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State v. Vigil

Court of Appeals of Utah

August 1, 2019

State of Utah, Appellee,
v.
Erika Vigil, Appellant.

          Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Paul B. Parker No. 161901897

          Peter Daines, Attorney for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and Jeffrey D. Mann, Attorneys for Appellee

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

          OPINION

          APPLEBY, JUDGE

         ¶1 Erika Vigil (Defendant) saw her live-in boyfriend (Boyfriend) point a gun at the head of someone (Victim) who was trying to help her. Boyfriend also took Victim's wallet and phone before fleeing the scene. Once the police arrived and questioned her, Defendant repeatedly denied knowing the person who committed these crimes and gave them a name she knew was false. Ultimately, though, her relationship with Boyfriend came to light and she was charged with obstructing justice and convicted after a jury trial. Defendant appeals, arguing she received ineffective assistance of counsel when her attorney did not object to one of the jury instructions. We affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Victim was returning home after removing snow from his neighbors' driveways when Defendant, who "looked frantic and scared," approached him asking for help.[1] Defendant had just escaped from a car Boyfriend was driving after he assaulted her because he believed she had "snitched" to the police about a friend. In light of Defendant's distress, Victim handed her his phone and she made a call, then asked him for a ride. Victim urged Defendant to call the police, but she refused.

         ¶3 A car approached, parking near them, and Boyfriend yelled at Defendant, "Get in the fucking car, bitch." Victim raised his phone to photograph Boyfriend, who "exited the vehicle with a handkerchief up over his face with a gun drawn running at [Victim]." Victim testified the gun was "pointed in [his] face and [Boyfriend] demand[ed] [his] phone." Victim threw down the phone and Defendant picked it up then took Victim's wallet.

         ¶4 After a person in a nearby house opened a door and announced "[t]he cops are on their way," Boyfriend got back into the car and fled the scene, but within a short distance his car collided with another vehicle. Defendant went to Boyfriend's car and looked for something, then asked the driver of the other vehicle "where [Boyfriend] went." After the vehicle's driver told Defendant that Boyfriend had "just [run] up the street," Defendant said she would "go find him."

         ¶5 Defendant eventually went inside a nearby house, where she was interviewed by one officer, then another. Apparently unwilling to "snitch" on Boyfriend, Defendant told each officer she had accepted a ride from a stranger because he was "cute," and she repeatedly said she did not know the car's driver, but thought his name was Joey. Defendant also gave the officers misleading information about where she lived. Not surprisingly, the ensuing search for "Joey" was unsuccessful. After more than a week of investigation, the police identified Boyfriend as a suspect and learned that he and Defendant lived in the same apartment. They obtained surveillance video from a store Boyfriend ran through after the crash and showed it to Defendant, who finally identified Boyfriend.

         ¶6 Defendant was charged with obstruction of justice, and the matter proceeded to a jury trial. At the conclusion of trial, the judge asked counsel about the proposed jury instructions, including Instruction 28, and Defendant's counsel (Trial Counsel) said, "They look good to the defense." Instruction 28 told the jury that to convict Defendant of obstructing justice, it must find that she:

Knowingly or intentionally, and with intent to hinder, delay, or prevent the investigation, apprehension, prosecution, conviction, or punishment of any person regarding conduct that constitutes a criminal offense; (a) Prevented by deception, any person from performing any act that might aid in the discovery, apprehension, prosecution, conviction, or punishment of any person; OR (b) Provided false information regarding a ...

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