State v. Nohava

Decision Date02 June 2021
Docket Number#29284
Citation960 N.W.2d 844
Parties STATE of South Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. Coye Wayne NOHAVA, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtSouth Dakota Supreme Court

JASON R. RAVNSBORG, Attorney General, ERIN E. HANDKE, Assistant Attorney General, Pierre, South Dakota, Attorneys for plaintiff and appellee.

CHRISTOPHER MILES of Minnehaha County Public Defender's Office, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Attorneys for defendant and appellant.

DEVANEY, Justice

[¶1.] After a confidential informant purchased methamphetamine from Coye Nohava during a controlled drug buy, a grand jury indicted Nohava on one count of distributing a controlled substance and one count of possession of a controlled substance. Nohava was convicted on both counts after a jury trial. The evidence at trial centered on the testimony of the confidential informant. Nohava appeals, asserting the circuit court abused its discretion by allowing the informant to testify about other act evidence after finding Nohava opened the door to such testimony. Nohava also contends the circuit court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal.

Factual and Procedural Background

[¶2.] On April 5, 2018, Angela Sarkkinen was arrested and charged with distribution and possession of methamphetamine. After her arrest, she agreed to work with law enforcement as a confidential informant by engaging in controlled purchases of methamphetamine (controlled buys). For her work as a confidential informant, Sarkkinen was paid $800 to cover vehicle and phone expenses and her court appearances as a testifying witness. In addition, she received leniency in her pending drug charges. Sarkkinen's distribution of a controlled substance charge was dismissed, and she received a suspended penitentiary sentence on her possession charge on the condition that she testify as needed when subpoenaed by the State as a cooperating witness.

[¶3.] Dan Christiansen, a narcotics detective employed with the Minnehaha County Sheriff's Office and a member of the Sioux Falls Area Drug Task Force, was the assigned case agent coordinating controlled buys of methamphetamine involving Sarkkinen as the purchaser. Sarkkinen had informed Detective Christiansen that she could buy methamphetamine from Coye Nohava, as he was someone she "knew from the drug world" and someone with whom she had been using methamphetamine before she agreed to become a confidential informant.

[¶4.] On April 10, 2018, a controlled buy was arranged at a Get-n-Go gas station in Sioux Falls. Prior to the buy, Officer Rachel Schmeichel searched Sarkkinen, gave her $900 in drug-buy money, and fitted her with an audio-recording device. Agent Matt Glenn, a Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) agent working undercover, drove Sarkkinen to the Get-n-Go and parked on the south side of the parking lot. The purchase occurred by the gas pumps north of the location where Agent Glenn was parked. Sarkkinen would later testify at trial that when she got out of the vehicle and approached Nohava, he was at the gas pump in a truck with another individual, and she gave him $900 for an ounce of methamphetamine. According to Sarkkinen, the truck did not belong to Nohava, and she could not identify the other individual. Agent Glenn was unable to see the transaction from his vantage point. However, Officer Neilson Conley, a narcotics investigator with the Sioux Falls Police Department who was conducting surveillance in front of the Get-n-Go, saw Sarkkinen meet with Nohava and leave shortly thereafter. Officer Conley later identified Nohava at trial and testified that he could not recall seeing another individual in the truck.

[¶5.] Upon her return to Agent Glenn's car, Sarkkinen relinquished a clear plastic baggie containing a crystal-like substance. Agent Glenn then drove Sarkkinen to the pre-arranged, post-buy location where she was searched again to confirm she no longer had the $900 or any other drugs on her person. The baggie was subsequently taken to the Sioux Falls Police Department laboratory where the substance tested positive for methamphetamine.

[¶6.] Nohava was not charged until March 28, 2019, when a grand jury indicted him on one count of distributing a controlled substance and one count of possession of a controlled substance.1 Prior to trial, Nohava filed several motions in limine. These included a motion to order the State to refrain from making any direct or indirect references to Nohava's prior criminal record or any other prior wrongs or acts to prove his character or to show that he acted in conformity with those acts.

[¶7.] On November 19, 2019, a two-day jury trial began. Before jury selection, the court granted Nohava's motion in limine to exclude other act evidence. The State did not object, and consequently, there was no record made at that time of any specific other acts known to the parties. During the State's direct examination of Sarkkinen, she testified that she had known Nohava since approximately February of 2018 and had associated with him until about May of 2018. After the State's direct examination, the following exchange occurred during cross-examination:

Defense Counsel: But back in early 2018 you were actually in a relationship with Coye Nohava?
Sarkkinen: No.
Defense Counsel: You had had sex with Coye Nohava?
Sarkkinen: No.
Defense Counsel: [A]t some point during that time that you knew him ... from February to May 2018[,] you and Coye actually got in a fight over a motorcycle?
Sarkkinen: Yes.
Defense Counsel: And that ended the relationship on bad terms?
Sarkkinen: Yes.

