State v. Heaton

Decision Date01 May 1998
Docket NumberNo. 950238,950238
Citation958 P.2d 911
Parties342 Utah Adv. Rep. 19 STATE of Utah, Plaintiff and Appellee v. John M. HEATON, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtUtah Supreme Court

Jan Graham, Att'y Gen., Kris Leonard, Asst. Att'y Gen., Salt Lake City, for plaintiff and appellee.

Candace S. Bridgess, Kent E. Snider, Ogden, for defendant and appellant.

RUSSON, Justice:


Defendant John M. Heaton appeals a judgment entered on a jury verdict finding him guilty of aggravated robbery, a first degree felony, and evading arrest, a third degree felony. We reverse.


Because some of the dates corresponding to the facts in this case are critical to the resolution of this appeal, we provide a detailed chronological summary of the relevant events.

On July 13, 1994, Heaton was arrested for the robbery of an Albertson's grocery store in Roy, Utah. The next day, Heaton waived his right to a preliminary hearing and was bound over to district court. Heaton was a parolee at the time, and on July 26, he was returned to the Utah State Prison for violating his parole. Heaton also qualified for public assistance and was appointed counsel from the public defender's office. On August 2, Heaton appeared in district court for arraignment, at which time he pleaded "not guilty" to the charges and the judge set a pretrial conference for August 30 and a jury trial for September 9. On August 25, while incarcerated at the prison, Heaton filed a written request for final disposition of all matters pending against him pursuant to Utah Code Ann. § 77-29-1 (the "detainer statute"), which requires the prosecutor to bring pending charges against a prisoner to trial within 120 days from the date the notice is delivered to certain state officials or their agents. An authorized agent at the prison received Heaton's notice on September 3. 1

At his pretrial conference on August 30, Heaton requested a preliminary hearing, which he had initially waived. The prosecution had no objection, and the parties and the court agreed to hold a preliminary hearing on September 9, the date for which the trial had initially been set. At the September 9 preliminary hearing, the court found that probable cause existed and set a second arraignment for September 27. At the second arraignment, Heaton requested that the judge recuse himself on the basis that the judge had also presided over Heaton's preliminary hearing. The judge recused himself and ordered the case reassigned. However, as a result of an error in the district court clerk's office, the case was not reassigned. In late November 1994, after receiving inquiry by a witness regarding the trial date, the prosecutor contacted the district court for a status report, whereupon the clerk's office discovered the error and reassigned the case to a different judge as previously ordered.

On November 28, the district court sent the parties a notice of a trial-scheduling conference set for December 7. At that conference, the court initially attempted to set the trial date for January 19, 1995. However, because both defense counsel and the prosecutor had a scheduling conflict, the court set the trial for the next available date suitable for all the parties, February 16 and 17, 1995. 2

Subsequent to the trial-scheduling conference on December 7, 1994, Heaton sent a letter to the court requesting new counsel. On February 8, 1995, the court held a hearing to address Heaton's request, which was based in part on his defense counsel's refusal to bring a motion to dismiss pursuant to the detainer statute. The court denied Heaton's request. On February 16, 1995, after reevaluating Heaton's claim, Heaton's defense counsel moved to dismiss pursuant to the detainer statute. The court, however, found that at least 60 days of the 71-day delay--i.e., the period between the second arraignment and the trial-scheduling conference--were attributable to the administrative error in the clerk's office. This delay, the court concluded, constituted "good cause" under the statute, and the court therefore denied the motion.

Although originally scheduled for February 16 and 17, 1995, the trial was not actually held until April 20 and 21, 1995. 3 Before trial, Heaton filed a pro se motion requesting that the judge recuse himself and requesting new counsel. A hearing was held on April 19, 1995, and the judge denied both requests.

