State v. Adams, 010919 IDCCA, 45139

Docket Nº:45139
Opinion Judge:GRATTON, CHIEF JUDGE
Party Name:STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. SABRA L. ADAMS, Defendant-Appellant.
Attorney:Eric D. Fredericksen, State Appellate Public Defender; Sally J. Cooley, Deputy Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for appellant. Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General; Ted S. Tollefson, Deputy Attorney General, Boise, for respondent.
Judge Panel:Judge LORELLO CONCURS. Judge GUTIERREZ, SPECIALLY CONCURRING
Case Date:January 09, 2019
Court:Court of Appeals of Idaho
 
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STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,

v.

SABRA L. ADAMS, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 45139

Court of Appeals of Idaho

January 9, 2019

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Appeal from the District Court of the Seventh Judicial District, State of Idaho, Custer County. Hon. Alan C. Stephens, District Judge.

Order withholding judgment and order denying motion for new trial, affirmed.

Eric D. Fredericksen, State Appellate Public Defender; Sally J. Cooley, Deputy Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for appellant.

Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General; Ted S. Tollefson, Deputy Attorney General, Boise, for respondent.

GRATTON, CHIEF JUDGE

Sabra L. Adams appeals from the order withholding judgment and order denying motion for new trial. On appeal, Adams asserts: (1) the district court erred by admitting irrelevant propensity evidence; (2) the district court erred by denying the motion for mistrial; (3) the prosecutor committed misconduct by disparaging defense counsel and by misstating the reasonable doubt standard during closing argument; and (4) the district court abused its discretion by denying the motion for new trial. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On April 30, 2016, Adams and her boyfriend attended a memorial service at a bar. While Adams was speaking with another bar patron, she observed a woman (Smith) touching her boyfriend's chest. What occurred next was disputed at trial. According to the State's witnesses, Adams slammed her pool stick down, confronted Smith, and threatened to cut Smith's throat. Adams then went and grabbed a knife from her purse, and as Adams walked back towards Smith, she continued to threaten to cut Smith's throat. Adams' boyfriend restrained her, and the bartender disarmed her. The bartender then placed the knife in the cash drawer and escorted Adams out of the bar as Adams threateningly demanded return of the knife. The defense witnesses testified that they did not see Adams with a knife. It is undisputed that Smith waited to report this incident to the local sheriff's office until May 3, 2016. As part of the investigation, a deputy sheriff recovered the six-inch folding knife from the cash drawer at the bar.

The State charged Adams with aggravated assault, Idaho Code § 18-905(a), and the case proceeded to jury trial. At the start of the second day of trial, a juror indicated to the court that he had attended grade school with Smith's mother. Adams' counsel moved to remove the juror. The court explained that if the juror were to be excused, all parties would have to agree to try the case with the remaining eleven jurors, 1 or the court would have to declare a mistrial. Adams would not consent to be tried by an eleven-person jury. The court denied Adams' motion to remove the juror, and the trial proceeded. Ultimately, the jury found Adams guilty. After the court discharged the jury, Adams' counsel made an oral motion to set aside the verdict and an oral motion for mistrial. The court denied the motions.

Approximately two months after trial, Adams filed a renewed motion for mistrial based on the juror's prior acquaintance with Smith's mother in grade school. Adams also filed a motion for new trial alleging the State had withheld exculpatory evidence by failing to disclose an interview of a witness. During a hearing on the motions, the court denied Adams' renewed motion for mistrial. The court took the motion for new trial under advisement and later issued a decision and order denying that motion. The court withheld judgment and placed Adams on probation for three years. Adams timely appeals.

II.

ANALYSIS

Adams asserts the district court erred by admitting irrelevant propensity evidence. Adams also claims the court violated her constitutional right to a fair trial with an impartial jury by denying her motion for mistrial. Adams further argues the prosecutor committed misconduct during closing argument by disparaging defense counsel and by misstating the reasonable doubt standard. Finally, Adams contends the court abused its discretion by denying her motion for new trial.

A. The Bartender's Testimony

During the first day of trial, the State called Smith and another bar employee to testify. Both witnesses testified that they saw Adams threaten Smith with a knife. The State also called the bartender to testify. The bartender testified that she heard Adams threaten to slit Smith's throat and then walk towards Smith with an open knife. Thereafter, the prosecutor asked, "Do you recall [Adams], being the defendant, making any threats against anyone other than [] Smith before she was escorted out the back door of the bar?" Adams' counsel objected based on the testimony's relevance and its admissibility under Idaho Rule of Evidence 404(b). Adams' counsel also requested a sidebar, which was held off the record. After the sidebar concluded, the prosecutor repeated the question on the record. Adams' counsel renewed the objection. The court noted the objection and then allowed the bartender to answer the prosecutor's question over Adams' objection. The bartender stated, "She threatened me, about giving her knife back, and that she would slit my throat, that she would burn the bar down also."

On appeal, Adams argues that the bartender's testimony regarding statements she made as she was being escorted out of the bar was improperly admitted because it is irrelevant and it constitutes Rule 404(b) evidence. Adams also contends that the district court abused its discretion by admitting the testimony because the court did not make any findings as to whether the testimony was evidence of bad acts, whether the State had provided proper notice of its intent to introduce the evidence at trial, or whether the prejudicial effect of the testimony substantially outweighed its probative value. According to Adams, the lack of explanation or reasoning on the record demonstrates that the court failed to act consistently with applicable legal standards, within the boundaries of its discretion, and that the court failed to reach its decision through an exercise of reason.

The State argues that the testimony is relevant and is not impermissible propensity evidence. The State also argues that Adams failed to provide support in the record for her argument that the district court abused its discretion. When a trial court's discretionary decision is reviewed on appeal, the appellate court conducts a multi-tiered inquiry to determine whether the lower court correctly perceived the issue as one of discretion, acted within the boundaries of such discretion, acted consistently with any legal standards applicable to the specific choices before it, and reached its decision by an exercise of reason. State v. Herrera, 164 Idaho 261, 270, 429 P.3d 149, 158 (2018).

The evidence rule in question, I.R.E. 404(b), provides: (1) Prohibited Uses. Evidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove a person's character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character.

(2) Permitted Uses; Notice in a Criminal Case. This evidence may be admissible for another purpose, such as proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident. In a criminal case, the prosecutor must:

(A) file and serve reasonable notice of the general nature of any such evidence that the prosecutor intends to offer at trial; and

(B) do so reasonably in advance of trial--or during trial if the court, for good cause shown, excuses lack of pretrial notice.

This rule prohibits introduction of evidence of acts other than the crime for which a defendant is charged if its probative value is entirely dependent upon its tendency to demonstrate the defendant's propensity to engage in such behavior. State v. Grist, 147 Idaho 49, 54, 205 P.3d 1185, 1190 (2009). Of course, evidence of another crime, wrong, or act may implicate a person's character while also being relevant and admissible for some permissible purpose, such as those listed in the rule. See State v. Pepcorn, 152 Idaho 678, 688-89, 273 P.3d 1271, 1281-82 (2012).

When determining the admissibility of evidence to which a Rule 404(b) objection has been made, the trial court must first determine whether there is sufficient evidence of the other acts that a reasonable jury could believe the conduct actually occurred. If so, then the court must consider: (1) whether the other acts are relevant to a material and disputed issue concerning the crime charged, other than propensity; and (2) whether the probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Grist, 147 Idaho at 52, 205 P.3d at 1188; State v. Parmer, 147 Idaho 210, 214, 207 P.3d 186, 190...

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