State v. Hintze

Decision Date14 October 2022
Docket Number20200787-CA
Citation520 P.3d 1
Parties STATE of Utah, Appellee, v. Chad HINTZE, Appellant.
CourtUtah Court of Appeals

David A. Ferguson, Attorney for Appellant

Simarjit S. Gill, Hyrum J. Hemingway, and Joey L. Blanch, Attorneys for Appellee

Judge Ryan M. Harris authored this Opinion, in which Judge David N. Mortensen concurred. Judge Ryan D. Tenney dissented, with opinion.

Opinion

HARRIS, Judge:

¶1 One day in 2016, Chad Hintze was sitting on a park bench with a teenage family friend when three uniformed officers approached him and began asking him questions. During this questioning, officers learned Hintze's name and that he was a convicted sex offender. Because he was a sex offender, Hintze was not legally permitted to be in the park. As a result, the State charged Hintze with one count of "violation by sex offender of protected area."

¶2 But the State failed to prosecute the case—or even notify Hintze of the charge—for over two years. Hintze finally learned about the pending charge when corrections officials told him that it made him ineligible for parole on another matter. Soon after learning about the pending charge, Hintze filed a motion to dismiss it, arguing that the State's delay in prosecuting him had violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. The district court denied his motion, and Hintze later entered a conditional guilty plea that reserved his right to challenge the court's decision.

¶3 Hintze now takes up that challenge, and asks us to reverse the district court's denial of his motion to dismiss. We find merit in Hintze's arguments, and agree that his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial was violated. On that basis, we reverse his conviction and remand with instructions to dismiss the charge.

BACKGROUND

¶4 In 2011, Hintze was convicted of attempted unlawful sexual activity with a minor. See Utah Code Ann. § 76-4-101 (LexisNexis 2008) ; id. § 76-5-401. Because of this conviction, Hintze was required to register as a sex offender. See id. § 77-27-21.5(1)(n)(i)(V) (Supp. 2010).1 And subject to a few exceptions not at issue in this case, it is accordingly a crime for Hintze to "be in a protected area." Id. § 77-27-21.7(3)(a) (Supp. 2022). By statute, "a community park that is open to the public" qualifies as a protected area. Id. § 77-27-21.7(1)(b)(i)(D).

The June 2016 Park Incident

¶5 On June 7, 2016, Hintze and a teenage girl were "eating snacks" and sitting "on [a] park bench" along the Jordan River Trail when three uniformed officers on bike patrol approached them. The officers stopped right in front of Hintze and the teenager and parked their bikes in front of and to the side of the bench where Hintze and the teenager were sitting.

¶6 The first officer asked, "[H]ow's it going guys? How old are you guys?" Hintze responded that he was twenty-three years old, and the teenager responded that she was thirteen.2 The officer then asked how they knew each other. Hintze responded that they were siblings. But the officer doubted this because of "their complexions," so he said to Hintze, "[It] doesn't look like you guys are siblings." In response, Hintze told the officer that he was actually "adopted." When the officer pressed back on that, Hintze then replied that he was actually "kind of adopted into the family" and was "a family friend." At this point (which was about a minute into the encounter), the officer asked Hintze for his name and birth date, which Hintze provided.

¶7 While the first officer and Hintze were engaged in that conversation, the teenager called her mother. The teenager handed the phone to one of the other officers, and he then spoke to the teenager's mother. During that brief conversation, the mother provided the officer with Hintze's name and told him that Hintze was "a family friend." The officer responded by explaining that the officers "just wanted to make sure there wasn't anything else going on here" and that they "just wanted to make sure" that the teenager "was safe." The officer then hung up and gave the phone back to the girl. As the encounter continued, an officer radioed in to dispatch "to check the identity" and run a warrants check on Hintze using the name and birth date provided by Hintze. From this, the officer learned that Hintze was a registered sex offender.

¶8 The girl's mother soon came and picked her daughter up, while the officers continued to talk with Hintze. After talking with him for about twenty minutes, the officers decided not to place Hintze under arrest, telling him that they didn't "feel that's the best avenue at this juncture." The officers instead allowed Hintze to walk away.

The Initial Delay in Prosecution

¶9 The State did not immediately file charges against Hintze based on the June 2016 park incident described above.

