State v. Sanchez

Decision Date31 January 2008
Docket NumberNo. DA 06-0052.,DA 06-0052.
Citation341 Moat. 240,177 P.3d 444,2008 MT 27
PartiesSTATE of Montana, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. Raul C. SANCHEZ, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtMontana Supreme Court
177 P.3d 444
2008 MT 27
341 Moat. 240
STATE of Montana, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
Raul C. SANCHEZ, Defendant and Appellant.
No. DA 06-0052.
Supreme Court of Montana.
Heard May 7, 2007.
Submitted June 5, 2007.
Decided January 31, 2008.

[177 P.3d 447]

For Appellant: Chad Wright and David Avery (argued), Appellate Defender Office, Helena, Montana.

For Appellee: Honorable Mike McGrath, Attorney General; C. Mark Fowler (argued), Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Robert Zimmerman, County Attorney, Thompson Falls, Montana.

Justice W. WILLIAM LEAPHARTdelivered the. Opinion of the Court.


¶ 1 Raul C. Sanchez (Sanchez) appeals from his conviction in the Twentieth Judicial District, Sanders County, of deliberate homicide. We affirm.

¶ 2 We restate the issues as follows:

¶ 3 Did the District Court improperly allow Aleasha's statements to be introduced over Sanchez's hearsay objections?

¶ 4 Did the introduction of Aleasha's note violate Sanchez's Sixth Amendment right to confrontation?

¶ 5 Did the prosecutor's closing argument deny Sanchez the right to a fair trial?

¶ 6 Did the "lesser included offense" language of the mitigated deliberate homicide instruction impermissibly allow the jury to consider sentencing in reaching its verdict?

BACKGROUND

¶ 7 Sanchez shot and killed Aleasha Chenowith (Aleasha) outside her home on the night of July 19, 2004. Later that evening, Sanchez turned himself in to law enforcement and admitted shooting Aleasha. The State charged Sanchez with deliberate homicide for Aleasha's death.

¶ 8 Before trial, Sanchez moved to exclude a note the State proposed to offer as a trial exhibit. The note read:

To whom it concerns:

On July 8, 04 around 10:30 p[sic] Raul Sanchez Cardines told me if I ever was cought [sic) with another man while I was dating him; that he would kill me. Raul told me he had friends in Mexico that had medicine that would kill me and our doctors wouldn't know what, it was till it was to [sic] late and I would be dead.

So if I unexspetly [sic] become sick and on the edge of death, and perhaps I die no [sic] you will have some answers.

Aleasha Chenowith (written and printed signature)

¶ 9 Sanchez argued that the note should be excluded because it contained inadmissible multiple hearsay and would also violate his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation. The District Court denied Sanchez's motion and ruled that Aleasha's note was admissible as a statement under belief of impending death, pursuant to M.R. Evid. 804(b)(2). The District Court concluded that Sanchez's statements within the note were admissible as either a statement against interest, pursuant to M.R. Evid. 804(b)(3), "or as a statement describing Sanchez's then existing state of mind, pursuant to M.R. Evid. 803(3). The District Court did not address Sanchez's Confrontation Clause claim. Sanchez's jury trial began on June 13, 2005.

¶ 10 At trial, Sanchez testified that he and Aleasha had been dating for approximately four-and-a-half months and that he had contemplated marrying Aleasha. However, Sanchez became suspicious that Aleasha was cheating on him with Angel, one of Sanchez's co-workers. On July 19, 2004, Sanchez confronted Angel, who confirmed Sanchez's suspicions. Sanchez testified that when he later spoke with Aleasha, she threatened to create problems for him with law enforcement so that Sanchez would ultimately have his children taken away from him. According to Sanchez, he felt as though "something got dark in [his] head[,]" and he shot Aleasha several times.

¶ 11 At trial, the State introduced several statements that Aleasha made to others before her death. In addition to the note, the State elicited testimony about other instances in which Sanchez purportedly threatened Aleasha. Pamela Ehrlich testified that Aleasha told her about an argument she had with Sanchez. According to Ehrlich's testimony, during the argument Sanchez stated, "Me love you, [Aleasha]. Me not love you that much. You cross me, I kill you." The District Court overruled Sanchez's hearsay objection. Leann Chenowith, Aleasha's sister,

177 P.3d 448

testified that Aleasha told her that "if [Aleasha] ever made [Sanchez] mad ... he had stuff in Mexico that his friend could give him, and that it would eat her stomach in a matter of days." This statement was also admitted over Sanchez's hearsay objection.

¶ 12 During closing arguments, the prosecutor argued that the jury could convict Sanchez of mitigated deliberate homicide only if the jury found that Sanchez's response to extreme emotional distress was reasonable, rather than that his explanation for the extreme emotional distress was reasonable. Defense counsel objected that the prosecutor was misinterpreting the jury instructions, and the District Court overruled the objection.

