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State v. Apodaca

Supreme Court of Utah

August 29, 2019

State of Utah, Respondent,
v.
Robert S. Apodaca, Petitioner.

          On Certiorari to the Utah Court of Appeals Third District, Salt Lake The Honorable Randall N. Skanchy No. 121911274

          Sean D. Reyes, Att'y Gen., John J. Nielsen, Asst. Solic. Gen., Nathan Evershed, Salt Lake City, for respondent

          Lori J. Seppi, Salt Lake City, for petitioner

          Justice Himonas authored the opinion of the Court in which Chief Justice Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Pearce, and Justice Petersen joined.

          OPINION

          HIMONAS JUSTICE

         INTRODUCTION

         ¶1 Robert Apodaca asks us to reverse the court of appeals' affirmance of his convictions for aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, and obstruction of justice. He contends that the court of appeals erred in affirming the trial court's conclusion that his confession and other incriminating statements made to police would have been admissible at trial as impeachment evidence, despite an acknowledged violation of his Miranda rights, which barred the statements from being used in the State's case-in- chief. Additionally, he contends that the court of appeals erred in affirming his conviction for aggravated robbery in the face of a faulty jury instruction that improperly recited the requisite mental state for the offense.

         ¶2 The court of appeals-following the standard we set forth in State v. Arriaga-Luna, 2013 UT 56, ¶ 9, 311 P.3d 1028, which echoed the United States Supreme Court's ruling in United States v. Washington, 431 U.S. 181, 188 (1977)-properly surveyed the totality of the circumstances surrounding the statements made by Apodaca and held that Apodaca's free will was not overborne in making them. We agree. Apodaca's confession and statements to police were not coerced and would have been properly admissible against him as impeachment evidence if he had chosen to testify. Furthermore, although the jury instruction given at trial was faulty as to the proper mens rea required to convict Apodaca of aggravated robbery, we also agree with the court of appeals that it did not result in prejudice to Apodaca. Accordingly we affirm the decision of the court of appeals in its entirety.

         BACKGROUND

         The Crime

         ¶3 Apodaca's co-defendant Brandon Montoya testified at trial that on November 28, 2012, he had purchased a small amount of oxycodone pills from J.H., [1] a sixteen-year-old drug dealer. Later that same day, Montoya raised the idea of robbing J.H. with Apodaca. Montoya testified that he contacted Apodaca because Apodaca had a car and that he asked Apodaca to bring a gun or someone with a gun so J.H. would "give [the drugs] up without a fight." Apodaca agreed to the plan and promised to "bring one of his homies."

         ¶4 Montoya then called J.H. to arrange to purchase a large quantity of oxycodone pills. Montoya testified at trial that, according to their plan, he, Apodaca, and Gilbert Vigil would drive to J.H.'s house and ask to do the drug deal in Apodaca's car. The plan was that once J.H. was in the car, Vigil would "just pull out the pistol and scare him, make him give the pills up, and then kick him out of the car." Montoya would feign surprise and encourage J.H. to cooperate.

         ¶5 Montoya, Apodaca, and Vigil arrived at J.H.'s girlfriend's home and asked J.H. to do the drug deal in the car. J.H. got into the backseat of the car. As J.H. counted the pills, Apodaca sped off. Vigil struck J.H. in the head with a .22 caliber revolver, then pointed it at J.H.'s head and demanded, "Give us those fucking pills."[2] As this happened, Montoya screamed, "Give them the pills. . . . I don't want to die." J.H.'s pleas to be let out of the car were ignored and he was unable to open the door while the car was in motion. J.H. attempted to get the gun from Vigil, but Vigil shot him in the stomach and multiple times in the legs. Apodaca then stopped the car, and Montoya and J.H. got out while Apodaca and Vigil drove away. Police arrested Apodaca after finding his car, which had blood stains, a wet backseat, and missing floor mats.

         Apodaca's Interview

         ¶6 Apodaca's interview with two detectives occurred in three distinct segments. The first segment, a conversation between Detective Martell and Apodaca in the squad car, was recorded. The second segment, which was not recorded, occurred while Detective Jensen transported Apodaca from the squad car to the interview room. The third segment, which was recorded, was conducted by both detectives in an interview room at the police station.

