State v. Shickles

Decision Date24 June 1988
Docket NumberNo. 20048,20048
Citation760 P.2d 291
PartiesSTATE of Utah, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. Thomas Adison SHICKLES, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtUtah Supreme Court

Lynn R. Brown, Salt Lake City, for defendant and appellant.

David L. Wilkinson, Dave B. Thompson, Salt Lake City, for plaintiff and appellee.

STEWART, Justice:

Thomas Shickles was charged with and convicted of child kidnapping, a first degree felony, pursuant to Utah Code Ann. § 76-5-301.1 (Supp.1987). 1 The trial court sentenced defendant to a minimum mandatory prison term of ten years and a maximum term that may be for life. 2


Shickles met the victim's family through a roller skating club in Kearns, Utah, and a friendly relationship developed between the family and defendant. Shickles frequently visited the victim's family home in Sandy, Utah, and occasionally spent the night there. He even went with them on a three-day ice skating trip to Greeley, Colorado. Because of the friendship that developed, the parents permitted Shickles to take their children various places, such as the planetarium and the movies. Despite the parents' desire that one child not be singled out for attention, defendant became closer to the eight-year-old daughter ("M.") than to the other children.

On the morning of June 3, 1983, Shickles visited the family's home. The victim's mother, who was concerned that she would be late for work, asked defendant to take her three daughters to the babysitter, the mother's sister. Shickles arrived at the sitter's home with the three girls at about 1:30 p.m. and left immediately thereafter, taking M. with him. The sitter was not concerned because defendant was a family friend and often took the children with him on errands. When M. was not returned by midnight, the police were notified.

After Shickles left the sitter's home, he drove with M. to his employer's place of business to pick up a payroll check, then to the bank to deposit the check, and finally to the Salt Lake International Airport, where he purchased two one-way tickets to Denver, Colorado, in the name of Mr. "T.K." (an alias) and Miss "M.K." He told M. that they were going to Denver to purchase a ring for her aunt which she had seen and admired during the trip to Greeley, Colorado. Shickles also told M. that he had permission from her parents to take her with him and that he was going to buy her some clothes. In Denver, Shickles checked into a motel, where he and M. spent the night and a portion of the next day. He showered naked with M. three times and engaged in at least three separate incidents of sexual activity with her. There were no external signs that Shickles physically harmed her.

On the afternoon of June 4, Shickles checked out of the motel, taking M. with him, and took his luggage to a locker at a Denver bus station. From the bus station, he called members of M.'s family, who notified the police. At about 9:00 that evening, FBI agents arrested him at the bus station and took custody of M. During the next few days, FBI agents questioned Shickles in Denver. At first, defendant denied that he had assaulted M., but then said that both he and "Tea" 3 had been aroused by M., had fondled her, and had had intercourse with her. He also told the FBI agents that he had always had permission to take M. anywhere as long as he did not hurt her and that his purpose in taking M. to Denver was to purchase a ring for M.'s aunt, who, along with Shickles, had seen the ring in a store window in Greeley. Later, he stated he took M. to Denver to get her away from her family so that he could be alone with her.

Upon defendant's return to Salt Lake City, he was charged with child kidnapping. The State chose not to charge Shickles with sexual abuse, apparently because of lack of jurisdiction to try Shickles for the acts committed in Denver, Colorado. Shickles pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and the trial court appointed two alienists to examine him. At trial, Dr. Mark Rindflesh testified that he believed Shickles suffered from a multiple personality disorder at the time of the incident. Dr. Robert Greer also diagnosed Shickles as having a dissociative disorder, i.e., a psychogenic fugue, which was psychologically generated and caused flight from reality.

At the conclusion of the trial, the jury was given four verdict forms: guilty, not guilty, not guilty by reason of insanity, and guilty and mentally ill. The jury returned a verdict of guilty and mentally ill.

Thereafter, a sentencing hearing was held to determine whether Shickles should receive a five-, ten-, or fifteen-year mandatory minimum sentence. The State presented no evidence of aggravation; it argued that the court should impose a ten-year-to-life sentence. In mitigation, Shickles called Dr. Rindflesh, who testified that in his opinion, defendant lacked a culpable mental state. Defendant's mother also testified for him.

