State v. Haltom

Decision Date11 August 2005
Docket NumberNo. 20040031-CA.,20040031-CA.
Citation2005 UT App 348,121 P.3d 42
PartiesSTATE of Utah, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. John Vonderhaar HALTOM, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtUtah Supreme Court

W. Andrew McCullough, McCullough & Associates, Midvale, for Appellant.

Mark L. Shurtleff, Attorney General, and Christine F. Soltis, Assistant Attorney General, Salt Lake City, for Appellee.

Before Judges BILLINGS, BENCH, and THORNE.


THORNE, Judge:

¶ 1 John Vonderhaar Haltom appeals his conviction for dealing in material harmful to a minor, a third degree felony, in violation of Utah Code section 76-10-1206 (2000). We affirm.


¶ 2 On August 4, 2000, just a few days after Dr. John's Lingerie and Novelty store (Dr. John's) opened for business, police in Midvale, Utah, sent BP, a seventeen-year-old girl, into the store to attempt to buy an adult film. She entered the store and was soon thereafter approached by Vadim Saprgeuldiev (Vadim), who asked to see her identification. BP gave Vadim, who was an employee of Dr. John's but not actually on duty when BP entered, her driver license. He glanced at it and then gave it back and permitted her to shop. After wandering around the store for a few minutes, BP went to the adult video rack where she chose one at random and then went to the counter to make the purchase. As she shopped, Vadim called Haltom, a part owner of Dr. John's, to the counter and asked him how one could determine whether a license was authentic. Haltom informed Vadim that if BP attempted to purchase an adult video, he would show him. As BP approached the counter, Haltom asked her for her identification and she again produced her driver license.

¶ 3 Haltom took the license and examined it. Among the relevant information contained on the license were BP's photo, name, address, social security number, and her date of birth, which clearly showed that BP was born in December 1982 and was therefore just seventeen years old at the time. Haltom carefully compared BP to the photo and then asked her to recite her social security number—printed next to her date of birth—and her address. When she gave an address with a street name rather than coordinates, Haltom became concerned and asked her to clarify her answer. She responded with the proper coordinate address, which corresponded with the address on the license, and Haltom handed back the license. Vadim then asked Haltom if he could sell the video to BP and Haltom answered "What's the problem? It's her I.D. [and] she's eighteen, right?" Vadim completed the sale as Haltom was talking with BP and she left the store.

¶ 4 Soon thereafter, BP returned to the store with Detective Brimley, the Midvale City Police officer who had sent her into Dr. John's. Brimley informed Haltom that he had sold an adult video to a minor—BP—and BP identified Vadim and Haltom as the people she had dealt with during the transaction. Haltom was arrested for dealing with material harmful to a minor, in violation of Utah Code section 76-10-1206 (2000).

¶ 5 Prior to trial, Haltom petitioned to have the charges dismissed because, he argued, he had been entrapped as a matter of law. The State responded and a hearing was scheduled, during which Haltom presented just one witness—Curtis Gorman, a former employee who had been fired for stealing from Haltom and who had been referred to the Midvale Police Department by Haltom for that theft. Haltom argued that Brimley had established a relationship with Vadim, and that Brimley had used Vadim as a police agent to induce Haltom to sell the video to BP. Through Gorman's testimony, Haltom introduced evidence that Brimley was interested in subverting a Dr. John's employee, and that, at Brimley's urging, Gorman had talked with Vadim about meeting with Brimley. But, Gorman never again met with Brimley and he had no idea whether Brimley had been able to talk with Vadim, or if, assuming such an encounter occurred, Vadim had agreed to work with Brimley. Consequently, the trial court denied Haltom's motion, but informed all parties that Haltom would be given the opportunity to present his entrapment claim to the jury as a factual defense to the charge.

¶ 6 The case was subsequently tried in front of a jury, which convicted Haltom. Haltom filed a post-trial motion to arrest the judgment, which the trial court denied, and he was sentenced to a statutory term of imprisonment of zero to five years in prison. The trial court, however, suspended all but thirty days of that time and placed Haltom on probation. Haltom now appeals.


