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State v. Barriga

Court of Appeals of Utah

November 7, 2019

State of Utah, Appellee,
Joel Sanchez Barriga, Appellant.

          Second District Court, Ogden Department The Honorable Noel S. Hyde No. 171901795

          Emily Adams and Cherise M. Bacalski, Attorneys for Appellant.

          Sean D. Reyes and Thomas Brunker, Attorneys for Appellee.

          Judge Ryan M. Harris authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory K. Orme and Diana Hagen concurred.


          HARRIS, JUDGE.

         ¶1 A jury convicted Joel Sanchez Barriga of failure to respond to an officer's signal to stop. Barriga appeals that conviction, asserting that his trial counsel rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance by failing to object to certain evidence. We affirm.


         ¶2 One evening, at approximately 10:00 p.m., a police detective (Detective) and an agent (Agent) from Adult Probation and Parole were conducting routine surveillance of a townhouse complex when they noticed a black car that signaled to turn into the complex, but stopped in the middle of the road for a few seconds, and then straightened its course and continued driving. Their curiosity piqued, the officers decided to follow the car.

         ¶3 While following and observing the car, Agent ran the license plate and discovered that the car was not insured. At that point, the officers decided to initiate a traffic stop, and activated their red and blue lights. Instead of pulling over and coming to a complete stop, however, the car accelerated and sped off. The officers gave chase, with Detective driving and Agent in the passenger seat. Eventually, the officers were able to catch up to the vehicle and pull alongside it, with both cars still moving down the road at significant speed. While the cars were traveling alongside each other, Agent looked over at the black car and immediately recognized the driver of the vehicle as Barriga.

         ¶4 Agent was familiar with Barriga, and able to identify him so quickly, because Barriga was on parole, and Agent had been assigned to supervise Barriga for two-and-a-half years. This supervision included "dozens" of interactions, both at Agent's office and at Barriga's home; indeed, by coincidence, Agent and Detective had attempted to visit Barriga at his home earlier that same day, but he was not there. Through those interactions, Agent had become familiar with Barriga's facial features, including a star tattoo under his eye. Agent testified that, although it was dark outside when they pulled alongside the black car, the street was "well lit" and dashboard lights illuminated Barriga's face, allowing Agent to see, among other things, that the driver of the black car had a star tattoo under his left eye. Agent testified that he was able to identify Barriga "without a problem."

         ¶5 After identifying Barriga as the driver of the black car, the officers backed off, hoping to mitigate the danger of a highspeed chase and encourage Barriga to slow down. They continued to follow the car for a while, but Barriga did not slow down. To the contrary, he continued to drive at a high speed and turned off his headlights, eventually shaking the officers' tail. The officers contacted dispatch and attempted to locate the black car, but were unsuccessful, even after making another trip to Barriga's residence to see if the car was there. Agent then proceeded to obtain an arrest warrant for Barriga.

         ¶6 The following week, the same officers responded to a call that Barriga was at the Northern Utah Community Correctional Center, a probation facility. Upon arrival, they spotted the same black car, with the same license plate, in the parking lot, and they found Barriga inside the building. Detective told Barriga he was under arrest for fleeing, but Barriga claimed to have no idea what Detective was talking about. Detective explained that Barriga fled from the officers in the same car that was parked in the parking lot, but Barriga denied any involvement. A subsequent search of Barriga revealed a car key in his pocket; officers later used that same key to unlock and start the black car. Barriga initially insisted he was not the one driving the car "that night," claiming that he had been at home. When confronted with the fact that Detective and Agent visited his home that night and he was not there, Barriga then claimed that he was out that night due to an emergency.

         ¶7 The State charged Barriga with one count of failure to respond to an officer's signal to stop. Barriga defended the case primarily on the theory that he had not been the individual in the black car on the night in question. Prior to trial, the State moved, pursuant to rule 404(b) of the Utah Rules of Evidence, to admit evidence of Barriga's status as a parolee. The State asserted that this evidence was necessary to prove identity-that Barriga was indeed the person driving the black car. The State argued that, without that evidence, it would be hard to explain to a jury how Agent could possibly have identified Barriga so quickly, while moving at high speeds at night. Barriga's response to the motion, if any, is not contained in the appellate record, and the trial court made no ruling on the State's motion.

         ¶8 At trial, the State called two witnesses: Agent and Detective. Without objection from Barriga, the State asked Agent how he knew Barriga and how he was able to identify him so quickly, and Agent explained that Barriga was on parole and that he had been supervising him. Similar questions were put to Detective, again without objection from Barriga. And during closing argument, the prosecutor argued that Agent "knows [Barriga] well, has supervised him for two-and-a-half years, [and] has had ...

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