¶10 In March 2017, however, Hintze was charged with forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony, in a separate and unrelated case (case no. 171903226, hereinafter "Case 3226"). In June 2017, Hintze pleaded guilty in Case 3226 to an amended charge of attempted forcible sexual abuse, a third-degree felony. And in August 2017, Hintze was sentenced to a prison term of zero-to-five years based on that conviction.

¶11 On March 15, 2018, Hintze had an initial parole hearing in Case 3226, but the Board of Pardons and Parole (the Board) chose not to release him. Instead, it scheduled another hearing for March 2020, and told Hintze that he needed to complete a sex offender training program "before being considered for parole."

¶12 On March 23, 2018, the State finally filed a charge against Hintze related to the June 2016 incident described above (and which is ultimately at issue in this appeal). In the information, the State charged Hintze with one count of "violation by sex offender of protected area," a class A misdemeanor. See Utah Code Ann. § 77-27-21.7. After the State filed this charge, however, there was "a mistake somewhere" on the part of the State, and as a result, Hintze "did not receive notice" of this charge for two years. Indeed, the State took no action to advance the case until prompted to do so by Hintze in March 2020.

¶13 By January 2020, while still in prison on Case 3226, Hintze had finished the sex offender treatment program that corrections officials had asked him to complete. But at his March 2020 parole hearing, the Board denied his request for parole. Hintze later testified that "what stopped [him] from being paroled" was the discovery that a "warrant" had been "filed that needed to be adjudicated." All parties agree that this was a reference to the charge in this case for the June 2016 park incident.

¶14 On March 16, 2020, just days after finally learning of the existence of the charge, Hintze wrote a letter to the district court in this case. In this letter, Hintze explained that he had "a case pending/warrant" and asked "to set up video court." He also wrote that he could not afford an attorney "and would like to be appointed one." Hintze's initial appearance was finally held on June 4, 2020—some twenty-seven months after the charge was initially filed—and trial counsel (Counsel) appeared on his behalf on June 10, 2020.

¶15 Counsel's first action was to request a preliminary hearing, which was held on July 8, 2020. Following the hearing, the court bound Hintze over for trial on the pending charge. After the bindover, Hintze requested discovery from the State, and then—some five weeks after the bindover order—he filed two motions.

Hintze's Motion to Suppress

¶16 One of the motions was to suppress evidence, in which Hintze argued that he was unconstitutionally seized before he gave his name to the officer. In support of his motion, Hintze made two principal arguments. First, he argued that he was seized when officers "pulled up in front of the park bench," "stood above him," and "launch[ed] into accusatory questioning" about his relationship with the teenager. Hintze argued that if he had "stood up to walk away" at that point, "he would have run into one of the three officers." In his view, this constituted a seizure. Second, Hintze argued that there was not reasonable suspicion to support a seizure at that point because "[t]here are a host of lawful reasons why a Hispanic adult male might sit on the same park bench as a White underage female." While acknowledging that he gave officers shifting explanations for his relationship with the teenager, Hintze asserted that there was still not a "particularized, articulable suspicion of a crime" at that point because people occasionally "give inconsistent, vague, evasive, or equivocating answers to police questioning" and also because Hintze's ultimate explanation (that he was something of an adopted brother) "is a fairly minimal faux pas" given that he is a "family friend."

¶17 The State opposed the motion and, after a hearing, the court denied it. Although the court found that "[t]he officers did ask the individuals their age very quickly," it concluded that "this [was] a casual encounter up to the point that the name [was] requested." And in the court's view, the officers had "reasonable articulable suspicion to investigate the relationship between [Hintze] and the young girl, given that [Hintze] ha[d] told the officer three different things regarding their relationship." The court further opined that the encounter was "still a level 1 stop" when the officer asked Hintze for his name because the officer had "turn[ed] away from [Hintze], turn[ed] his back to him and [began] dealing with dispatch." This, combined with the "very short" duration of the interaction, Hintze's "casual" actions in continuing to snack and drink as the officers questioned him, and the fact that the officers had not drawn their weapons and had used a "normal" tone of voice, led the court to conclude that "someone in [t]his situation" would not "feel detained."

Hintze's Motion to Dismiss

¶18 Hintze's other motion was to dismiss the charge, claiming that his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy...

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