¶ 7 Haltom argues that the trial court erred in concluding that he had not been entrapped as a matter of law. The trial court's decision presents a mixed question of fact and law. See State v. Beddoes, 890 P.2d 1, 3 (Utah Ct.App.1995). Although we review factual findings for clear error and legal conclusions for correctness, due to the factually sensitive nature of entrapment cases we will affirm the trial court's decision "unless we can hold, based on the given facts, that reasonable minds cannot differ as to whether entrapment occurred." Id. Only when reasonable minds could not differ can we find entrapment as a matter of law. See id.

¶ 8 Haltom next argues that the trial court erred in concluding that certain testimony was inadmissible hearsay. "Whether a statement is offered for the truth of the matter asserted is a question of law, which we review under a correction of error standard." State v. Perez, 924 P.2d 1, 2-3 (Utah Ct.App.1996).

¶ 9 Haltom also argues that the trial court's decision on the relevance of certain statutory changes to the format of minors' driver licenses was incorrect. "While relevant evidence is generally admissible, a trial court has broad discretion to determine whether proffered evidence is relevant, and we will find error ... only if the trial court has abused its discretion." State v. Harrison, 805 P.2d 769, 780 (Utah Ct.App.1991) (citation omitted).

¶ 10 Finally, Haltom argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction both as a matter of law and of fact. Haltom's argument falls into two categories. First, he asserts that his activities did not constitute a violation of section 76-10-1206 as a matter of law, which under these circumstances presents a question of statutory interpretation that we review for correctness. See State v. Bluff, 2002 UT 66, ¶ 37, 52 P.3d 1210. Second, he asserts that the evidence was not sufficient to support the jury's verdict. "[W]hen reviewing a claim of insufficiency of the evidence, the evidence and all reasonable inferences that may be drawn therefrom are viewed in the light most favorable to the jury verdict." State v. Warden, 813 P.2d 1146, 1150 (Utah 1991).


¶ 11 Haltom first argues that the trial court erred in failing to dismiss the complaint because he was entrapped as a matter of law. "Utah has never recognized a per se rule of entrapment." State v. Beddoes, 890 P.2d 1, 3 (Utah Ct.App.1995). Instead, Utah has adopted an objective standard through which all entrapment claims will be examined, with the focus on whether the police conduct created "a substantial risk that a normal law-abiding person would be induced to commit a crime." State v. Martinez, 848 P.2d 702, 706 (Utah Ct.App.1993); see also State v. Taylor, 599 P.2d 496, 500 (Utah 1979) (stating that the objective view asks whether "the conduct of the government comport[s] with a fair and honorable administration of justice"). Under an objective standard, law enforcement officials are not denied the use of decoys. See Taylor, 599 P.2d at 500. Nor are police prohibited from using people that a defendant might consider to be a friend. See Martinez, 848 P.2d at 707 (stating "the mere existence of a personal relationship does not establish entrapment"). Instead, the focus of our objective test is on examining whether the government conduct created or manufactured a crime. See Taylor, 599 P.2d at 500-01 ("Nothing can be more reprehensible than to induce the commission of crime for the purpose of apprehending and convicting the perpetrator." (quotations and citation omitted)). Consequently, to determine whether an entrapment has occurred fact finders are required to examine whether law officers, or their agents, induced "the commission of an offense in order to obtain evidence ... by methods creating a substantial risk that the offense would be committed by one not otherwise ready to commit it." Beddoes, 890 P.2d at 3 (alteration in original) (quotations and citations omitted).

¶ 12 Haltom argues that he would not have sold an adult video to a minor in the absence of Vadim's alleged relationship with Brimley. However, at best, the evidence Haltom offered in support of this assertion is subject to multiple interpretations, ranging from the one offered by Haltom—that Vadim became an agent of the State—to the one offered by the State—that Vadim did nothing to assist Brimley's crusade against Dr. John's. Moreover, had the evidence of Vadim's relationship with the State been less tenuous, this alone is still insufficient to establish entrapment as a matter of law. See id. (noting that exploitation of a relationship is a necessary factor to meet the requirements of entrapment). This is especially true given Haltom's decision to ask BP for her identification and examine it. Once he did this, there is no evidence that Vadim attempted to coerce or convince Haltom to ignore her date of birth, or that Vadim told Haltom that he had already checked the birthdate and that there was no need to do so again. Rather than an issue that could be settled as a matter of law, Haltom presented the trial court with evidence that could have supported Haltom's entrapment defense, but that also could have been interpreted as insignificant. Consequently, because reasonable minds easily could differ on the question of...

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