State v. Law, 050720 UTCA, 20180898-CA

Docket Nº:20180898-CA
Opinion Judge:POHLMAN, JUDGE
Party Name:State of Utah, Appellee, v. Jason Thomas Law, Appellant.
Attorney:Debra M. Nelson and Michael R. Sikora, Attorneys for Appellant Sean D. Reyes and Jeffrey S. Gray, Attorneys for Appellee
Judge Panel:Judge Jill M. Pohlman authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory K. Orme and David N. Mortensen concurred.
Case Date:May 07, 2020
Court:Court of Appeals of Utah
 
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2020 UT App 74

State of Utah, Appellee,

v.

Jason Thomas Law, Appellant.

No. 20180898-CA

Court of Appeals of Utah

May 7, 2020

Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Randall N. Skanchy No. 151900261

Debra M. Nelson and Michael R. Sikora, Attorneys for Appellant

Sean D. Reyes and Jeffrey S. Gray, Attorneys for Appellee

Judge Jill M. Pohlman authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory K. Orme and David N. Mortensen concurred.

OPINION

POHLMAN, JUDGE

¶1 Jason Thomas Law was convicted of disarming a peace officer based on conduct during a scuffle with a police officer and hospital staff. Law argues on appeal that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction because the State failed to present sufficient evidence of the required mens rea-that he intentionally tried to take the firearm from the officer. We disagree and affirm.

BACKGROUND

¶2 In July 2014, Law was admitted to the emergency room of Intermountain Medical Center (the Hospital) due to concerns about him being suicidal. Following a mental health examination, Law was determined to be a risk to himself, and his rights to make his own medical decisions or refuse treatment were suspended. The Hospital's medical personnel decided that Law would be transferred to LDS Hospital for inpatient care.

¶3 When he was told about the impending transfer, Law responded, "I'll kill myself before going to that hospital." Unbeknownst to the Hospital staff, Law believed that LDS Hospital was responsible for the death of his grandmother. The Hospital staff explained to him that he did not have a choice in the matter and that if he "continued to make threats against staff or himself, . . . he would have to be physically or chemically restrained."

¶4 At this time, several persons were with Law in the hospital room: an off-duty police officer (Officer), two hospital security guards, a critical care emergency room technician (Technician), a nurse, and Law's father. Officer was in his full police uniform, which included a patrol firearm holstered on his right hip. Shortly after reaching Law's hospital room, Officer began audio recording the events on his phone.

¶5 Law did not stop making threats regarding the transfer, and the staff accordingly prepared to give him a sedative injection. At this time, Officer was on one side of the hospital bed, while one of the security guards (Guard) was on the other. As Guard attempted to hold Law's right arm in anticipation of the injection, Law pulled away, "flailing his arms," and fell off the bed onto the hospital floor next to Officer. As Officer "hunched over" Law, "trying to gain control over his arms," Law reached out and "grabbed a hold of" Officer's holstered firearm and "began pulling on it, pulling up on it forcibly." Officer told Law that he made a "mistake," and he delivered a blow to Law's "upper rib cage to get him to release his grip, which was successful." Law responded, stating that he was "not trying to hurt [Officer]" but that he was "trying to kill" himself.

¶6 Following a continued struggle, Law eventually received the sedative injection. The State subsequently charged Law with, among other things, disarming a peace officer[1] and disorderly conduct.

¶7 At trial, Officer, Guard, and Technician testified for the State. While their testimonies differed on some of the surrounding details, each testified that Law tried to take Officer's firearm during the altercation. Additionally, Officer's audio recording of the incident was played for the jury. The recording picked up the following exchange, which Officer testified occurred when Law tried to take his weapon: Officer: Now you seriously made a mistake! You understand that? When you go to the hospital, you want to go to prison? Huh?

Law: I'm trying to take my life, not yours!

Officer: Too late for that.

¶8 Defense counsel moved for a directed verdict on the disarming a peace officer charge. As relevant here, defense counsel argued that the State had not made its prima facie case on that charge because it had not presented evidence on "the intentional mental state required for that crime." Specifically, counsel argued that the State had not demonstrated that Law "had created in his own mind the conscious objective of taking the officer's gun." In response, the State argued that the jury could infer Law's intent based on Law's words immediately after he tried to take the gun-that he had been trying to take his own life, not Officer's. The trial court agreed with the State and denied Law's motion, reasoning that the evidence could support an inference as to the required intent.

¶9 The jury convicted Law of both disarming a peace officer and disorderly conduct.2 Law appeals.

ISSUE AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶10 Law argues on appeal that the trial court erred in denying his motion for a directed verdict because the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for disarming a peace officer. We ordinarily "review a trial court's ruling on a motion for directed verdict for correctness." State v. Gonzalez, 2015 UT 10, ¶ 21, 345 P.3d 1168. However, upon request, in the event certain issues raised in the sufficiency challenge were not preserved, we review them for plain error. See State v. Doyle, 2018 UT App 239, ¶ 20, 437 P.3d 1266.

ANALYSIS

¶11 Law argues on appeal that the trial court erred in denying his motion for a directed verdict because the State "failed to prove that [he] formed the required mens rea"-that he intentionally tried to disarm the peace officer. On this basis, he asserts that the evidence with respect to his intent was "too inconclusive and speculative" to support the jury's verdict.

¶12 The operative question on a sufficiency of the evidence challenge is "simply whether the jury's verdict is reasonable in light of all of the evidence taken cumulatively." State v. Ashcraft, 2015 UT 5, ¶ 24, 349 P.3d 664; see also Mackin v. State, 2016 UT 47, ¶ 29, 387 P.3d 986 (stating that the question on review of a sufficiency challenge is "whether the evidence was so lacking that no reasonable jury could find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" (cleaned up)). We will therefore affirm the trial court's denial of Law's motion for a directed verdict and affirm Law's conviction if "some evidence exists" from which a reasonable jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that he intentionally disarmed Officer during the altercation at the Hospital. See State v. Gonzalez, 2015 UT 10, ¶ 27, 345 P.3d 1168 (cleaned up). Indeed, if that standard is satisfied, we will affirm the jury's finding with respect to Law's intent "even if the evidence presented at the district court lends itself to multiple reasonable interpretations,"...

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