The trial court imposed a mandatory minimum term of ten years with a maximum term that may be for life. Because of the testimony of Dr. Rindflesh, the trial court ordered that defendant be sent to the state mental hospital for an evaluation to assist the court in determining whether to reduce the mandatory ten-year minimum term to a mandatory minimum five-year sentence. 4 After the evaluation, the trial court declined to reduce the sentence but ordered Shickles confined in the state hospital.


Defendant's first point on appeal is that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of defendant's sexual assaults on M. when the only crime for which he was tried was kidnapping. Before trial, defendant made a motion in limine to exclude evidence of his sexual misconduct against M. during the Denver trip on the ground that the evidence was irrelevant to the charge of kidnapping and highly prejudicial. The trial court denied the motion.

Shickles contends that the evidence was highly inflammatory, had little or no probative value, and, therefore, was inadmissible under Rule 403 of the Utah Rules of Evidence. 5 Specifically, he contends that the evidence was irrelevant under Rule 404(b) to prove child kidnapping because the State needed to prove only that defendant took the victim without the consent of her parents. Shickles argues that his unlawful intent could be inferred from the act itself and that the challenged evidence was wholly unnecessary.

Rule 404(b) of the Utah Rules of Evidence provides that evidence of other crimes is admissible under restricted circumstances:

Evidence of other crimes, wrongs or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show that he acted in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.

The general rule prohibiting evidence that a defendant committed other crimes was established, not because that evidence is logically irrelevant, but because it tends to skew or corrupt the accuracy of the fact-finding process. Indeed, Dean Wigmore has argued, "It is objectionable not because it has no appreciable probative value but because it has too much." 1A J. Wigmore, Evidence in Trials at Common Law § 58.2, at 1212 (Tillers rev. 1983). Thus, evidence of other crimes is generally inadmissible unless it tends to have a special relevance to a controverted issue and is introduced for a purpose other than to show the defendant's predisposition to criminality. State v. Saunders, 699 P.2d 738, 741 (Utah 1985).

Even if evidence of other crimes is probative of a particular element of a crime and is not offered merely to show criminal predisposition, such evidence is not automatically admissible under Rule 404(b). 10 J. Moore & H. Bendix, Moore's Federal Practice, § 404.21 (2d ed. 1988). Its tendency to lead the finder of fact to an improper basis for decision must still be balanced against its probative value and the need for such evidence in proving a particular issue. E. Cleary, McCormick on Evidence, § 190, at 565 (3d ed. 1984) suggests the factors to be evaluated in the balancing process:

The problem is not merely one of pigeonholing, but of classifying and then balancing. In deciding whether the danger of unfair prejudice and the like substantially outweighs the incremental probative value, a variety of matters must be considered, including the strength of the evidence as to the commission of the other crime, the similarities between the crimes, the interval of time that has elapsed between the crimes, the need for the evidence, the efficacy of alternative proof, and the degree to which the evidence probably will rouse the jury to overmastering hostility.

In this case, the trial court held that the prior crime evidence was admissible because it was relevant to intent. To prove the crime defined by § 76-5-301.1, the State had to prove that defendant transported M. to Denver with the intent "to keep or conceal the child from [her] parent[s]. ..." That required more than simply proving a general intent to commit the prohibited act, as Shickles contends. Indeed, the element of intent was complicated in this case because Shickles frequently took M. to various activities with parental permission. In fact, defendant claimed consent on the part of the parents, and he also claimed that his acts were the product of insanity. Although the prosecution adduced other evidences of defendant's intent, such as defendant's own admission that he had taken M. to Denver to get her away from her family, that did not necessarily bar the use of the other-crimes evidence, particularly because intent and mental state were hotly contested issues. Evidence of defendant's illicit conduct with M. was directly probative of the proposition that defendant took M. to Denver with the requisite intent and without a good faith belief that he had implied permission from M.'s parents.


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    • United States
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    ...of insanity, jurors should be able to decide the insanity issue solely on the evidence and law governing the defense." State v. Shickles, 760 P.2d 291, 298 (Utah 1988). In Maryland, the Court of Appeals held that "the interests of justice, fundamental fairness, common sense, and the weight ......
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