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State v. Lane

Court of Appeals of Utah

May 23, 2019

State of Utah, Appellee,
v.
Anthony Tyrone Lane, Appellant.

          Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Katie Bernards-Goodman No. 161901895

          Teresa L. Welch, Attorney for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and Kris C. Leonard, Attorneys for Appellee

          JUDGE KATE APPLEBY authored this Opinion, in which JUDGE MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER concurred.

          APPLEBY, JUDGE.

         ¶1 Anthony Tyrone Lane appeals his convictions for aggravated assault and possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person. He argues the district court erred in applying the doctrine of chances and improperly admitted prejudicial prior act evidence. He also argues his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request the trial court judge's disqualification based on remarks she made during a pretrial hearing. We reject Lane's ineffective assistance of counsel claim but conclude the prior act evidence should have been excluded and therefore remand for a new trial.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Lane lives in Salt Lake City.[1] In February 2016, he was in a physical altercation with the victim (Victim) at a homeless shelter. Lane was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person. Trial was held in August 2016.

         ¶3 Victim was the first witness to testify. Victim previously lived at the shelter and returned there that day to pick up mail. After realizing the mailroom was closed, he wandered around talking to people. There were "50 to 100 people milling around" the shelter, including Lane. Victim testified that as he was talking, he "got side blinded, got punched in the face and . . . just started swinging back at the direction that it came from." Several people broke up the fight. Victim "took a few steps" back and "then it started up again." Victim testified he got punched again, "went down to duck a punch," and when he came back up, he "was bleeding." He thought he had just been punched but guessed he "ended up getting sliced." Victim sustained three lacerations to his face as a result of the incident. Lane ended up with a small cut on his finger. Victim denied using a knife in the altercation and denied having one.

         ¶4 The State presented surveillance footage of the incident. At first, Victim could not identify himself on the video recording and testified he was unsure with whom he was fighting. Victim added that it was "hard to see" what was going on in the footage. He testified multiple times he did not know who hit him. After the altercation, Victim left the scene to try to catch a train to a hospital. He was bleeding severely and had a towel on his face when he was stopped by a security officer. Police officers arrived and called for an ambulance. Victim was treated at a hospital for his injuries.

         ¶5 A witness (Witness) to the altercation also testified. Witness was a shelter resident who saw Lane and Victim "get into an altercation" and then being "pulled apart." He testified he saw Lane "excuse[] himself," but then "they got into [a] second altercation [and he] noticed both of them had blades." "A crowd was following them," and "when [Lane] left and [Victim] pursued," the crowd "let them get into it again." Witness saw Lane "sidestep [Victim] and throw a punch back at him." Witness testified that Lane "clearly took off . . . [and] was trying to avoid that whole mess."

         ¶6 One of the responding officers (Officer) also testified. Officer commonly patrols the shelter and considers it a "high crime area." He investigates "anywhere from 15 to 30" incidents a day, ranging from "drug crimes on up to pretty serious cases." He testified that it is "not uncommon for people to have guns and all sorts of other things down there." He arrived on the scene and Victim told him that he challenged Lane first for "being a big mouth" and "acting tough." When shown footage of the incident, Officer testified he "couldn't tell a whole lot from the surveillance video."

         ¶7 The second day of trial primarily consisted of testimony regarding two prior incidents involving Lane. Before trial, the State filed a motion asking the court to admit evidence of incidents that occurred at the shelter in 2012 (2012 Incident) and 2015 (2015 Incident). The State sought to introduce the evidence under rule 404(b) of the Utah Rules of Evidence or, in the alternative, the doctrine of chances. The State argued that these incidents were offered for a proper non-character purpose under rule 404(b) to show "intent, plan, absence of mistake, motive, lack of accident, and to rebut [Lane's] self-defense claim." Specifically, the State argued that "the prior bad act evidence will prove [Lane assaulted Victim with unlawful force or violence] by showing that [Lane] knew what he was doing when he assaulted [Victim] with a sharp object, that he had a plan and motive to injure [Victim], and that he was not acting in self-defense." The State also argued this evidence was relevant and that the probative value was not substantially outweighed by unfair prejudice.

