer first discussed his relevant "training and experience with drug interdiction and detection." He said he had "been an officer for about 20 years in various capacities," and had "been on the Utah Highway Patrol drug and interdiction squad since 2001." He had "been through numerous training classes associated with the interdiction squad" and was a certified "drug recognition expert" as well as a drug-recognition-expert "instructor."

         ¶9 Next, Officer detailed the traffic stop. He said he initially stopped Martinez-Castellanos because the registration stickers on his California license plates did not comply with California law. And when Officer "first walked up to the car," he noticed Martinez-Castellanos making "jittery movements." Martinez-Castellanos handed Officer the car's registration and "an expired Colorado driver's license," assuring Officer that "he had a valid Utah license" but "just didn't have it with him." The registration revealed that, although the car "was properly registered . . ., the proper stickers weren't put on it yet." Officer and Martinez-Castellanos then "had a conversation about" the improper registration stickers.

         ¶10 During the conversation, Officer noticed again that Martinez-Castellanos "was a little bit jittery." That is, he had "rapid speech and rapid . . . jittery movements." This made Officer "a little bit concerned that he might have been on some type of stimulant." Officer testified, "[B]ased on my training and experience as a police officer and dealing with thousands of cars that I've stopped in my career, this made me . . . [think] he was under the influence of something." According to Officer, Martinez-Castellanos's behavior was "more . . . than what you'd expect based upon nervousness of a driver." He explained that, in his experience, "there's a difference" between "nervousness" and a person who is "jittery" and "talking really fast."

         ¶11 On cross-examination, Officer admitted he had never "seen [Martinez-Castellanos] before" and did not "know anything at all about him" other than what he observed during the stop. But he said, "[B]ased on all the people I arrest for stimulants and deal with," Martinez-Castellanos's "jittery movements" and "rapid speech" "[made me think] he could have been under [the influence of] stimulants."

         ¶12 After informing Martinez-Castellanos that his registration stickers were improper, Officer returned to the patrol vehicle and "ran checks," which confirmed that Martinez-Castellanos had a valid Utah driver license. But the report also revealed that Martinez-Castellanos "had a criminal history," including "drug offenses." Specifically, he had miscellaneous theft charges dating back to 1997, a charge from 2001 that led to a felony conviction for controlled substance possession, a felony charge for controlled substance possession from 2006, and a 2007 probation revocation for possession of a controlled substance. Officer said that Martinez-Castellanos's criminal history "heightened [his] suspicions that [Martinez-Castellanos] might be [under] the influence of something."

         ¶13 Officer then returned to Martinez-Castellanos's car and, based on his suspicion of impairment, told Martinez-Castellanos he was going to perform "field sobriety tests" because "he was bouncing around a little bit." On cross-examination, Trial Counsel asked Officer to clarify "the basis for doing the field sobriety tests." Officer said the main "reason for doing it" was the "jittery movements" and "rapid speech," which led him to believe that Martinez-Castellanos was under the influence of "stimulants." Further, although Martinez-Castellanos's criminal history "wasn't the reason [he] did it," he said the prior drug-related activity "added to [his] suspicions."

         ¶14 Upon re-approaching the car, Officer asked Martinez-Castellanos to exit the vehicle and then performed various sobriety and drug-recognition tests. Based on those tests, Officer concluded that Martinez-Castellanos was under the influence. Officer arrested Martinez-Castellanos and proceeded to search the car, discovering the drugs and drug paraphernalia. Later, at the ...

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