State v. Hamilton

Decision Date09 May 2003
Docket NumberNo. 20000465.,20000465.
Citation2003 UT 22,70 P.3d 111
PartiesSTATE of Utah, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. Tony Alexander HAMILTON, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtUtah Supreme Court

Mark L. Shurtleff, Att'y Gen., Laura B. Dupaix, Brett J. Delporto, Asst. Att'ys Gen., Salt Lake City, for plaintiff.

Keith C. Barnes, Salt Lake City, for defendant.

DURRANT, Associate Chief Justice:

¶ 1 Tony Alexander Hamilton was convicted of criminal trespass, attempted aggravated murder, aggravated assault, killing a police service dog, and interference with an arresting officer. Hamilton raises numerous issues on appeal. He contends that (1) the trial court erred in submitting the criminal trespass charge to the jury as a question of fact; (2) the trial court erred by not dismissing the criminal trespass charge under the doctrine of equitable estoppel; (3) the evidence was insufficient to support the jury's verdict for criminal trespass; (4) the evidence was insufficient to submit the charges of attempted aggravated murder, aggravated assault, and killing a police service dog to the jury; (5) the trial court erred by giving a jury instruction that limited the jury's consideration of self-defense and justification as defenses on the attempted aggravated murder charge; and (6) the trial court's errors require a reversal under the cumulative error doctrine. Finding no error by the trial court, we affirm.


¶ 2 We relate the facts and "all reasonable inferences that may be drawn [therefrom] in a light most favorable to the verdict." State v. Dunn, 850 P.2d 1201, 1212 (Utah 1993); accord State v. Dibello, 780 P.2d 1221, 1224 (Utah 1989).


¶ 3 In 1985, the defendant, Tony Alexander Hamilton, and several other Salt Lake City families formed a religious organization named the Fraternity of Preparation (the "Fraternity"). As a refuge where they could observe their beliefs of self-sufficiency and governance, the group purchased an isolated 640-acre tract in the northwest corner of Beaver County, Utah, known as Vance Springs. Members of the Fraternity relocated there in 1985 and began improving the land and constructing homes and other buildings. Within that same year, however, Hamilton left both the Fraternity and Vance Springs due to a disagreement with Fraternity members. Hamilton rejoined the Fraternity at Vance Springs approximately six years later.


¶ 4 After purchasing Vance Springs, the Fraternity deeded it to the Immanuel Foundation, a non-profit association set up to hold the Fraternity's property.1 The Fraternity then filed a document with the Beaver County (the "County") Recorder's Office declaring that it was a religious organization exempt from state taxation. County officials promptly informed the Fraternity that its declaration was ineffective and that it needed to apply for tax exempt status formally before property taxes could be waived.2 The Fraternity refused.3 During the next several years, County officials repeatedly encouraged Fraternity leaders to either apply for tax exempt status or pay the property taxes on Vance Springs. The Fraternity did neither.

¶ 5 In 1990, the County notified the Fraternity that Vance Springs would be sold at a tax sale unless the property taxes were paid. The Fraternity refused "on principle," insisting that it owed no taxes and was not required to apply for tax exempt status. In 1991, the County published notice of a tax sale and sold the Vance Springs property. After discovering a citation error4 in the tax sale notice, however, the County rescinded the sale before the deed was finalized because the county attorney believed that the error would void any sale under Utah's forfeiture laws.

¶ 6 Over the next three years, the County renewed its efforts to resolve the tax dispute with the Fraternity, but its efforts were fruitless. The Fraternity persisted with its original tax position and filed several lawsuits in state and federal courts seeking validation, but had no success.5

¶ 7 In 1994, the County sold Vance Springs to Ranger Enterprises in a second tax sale for the amount of taxes due, approximately $15,000. This time the tax sale notice referred to the correct statutory citation; however, the acknowledgment portion of the tax deed cited the same erroneous code section contained in the 1991 notice. Hamilton and other Fraternity members believed that the 1994 tax sale was invalid and continued to occupy Vance Springs and to make improvements to the land.

¶ 8 In 1995, Ranger Enterprises brought a quiet title action against the Fraternity. Fraternity leaders attempted to represent the Fraternity in the suit, but the Fifth District Court prohibited them from doing so because they were non-lawyers. When the Fraternity refused to retain counsel, the court entered a default judgment against it. The district court also issued a writ of restitution that ordered Fraternity members to vacate the property and enjoined them from re-entering Vance Springs.