         ¶8 In the alternative, the State argued the evidence should be admitted under the doctrine of chances. The State contended "the evidence of [Lane's] two prior bad acts [was] offered to counter his claim of self-defense in the current case" and to "show that it is unlikely that [he] would be placed in a situation three times in four years that would require cutting the victims' faces in self-defense." The State claimed it was not "assert[ing] that [Lane] has a propensity for cutting faces." The State argued that the evidence was relevant, it was being offered for a proper non-character purpose, and its probative value substantially outweighed its prejudicial effect.

         ¶9 The district court ruled that the two prior incidents involving Lane were admissible under the doctrine of chances because the foundational requirements were met (that is, materiality, similarity, independence, and frequency). The court admitted the evidence of the two incidents on this ground but did not evaluate it under rule 403.

         ¶10 At trial, the following evidence was presented regarding the 2015 Incident. A woman (2015 Witness) who once lived at the shelter testified first. She testified that the altercation began with Lane arguing with a man and Lane was "as always . . . letting him know who he was." 2015 Witness testified that after the two stopped yelling Lane walked away, then returned and "slashed" the man in the face. She testified the other man did not have a weapon. After that, 2015 Witness approached the man and put a shirt on his face and waited for medical assistance. After 2015 Witness was excused, the court-without prompting from the parties-reminded the jury that the "last witness has to do with a separate incident from the one we talked about yesterday. And witnesses from here on out are separate, right? 2015 instead of 2016."

         ¶11 A responding officer (2015 Officer) also testified about the 2015 Incident. He was patrolling the shelter that day and separated Lane from a man with whom Lane was arguing. A few minutes after separating the men, 2015 Officer was called to respond to a "fight with a knife." As 2015 Officer approached, he saw a man "being attended to by several other individuals . . . [and 2015 Officer] could see blood seeping through [a] cloth [held to the man's face]. There was blood on the ground and then also blood on the [man's] shirt." The individuals attending to the man told 2015 Officer that Lane cut him.[2] When 2015 Officer encountered Lane after the incident, Lane told 2015 Officer "it was self-defense." Another responding officer testified that officers seized a box cutter from Lane. The other man was transported to the hospital for a "deep laceration" on the left side of his face "starting just above the ear and continuing all the way down to the corner of his mouth." Lane was later charged with assault in connection with the 2015 Incident. The case went to trial and a jury found Lane not guilty.

         ¶12 The State next introduced evidence from the 2012 Incident. A responding officer (2012 Officer) was called to the shelter on a report of a "man with a knife." 2012 Officer "noticed [Lane] bleeding from the mouth, [and it] looked like he'd been involved in an altercation." 2012 Officer observed a knife approximately seven to eight feet away from Lane that was "silver in color, had a wooden handle, [and] about a 4-inch blade." Lane told 2012 Officer the knife was his. 2012 Officer could not recall whether there was blood on it. He testified Lane was the only individual bleeding. A second officer testified that Lane said the man he was fighting with "struck him with a head-butt and then punched him and then [Lane] drew a knife." Lane claimed he produced the knife in self-defense. He pled guilty to assault for the 2012 Incident.

         ¶13 At the conclusion of trial, the jury convicted Lane of two felony charges: aggravated assault and possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person. The court sentenced Lane and he appeals.

         ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         ¶14 Lane raises two issues on appeal. First, Lane contends the district court improperly applied the doctrine of chances analysis in admitting evidence of the 2012 and 2015 incidents. "The appropriate standard of review for a district court's decision to admit or exclude evidence is abuse of discretion." State v. Lowther, 2017 UT 34, ¶ 17, 398 P.3d 1032 (quotation simplified). "A district court abuses its discretion when it admits or excludes evidence under the wrong legal standard." Id. (quotation simplified). Reversal is warranted if "absent the error, there was a reasonable likelihood of a more favorable result for the party," and therefore "our confidence in the jury's verdict is undermined." Robinson v. Taylor, 2015 UT 69, ¶ 39, 356 P.3d 1230 (quotations simplified).

         ¶15 Second, Lane contends his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request the trial judge's disqualification based on remarks she made to him during a pretrial hearing. "An ineffective assistance of counsel claim raised for the first time on appeal presents a question of law." State v. Ott, 2010 UT 1, ¶ 16, 247 P.3d 344 (quotation simplified).

         ANALYSIS

         I. Prior Act Evidence

         ¶16 Lane argues the district court improperly applied the doctrine of chances in admitting evidence of the 2012 and 2015 incidents. Specifically, Lane contends the court erred in admitting the prior act evidence ...


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