947 N.W.2d 323 (Neb. 2020), S-19-1169, State v. Cervantes

Docket NºS-19-1169.
Citation947 N.W.2d 323, 306 Neb. 740
Opinion JudgeMiller-Lerman, J.
Party NameSTATE of Nebraska, appellee, v. Nicole CERVANTES, appellant.
AttorneyClaude E. Berreckman, Jr., Cozad, and Claire K. Bazata, of Berreckman, Davis & Bazata, P.C., for appellant. Douglas J. Peterson, Attorney General, and Kimberly A. Klein, Lincoln, for appellee.
Judge PanelHeavican, C.J., Miller-Lerman, Cassel, Stacy, Funke, Papik, and Freudenberg, JJ.
Case DateAugust 07, 2020
CourtSupreme Court of Nebraska

Page 323

947 N.W.2d 323 (Neb. 2020)

306 Neb. 740

STATE of Nebraska, appellee,

v.

Nicole CERVANTES, appellant.

No. S-19-1169.

Supreme Court of Nebraska.

August 7, 2020.

Page 324

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 325

1.

Trial: Convictions: Appeal and Error. An appellate court will sustain a conviction in a bench trial of a criminal case if the properly admitted evidence, viewed and construed most favorably to the State, is sufficient to support that conviction.

2.

Evidence: Appeal and Error. An appellate court does not resolve conflicts in the evidence, pass on the credibility of witnesses, evaluate explanations, or reweigh the evidence presented, which are within a fact finder's province for disposition.

3. Trial: Convictions: Evidence. In connection with a conviction in a bench trial, the relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

Appeal from the District Court for Dawson County: James E. Doyle IV, Judge.

Claude E. Berreckman, Jr., Cozad, and Claire K. Bazata, of Berreckman, Davis & Bazata, P.C., for appellant.

Douglas J. Peterson, Attorney General, and Kimberly A. Klein, Lincoln, for appellee.

Heavican, C.J., Miller-Lerman, Cassel, Stacy, Funke, Papik, and Freudenberg, JJ.

Page 326

[306 Neb. 741] Miller-Lerman, J.

I. NATURE OF CASE

Law enforcement officers returning property to the appellant, Nicole Cervantes, approached her home and were greeted by her husband, Casey Cervantes (Casey), against whom Cervantes had a protection order. Upon hearing the officers, Cervantes fled through a window because she was "scared [she] was going to get in trouble." Law enforcement pursued Cervantes and found her about a block away. Following a bench trial in the district court for Dawson County, Cervantes was convicted of obstructing a peace officer. Cervantes appeals and claims that the evidence was insufficient to support her conviction. We affirm.

II. STATEMENT OF FACTS

Following an incident on September 26, 2018, at Cervantes' home in Cozad, Nebraska, the State charged her with aiding and abetting the violation of a protection order, a Class IV felony in violation of Neb. Rev. Stat. § 42-924 (Reissue 2016), and with obstructing a peace officer, a Class I misdemeanor in violation of Neb. Rev. Stat. § 28-906(1) (Reissue 2016). A bench trial was held on June 4, 2019.

At trial, Sgt. John Peden and Officer Garrett McArdle of the Cozad Police Department testified that they were on duty when they arrived at Cervantes' home in Cozad to return a backpack they had collected during a prior unrelated arrest. Peden knew that the residence was the home of Cervantes and intended to return the backpack to her. Both officers were dressed in uniform and displayed their badges.

McArdle testified that when they approached the entrance, the main door was open and the officers could see through the screen door. The officers knocked, and Casey answered the door, holding a tape measure in his hands. Peden observed Cervantes' daughter and another woman at the home.

The officers knew that Cervantes had an active protection order against Casey which prohibited contact between Casey [306 Neb. 742] and Cervantes, and upon seeing Casey in the home, Peden believed that Casey was violating the order. He did not know whether Cervantes was in the home. Peden briefly observed an unknown person exiting the living room toward the south side of the home. He heard a door slam in the direction that this person had fled. The three people Peden had originally observed at the home were still visible when he heard the door slam, which led him to believe there had been a fourth person in the home. McArdle testified that he did not observe anyone else in the home other than Cervantes' daughter and that he did not hear sounds or noises that suggested somebody else was present. McArdle testified that he confirmed through dispatch that a protection order remained active against Casey, and the officers then handcuffed Casey.

Cervantes' daughter told McArdle no one else was in the home and gave consent for him to search the home. As McArdle took a few steps into the home, someone driving a vehicle pulled up and reported that a woman had jumped out the window of the home and run south. McArdle ran out of the house and found Cervantes walking in an alley about a block away. McArdle handcuffed her and took her back to the residence. McArdle acknowledged that Cervantes stopped and cooperated when apprehended, aside from "pull[ing] away a little bit" when she was handcuffed. Cervantes answered his questions and did not take action to prevent McArdle and Peden from arresting Casey.

Page 327

McArdle spoke with Cervantes, and she admitted that she had been in the home when Casey greeted the officers at the door. Both officers testified that Cervantes admitted being in the home and leaving to avoid getting in trouble. On cross-examination, Peden acknowledged that Cervantes told officers that she had asked Casey to leave the home. Peden indicated that he did not believe her; he did not observe anything to indicate that Casey was not welcome at the home or that anyone there was trying to remove him. Peden was not aware that [306 Neb. 743] Cervantes had a prior arrest for aiding and abetting Casey's prior violation of a protection order.

Cervantes testified in her own behalf. She stated that Casey is her husband and that she obtained the protection order due to his actions resulting from a mental health issue. Cervantes initially sought the protection order because Casey would not take medication for his mental health issue and was becoming violent. The couple had separated a short time before she got the protection order and had not since resumed living together. She moved from her previous home to get away from him. However, Cervantes testified that she understood "there was a 30-day restraining order," but that she later learned that it was for 1 year.

Cervantes testified that she previously pled guilty to aiding and abetting the violation of the same protection order. With respect to the prior incident, according to Cervantes, Casey entered her car without permission and law enforcement pulled her over and arrested her.

On the day of the incident leading to the charges filed in this case, Cervantes denied inviting or allowing Casey into the home. She testified that she had been sleeping in her bedroom when he entered. She stated that she "told him to leave my house or I...

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