¶ 9 About the time the County published notice of the 1991 tax sale, defendant Hamilton rejoined the Fraternity at Vance Springs. By this time, Hamilton was aware of the tax dispute between the Fraternity and the County, and he held the Fraternity's belief that religious organizations are inherently tax exempt. Consequently, Hamilton continued to occupy Vance Springs with several other Fraternity members until mid-1996. In July of that year, pursuant to a quiet title judgment and writ of restitution obtained by Ranger Enterprises, Beaver County sheriff's deputies went to Vance Springs to evict any trespassing Fraternity members. The deputies removed everyone from Vance Springs except for Hamilton, who eluded them by hiding in some trees. Several officers returned in September 1996 to remove Hamilton from the property. When he refused to leave voluntarily, the officers arrested him for criminal trespass. A jury convicted Hamilton on several counts of criminal trespass, and the trial court sentenced him to a one-year probation on the condition that he stay away from Vance Springs. ¶ 10 About a year after Hamilton's conviction for trespass, he resumed his efforts to assert ownership of the Vance Springs property by recording documents regarding the property.6 Then in 1999, he filed a criminal trespass suit against Ranger Enterprises in federal district court and asked the court to determine the true owner of the property. Apparently believing that his "work" at the recorder's office had created sufficient ownership uncertainty, Hamilton and two other Fraternity members returned to Vance Springs in July 1999 without a ruling from the court.

¶ 11 In August 1999, Ranger Enterprises filed a second quiet title action naming Hamilton. Hamilton was served with the summons and complaint but disregarded them because his name appeared in all capital letters in the caption.7 When Hamilton did not respond to or appear in the quiet title action, the trial court entered a default judgment against him and declared that he had "no right, title, or interest" in Vance Springs. Hamilton did not appeal the judgment. Ranger Enterprises subsequently asked the sheriff's department to arrest anyone who continued to trespass on Vance Springs.


¶ 12 On September 9, 1999, four uniformed officers went to Vance Springs to make sure everyone had left the property and to arrest anyone who remained. Sheriff Kenneth Yardley and Deputy Raymond Goodwin drove in one vehicle, Deputy Jim White drove alone, and Deputy John Chambers drove in a truck accompanied by his certified police dog, Max. While Chambers surveyed the property, Yardley, Goodwin, and White met at the south gate of Vance Springs. As the three officers entered the property and walked up the main road, they saw a blue pickup truck driving away from them and suspected that the driver was Hamilton. The officers radioed Chambers and instructed him to intercept the blue pickup truck at the north gate.

¶ 13 Finding the north gate locked and barricaded, Chambers climbed over the fence while his dog, Max, went under the fence. Chambers and Max headed southwest toward a nearby pond and rock house where Chambers had seen a stockpile of weapons on a previous occasion. Chambers spied Hamilton and the blue truck a short distance from the rock house. When Hamilton spotted the deputy, he got in his truck and drove to within ten feet of Chambers. Chambers attempted to approach and talk with him, but Hamilton warned, "That's close enough, Chambers." Chambers continued to approach the truck and repeatedly directed Hamilton to stop the vehicle. In response, Hamilton revved the truck's engine and drove past Chambers. When Chambers realized Hamilton was not going to stop, he drew his sidearm and shot out the front and rear left tires. Hamilton did not stop, however, until he had driven about 300 yards.

¶ 14 After Hamilton pulled over, he got out of the truck and aimed his scoped rifle at Max. Chambers called Max to him, warning Hamilton not to shoot. Ignoring this warning, Hamilton shot and fatally wounded Max as Max was running back to Chambers. Chambers testified that Hamilton then fired two shots at him, which prompted Chambers to return fire while running for cover. Hiding behind his truck, Hamilton continued firing until he shot and severely wounded Chambers in the leg.8 Hamilton then grabbed more ammunition from his truck and headed south on foot.

¶ 15 Hearing the gunshots, Sheriff Yardley rushed toward the sound. On the way, Yardley spotted Hamilton and attempted to intercept him. However, when he was within about seventy yards, Hamilton warned, "That's close enough." Because Hamilton was pointing his rifle at him, Yardley perceived the warning as a threat and stopped. Since communication was difficult at this range, Hamilton allowed Yardley to move...

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