         The First Segment

         ¶7 At the beginning of the first segment, which was recorded in the squad car, Detective Martell told Apodaca he would explain his rights to him. Apodaca replied, "After you give me my rights though don't ask me no questions cuz I answering no questions bro." Detective Martell recited Apodaca's Miranda rights and acknowledged that Apodaca had invoked his right to remain silent. He then told Apodaca that he would give him "the opportunity to tell . . . [his] side."

         ¶8 Apodaca denied any wrongdoing and asked whether he was "going to jail [that night] no matter what." When Detective Martell replied that he did not know whether Apodaca was going to jail, Apodaca said, "How can I not go to jail, you guys got to start making me feel more comfortable, cuz I could help anybody as long as I'm gonna get something in the process." Apodaca consistently expressed his desire to make a deal and said that he would not incriminate himself or anyone else without getting "someone [to] tell [him] you ain't going to jail." Detective Martell said he could not make a deal, but encouraged Apodaca to talk to him because, unlike the other detectives, he understood Apodaca's background and his "hard life." Apodaca again said that he would not talk "unless [he was] getting some deals." Additionally, Apodaca said, "How about you ask them what it's gonna take for me not to go to jail and maybe I can tell them these things if they're gonna guarantee me to not go to jail."

         ¶9 Detective Martell later told Apodaca, "[T]here's no way that you're not going to jail tonight." Apodaca then asked whether the interview was being recorded. When the detective replied that it was, Apodaca indicated that he would be willing to disclose more information if the recorder was turned off. Apodaca then expressed his understanding that the detectives would add charges against him if he did not give a statement. Detective Martell replied, "No dude that's not how we work . . . it's not up to us okay? . . . It's up to the prosecuting [attorneys] to make a decision." Before Detective Jensen took custody of Apodaca, Detective Martell asked Apodaca if he was sick or injured, to which Apodaca replied, "I'm pretty sick to my stomach and I'm gonna need my methadone soon in the morning . . . . [W]hen I don't have that I can't even function." Apodaca was then transported from the police car to the interview room.

         The Second Segment

         ¶10 Because Detective Jensen and Apodaca conversed in the forensic area while Apodaca was being transported, there is an unrecorded "second segment" of his interview with police. The trial court heard testimony from Apodaca and Detective Jensen about the content of this unrecorded conversation. According to Apodaca, he invoked his right to remain silent during the first segment, but changed his mind and decided to waive his rights because of the exchange he had with Detective Jensen in the second segment. Apodaca said Detective Jensen told him that if he explained what happened, Detective Jensen would "write the DA and . . . make sure that [Apodaca would be] out by Christmas Day." Apodaca testified that he understood this as a "guaranteed" promise that he would be treated with leniency if he cooperated. He testified that if he had not received this promise, he would not have talked to police.

         ¶11 According to Detective Jensen, "no deal was ever made" during the second segment of the interview, and he did not give Apodaca "any definite answers about jail or Christmas." Detective Jensen testified that he "struck up a conversation" with Apodaca about tattoos in the forensics area of the police station after Apodaca became upset when he overheard Detective Jensen telling a technician that Apodaca may be charged with attempted homicide. Apodaca asked about the charges and expressed that he was "concerned about going to jail" and "did not want to snitch." Detective Jensen told Apodaca that "now was a good time to cooperate if he was willing to do it."

         ¶12 According to Detective Jensen, Apodaca expressed concern that "his cooperation would not get back to the prosecutors in charge of his case," so Detective Jensen told Apodaca that if he decided to cooperate, he, Detective Jensen, "would let the prosecution know that he decided to cooperate and take responsibility." The detective testified that when he said he was giving his word to Apodaca, he was only reassuring Apodaca that he would pass along the information about Apodaca's cooperation to the prosecuting attorneys.

         The Third Segment

         ¶13 The third segment took place in an interview room with Detectives Martell and Jensen and was recorded. The interview transcript begins with the following exchange:

[Apodaca]: I just hope that prosecuting attorney sees how much I'm giving up.
[Det. Jensen]: I guarantee they will.
[Apodaca]: I just hope I get out.
[Det. Jensen]: Hey you've got my word ...

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