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Fairchild v. Nelson
United States District Court, D. Utah
September 3, 2019
STEVEN MICHAEL FAIRCHILD, Petitioner,
SHANE NELSON, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM DECISION & ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO
DISMISS HABEAS-CORPUS PETITION
NUFFER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Steven Michael Fairchild, requests habeas-corpus relief from
his Utah state convictions. See 28 U.S.C.S. §
2254 (2019). His convictions were affirmed by the Utah Court
of Appeals. State v. Fairchild, 2016 UT App 205,
¶ 1, cert. denied, 390 P.3d 724 (Utah 2017).
Respondent moves for dismissal. (Doc. No. 17.)
facts are drawn from the Utah Court of Appeals's opinion:
The State charged Defendant with one count of aggravated
robbery, a first degree felony; four counts of possession of
a firearm by a restricted person, a second degree felony; one
count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to
distribute, a second degree felony; and four counts of
receiving stolen property, a second degree felony. The State
also sought to enhance Defendant's sentence by having him
designated as a habitual violent offender. The parties agreed
that the judge would determine whether Defendant was a
habitual violent offender and that the remaining issues would
be tried to a jury.
Before trial, the State moved to admit evidence, under rule
404(b) of the Utah Rules of Evidence, that Defendant was
convicted of robbing two Logan banks in December 1998 and
January 1999. The State argued that this evidence would show
motive, plan, intent, and identity and that it was not
attempting to impugn Defendant's character or establish
his criminal propensity.
The court denied the State's motion and ordered that it
not put on evidence of Defendant's prior crimes at trial.
One day before trial, Defendant moved to sever the
"restricted person" requirement from the rest of
the restricted-person-in-possession-of-a-firearm charge.
Instead, the parties stipulated that the "restricted
person" requirement was satisfied. The court agreed,
ordering that it would instruct the jury as to
Defendant's restricted status but "would not allow
any evidence regarding [Defendant's] previous convictions
or the reasons why he is a restricted person."
Despite the 404(b) pretrial order and the stipulation, there
were multiple references to Defendant's status as a
parolee during trial. First, during the State's opening
statement, the prosecutor told the jury that Parole Officer
"was a supervisor over [Defendant's parole],"
and Defendant's trial counsel did not object. Indeed,
trial counsel characterized Parole Officer in much the same
way during his own opening statement. Later, Parole Officer
testified that he knew Defendant in his capacity as a parole
officer, stating that "in June of 2011, [Defendant]
paroled from prison to my caseload." But he did not say
why Defendant previously had been imprisoned, and the
prosecutor asked no follow-up questions. Defendant objected
and moved for a mistrial. The trial court denied the mistrial
During closing arguments, Defendant's trial counsel and
the prosecutor each referred to Defendant's status as a
parolee. First, trial counsel said, "in the late fall of
2011, [Defendant] and [Girlfriend] went to the office of
[Parole Officer]. They asked . . . permission to live
together, to further their relationship. [He] granted their
request." And the prosecutor repeated Parole
Officer's name and title before stating, "He
supervised the defendant."
When the court was preparing to instruct the jury that
Defendant was a restricted person, the prosecutor suggested
that the instruction include that Defendant was on parole at
the time of the gas station robbery. The court refused,
stating, "Well, I don't want to bring any more
attention to that fact, frankly. I shouldn't have--well,
parole, we're okay with that." The court ultimately
issued a limiting instruction, informing the jury that Parole
Officer only mentioned Defendant's parole to show that he
knows the defendant and is familiar with him. Do not use it
for any other purpose. It is not evidence that the defendant
is guilty of the crimes for which he is now on trial. . . .
You may not convict a person simply because you believe he
may have committed some other acts at another time.
The jury also heard testimony from Girlfriend, the two
employees who were at the gas station during the robbery, and
Employee. One of the employees testified that the robber had
blue eyes, but Defendant has brown eyes. The State also
presented the gas station's surveillance video, which
showed the male suspect wore a dark hooded jacket, jeans, and
white shoes. And it presented evidence of the items police
found in Defendant's truck--the bandana, wallet, Camel
cigarettes, psychedelic mushrooms, and guns.
The jury returned a guilty verdict on each of the ten counts
against Defendant. The court then initiated a bench trial on
the issue of whether Defendant was a habitual violent
offender. It determined that he was. At sentencing, the trial
court imposed indeterminate sentences of five years to life
for aggravated robbery and each of the four weapons
possession charges, one to fifteen years for the drug
possession charge, and one to fifteen years for each theft by
receiving stolen property charge. The court ordered that
these sentences run consecutively to each other and to the
sentence Defendant was already serving.
Defendant then filed a motion for new trial, arguing that the
statements during trial that he was on parole violated the
pretrial order and unfairly prejudiced him. The court denied
Defendant's motion, ruling that Parole Officer's
testimony did not violate the pretrial order and that, even
if it did, the error was harmless both because the totality
of the ...
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