¶ 13 Sanchez objected throughout the proceedings to the mitigated deliberate homicide jury instruction because the instruction stated that mitigated deliberate homicide was a "lesser included offense" of deliberate homicide. Sanchez argued that the instruction allowed the jurors to indirectly consider sentencing factors in their deliberations. The District Court overruled Sanchez's objection.

¶ 14 The jury convicted Sanchez of deliberate homicide, and the District Court sentenced Sanchez to life without parole in Montana State Prison. Sanchez appeals his conviction.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 15 We review a district court's evidentiary rulings for abuse of discretion. State v. Mizenko, 2006 MT 11, ¶ 8, 330 Mont. 299, ¶ 8, 127 P.3d 458, ¶ 8. A court abuses its discretion when it acts arbitrarily, without employing conscientious judgment, or exceeds the bounds of reason, resulting in substantial injustice. State v. Weldele, 2003 MT 117, ¶ 72, 315 Mont. 452, ¶ 72, 69 P.3d 1162, ¶ 72. We review de novo a district court's interpretation of the Sixth Amendment. Mizenko, ¶ 8. In criminal cases, we review jury instructions in their entirety to determine if they fully and fairly presented the applicable law to the jury. State v. Detonancour, 2001 MT 213, ¶ 57, 306 Mont. 389, ¶ 57, 34 P.3d 487, ¶ 57.

DISCUSSION

¶ 16 I Did the District Court improperly allow Aleasha's statements to be introduced over Sanchez's hearsay objections?

¶ 17 "Hearsay is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted" within the statement. M.R. Evid. 801(c). Hearsay is inadmissible "except as otherwise provided by statute, these rules [of evidence], or other rules applicable in the courts of this state." M.R. Evid. 802. Sanchez asserts that the District Court erred when it admitted, over hearsay objections, Aleasha's statements to her sister, Aleasha's statements to her neighbor, and Aleasha's note. According to Sanchez, these three statements contain double hearsay and thus, to be admissible, must comply with the multiple-hearsay rule, which requires that all instances of hearsay within a statement conform to a hearsay exception. M.R. Evid. 805. We note at the outset that these three statements contain only one level of hearsay. Montana Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2) provides:

Statements which are not hearsay. A statement is not hearsay if: ... (2) Admission by party-opponent. The statement is offered against a party and is (A) the party's own statement, in either an individual or a representative capacity

(Paragraph breaks omitted.) Thus, the statements attributable to Sanchez are exempt from the hearsay definition; they are not hearsay.

A. Aleasha's statement to her sister

¶ 18 Leann Chenowith testified that Aleasha told her that Sanchez had threatened that "if [Aleasha] ever made [Sanchez] mad ... he had stuff in Mexico that his friend could give him, and that it would eat her stomach in a matter of days." The District Court overruled Sanchez's hearsay objection without stating a specific rationale. Sanchez argues that no hearsay exception applies to this statement and that the District Court erred in admitting the statement.

¶ 19 We conclude that the District Court correctly overruled Sanchez's hearsay objection

177 P.3d 449

to Leann Chenowith's testimony because the statement falls outside the hearsay definition. Though Aleasha made the statement outside the courtroom, the record reveals no indication that the State sought to prove that Sanchez actually could obtain poison from acquaintances in Mexico. The State may have offered the statement to show a pattern of threats or that Sanchez contemplated killing Aleasha; however, these rationales are not objectionable on hearsay grounds. The District Court correctly overruled Sanchez's hearsay objection because the State did not offer the statement to prove the truth of the matter asserted, and thus, the statement was not hearsay.

B. Aleasha's statement to her neighbor

¶ 20 Pamela Ehrlich testified that Aleasha told her that, during an argument, Sanchez stated, "[m]e love you, [Aleasha]. Me not love you that much. You cross me, I kill you." The District Court again overruled Sanchez's hearsay objection without stating a specific rationale. Sanchez argues that no hearsay exception applies to this statement and that the District Court erred in admitting the statement. The State apparently combines its arguments relating to the statements of Aleasha's neighbor and Aleasha's sister and responds that Aleasha's statements could be admissible as excited utterances, present sense impressions, or statements made under a belief of impending death. Alternatively, the State argues that if the District Court erred its error was harmless.

¶ 21 Our review of the record convinces us that the hearsay exceptions proposed by the State are inapplicable to this statement. The "present sense impression" hearsay exception applies to statements made "while the declarant was perceiving the event or condition, or immediately thereafter." M.R. Evid. 803(1). Ehrlich's testimony...

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