On redirect, the State further inquired into the "fight over a motorcycle":

State: I believe the defense referenced an instance where there was an argument over a motorcycle; is that correct?
Sarkkinen: Yes.
State: Was that before or after the April 10 date?
Sarkkinen: After.
State: And can you describe what happened on that date[?]
Sarkkinen: We were up in Sioux City, Iowa, at Hard Rock Casino where [Nohava] traded his motorcycle for --

[¶8.] At this point, Nohava raised a Rule 404(b) objection. In response, the State asserted that the defense had opened the door to such testimony. The circuit court overruled Nohava's objection, and Sarkkinen continued describing the incident. She testified that Nohava was trading his motorcycle for "meth" but the deal fell through because "the person never showed up with meth," and Nohava was very upset. Sarkkinen further related that on their way back to Sioux Falls, she was in the front seat with a friend of Nohava's who was driving, and Nohava was in the back seat. Sarkkinen explained that she tried to "calm him down" by suggesting that they could figure out how to get his bike back. But at some point during the conversation, after she told Nohava to "shut up," Nohava asked the driver to pull over. He then got out of the vehicle, "dragged [Sarkkinen] out of the car, grabbed [her] by the throat and slammed [her] up against the car." Sarkkinen testified that after she reported this incident to Detective Christiansen, he did not arrange any more controlled buys involving Nohava because she "would have been in danger."

[¶9.] The defense strategy at trial was twofold. It focused on challenging Sarkkinen's credibility and criticizing law enforcement's investigation. As to the latter, the defense cross-examined the law enforcement witnesses on their failure to identify Nohava as the dealer during the transaction through photographs or video surveillance and their failure to ask the gas station for any security camera footage that might have captured the controlled buy.2 After the State rested, Nohava made a motion for judgment of acquittal, which the circuit court denied. The defense did not call any witnesses.

[¶10.] In closing argument, the State addressed Nohava's critique of the investigation in this case. In particular, the State explained the reason why law enforcement does not photograph or video controlled buys, and in that context, the State mentioned the assault at issue:

[When] you are working undercover, if you are running around taking photographs and videotaping a controlled purchase, it outs you .... The defendant or anyone else with him is likely to see you. That puts the officers at risk. That puts the uncover [sic] people at risk. And also, as Detective Christiansen explained in great detail, it puts the confidential informant at risk .... You don't want to release the information of your confidential informant because of the danger that that puts them in. With social media, it's very simple for a defendant to get that information, throw it up on the internet, and it's out there for the world to see, not just for that one particular person they're buying from, but from everyone else that they might be able to buy from as well.
And how do we know that the narcotics world is so dangerous? Well, you heard from Angela Sarkkinen today. And you heard her explain that after April 10th of 2018, she was still having contact with Coye Nohava. And in fact, he had attempted to engage in a methamphetamine deal over a motorcycle. It didn't go well, and it resulted in having an argument with Ms. Sarkkinen. And the end result of that argument was Mr. Nohava pulling her out of the vehicle, pressing her up against the vehicle, and attacking her, choking her. You saw her get emotional on the stand today while she spoke about that. The drug world is dangerous. It's dangerous to everyone involved and especially dangerous for confidential informants.

Nohava did not object to these comments. Instead, he also referred to the other act at issue during closing argument, albeit in a more general manner. In addition to pointing out how Sarkkinen benefitted by cooperating with law enforcement monetarily and in receiving a more favorable outcome in her pending criminal case, defense counsel pointed to her bias and motive to get back at Nohava:

Angela Sarkkinen had an axe to grind against Coye Nohava. She may
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  • State v. Otobhiale
    • United States
    • South Dakota Supreme Court
    • June 15, 2022
    ...or deny other act evidence under SDCL 19-19-404(b) (Rule 404(b)) for an abuse of discretion." State v. Nohava , 2021 S.D. 34, ¶ 13, 960 N.W.2d 844, 849 (citing State v. Phillips , 2018 S.D. 2, ¶ 13, 906 N.W.2d 411, 415 ). "This [standard] applies as well to rulings on motions in limine." JA......

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