During the hearing, Heaton indicated that he did not feel he was receiving adequate legal representation and that he felt forced to proceed on his own. His attorney indicated that a "rift" had developed between them, that he was uncomfortable going to trial because of the "total conflict" between them, and that he thought Heaton wanted to represent himself. Heaton did not assert his right to self-representation, and the judge did not ask Heaton whether he wished to waive his right to counsel. Instead, the judge (1) advised Heaton of his right to self-representation, (2) refused to permit Heaton's counsel to withdraw, (3) indicated to Heaton that he was requiring counsel to remain as standby counsel to assist Heaton if he wanted the assistance, and (4) indicated that Heaton was free to choose to handle trial matters on his own but that the court would make a record of Heaton's decision to proceed pro se.

Although Heaton's defense counsel assisted Heaton in selecting the jury, Heaton represented himself at trial. The jury convicted Heaton on both charges, and he was sentenced to serve concurrent terms of five years to life and zero to five years at the Utah State Prison, such terms to be served consecutively to any sentences Heaton was already serving.

On appeal, Heaton alleges the following errors: (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss pursuant to the detainer statute; (2) he was denied his constitutional right to counsel; (3) he was denied his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel; and (4) the prosecutor's misconduct during closing argument constituted reversible error.


The trial court's decision to deny Heaton's motion to dismiss was based on its legal conclusion that under the detainer statute the clerk's administrative mistake could excuse the prosecutor's duty to bring Heaton's charges to trial within the 120-day period. Because this is a legal, rather than a factual, conclusion, we review the trial court's decision for correctness. See State v. Petersen, 810 P.2d 421, 425 (Utah 1991).

Whether a waiver of counsel was made knowingly and intelligently is a mixed question of law and fact. We review the trial court's legal determinations for correctness. See State v. Pena, 869 P.2d 932, 937-39 (Utah 1994); Harding v. Lewis, 834 F.2d 853, 857 (9th Cir.1987).


Heaton first argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss pursuant to the detainer statute. That statute provides, in relevant part:

(1) Whenever a prisoner is serving a term of imprisonment in the state prison, jail or other penal or correctional institution of this state, and there is pending against the prisoner in this state any untried indictment or information, and the prisoner shall deliver to the warden, sheriff or custodial officer in authority, or any appropriate agent of the same, a written demand specifying the nature of the charge and the court wherein it is pending and requesting disposition of the pending charge, he shall be entitled to have the charge brought to trial within 120 days of the date of delivery of written notice.


(3) After written demand is delivered as required in Subsection (1), the prosecuting attorney or the defendant or his counsel, for good cause shown in open court, with the prisoner or his counsel being present, may be granted any reasonable continuance.

(4) In the event the charge is not brought to trial within 120 days, or within such continuance as has been granted, and defendant or his counsel moves to dismiss the action, the court shall review the proceeding. If the court finds that the failure of the prosecuting attorney to have the matter heard within the time required is not supported by good cause, whether a previous motion for continuance was made or not, the court shall order the matter dismissed with prejudice.

Utah Code Ann. § 77-29-1(1), (3), & (4) (emphasis added).

In denying Heaton's motion to dismiss, the district court made the following ruling:

[T]his Court is going to deny the Defendant's [motion on] the basis that I believe that there has been good cause[.] And that term doesn't quite fit in this situation, but explainable cause shown as to why the delay occurred. And the Court does not find in any way that it was as a result of the prosecution's dragging its feet.


The facts are that the bulk of the delay, 60 days at least of it, was the fault probably of the Clerk's office in this case. And again I don't know whether that fits into what could be called a good cause shown, but the Court believes that it happens from time to time, that there can be that kind of a glitch.

And certainly the Defendant could have pushed to find out why his case had not been set for trial. [He] [c]ould have pushed his counsel to make that request, [a]nd was in the same position [as was] the State....

The case sat. And it is unfortunate it did, but the Court will deny the motion at this time.

The district court's ruling contradicts section 77-29-1 and our prior case law. The statute requires the prosecutor "to have the matter heard within the time required." Utah Code Ann. § 77-29-1(4). Moreover, this court has consistently held that the language of the detainer statute clearly places the burden of complying with the statute on the prosecutor. See Petersen, 810 P.2d at 424; State v. Wilson, 22 Utah 2d 361, 453 P.2d 158, 160 (1969). In Petersen, the trial court asked the defendant whether the trial date was acceptable, and the defendant did not object to the date, which was outside the 120-day...

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