State v. Stricklan, 101520 UTSC, 20180944

Docket Nº20180944
Opinion JudgePearce Justice.
Party NameState of Utah, Appellee, v. Michael Stricklan, Appellant.
AttorneySean D. Reyes, Att'y Gen., Jeffrey D. Mann, Asst. Solic. Gen., Kristin L. Zimmerman, Salt Lake City, for appellee Troy L. Booher, J. Frederic Voros, Jr., Salt Lake City, Freyja R. Johnson, North Salt Lake, for appellant
Judge PanelJustice Pearce authored the opinion of the Court in which Associate Chief Justice Lee and Justice Petersen joined. Chief Justice Durrant authored a dissenting opinion in which Justice Himonas joined. Chief Justice Durrant, dissenting:
Case DateOctober 15, 2020
CourtSupreme Court of Utah

2020 UT 65

State of Utah, Appellee,

v.

Michael Stricklan, Appellant.

No. 20180944

Supreme Court of Utah

October 15, 2020

Heard February 12, 2020

On Direct Appeal

Third District, Salt Lake The Honorable Elizabeth A. Hruby-Mills No. 171902781

Sean D. Reyes, Att'y Gen., Jeffrey D. Mann, Asst. Solic. Gen., Kristin L. Zimmerman, Salt Lake City, for appellee

Troy L. Booher, J. Frederic Voros, Jr., Salt Lake City, Freyja R. Johnson, North Salt Lake, for appellant

Justice Pearce authored the opinion of the Court in which Associate Chief Justice Lee and Justice Petersen joined. Chief Justice Durrant authored a dissenting opinion in which Justice Himonas joined.

OPINION

Pearce Justice.

INTRODUCTION

¶1 A jury convicted Michael Stricklan of two counts of aggravated sexual abuse of his ten-year-old stepdaughter (E.D.). Stricklan appeals the district court's denial of a motion for a directed verdict and a motion to arrest judgment. In both motions, Stricklan argued that the State had produced insufficient evidence to convict him because, by trial, E.D. had recanted her story that Stricklan had inappropriately touched her. Instead, E.D. testified before the jury that she had lied on the two occasions she told a police detective that Stricklan had touched her chest and backside while she was in her bedroom.

¶2 The primary question we need to resolve is whether E.D.'s recantation meant, as Stricklan argues, that our case law dictates that there was insufficient evidence of guilt to dispel reasonable doubt. We conclude that the jury was entitled to weigh the two versions of E.D.'s story, consider the other evidence of Stricklan's guilt, and decide which version of E.D.'s story it found to be credible. The district court did not err in concluding that there was sufficient evidence to sustain Stricklan's convictions. We affirm.

BACKGROUND1

¶3 On the night of Stricklan's birthday, Stricklan, E.D., and E.D.'s mother (Mother) went to dinner to celebrate. Upon returning, E.D. got ready for bed, told Mother and Stricklan goodnight, and went to her room to sleep.

¶4 The events that followed form the basis of this appeal. E.D. provided two different accounts of what happened after she went to bed that evening, and below we explain what the jury heard about each account. But common to both versions is that sometime in the early morning, E.D. spoke to Mother, which led to Mother questioning Stricklan, and Stricklan calling the police.2

¶5 Officer Hulse testified that police dispatch sent her and Detective Holdaway to investigate a possible sexual abuse case.3When Hulse arrived at the home around 5:00 a.m., she observed that Stricklan appeared intoxicated. Hulse spoke to Mother and E.D. in Mother's bedroom. Hulse spoke mainly to Mother. Both Mother and E.D. appeared upset and looked as though they had been crying. Hulse testified that Mother appeared "like she had been crying for a while; she appeared very upset." She also noted that E.D.'s face "was kind of swollen like she had been crying and was kind of still crying as she was sitting there." Hulse did not interview Stricklan.

¶6 Officer Dallof replaced Hulse around 5:30 a.m. Dallof testified that Detective Holdaway arrived at the residence around 6:40 or 7:00 a.m. and interviewed E.D.[4] E.D. told the detective that Stricklan had touched her on the "boobs and the butt."

¶7 Detective Holdaway also interviewed Stricklan. According to Dallof, Stricklan told Holdaway he was watching television when Mother came out and confronted him. Stricklan told Holdaway that Mother said to him that E.D. had told her that he had touched E.D. When Holdaway asked why E.D. would say Stricklan touched her, Stricklan replied something to the effect of, "I don't know why." Holdaway also asked Stricklan if he had gone into E.D.'s room. Stricklan said he had entered to turn off the light and the television. Stricklan not only denied touching E.D. inappropriately, but also denied that he had touched her at all.

¶8 Holdaway explained the investigation process to Stricklan and advised him to leave the home and stay elsewhere while the investigation proceeded. Dallof testified he heard Stricklan then call someone on the phone and say that he needed a ride because he "acted inappropriately and I need you to come and pick me up," or "I acted inappropriately, I can't stay here, I need you to come and pick me up."5

¶9 The jury also heard E.D. testify that she and Mother went to the Children's Justice Center (CJC). During the CJC interview, E.D. told the detective that Stricklan had touched her "right at the bottom" and on her "boobs."

¶10 A few days after the incident, Stricklan voluntarily went to the police station to talk to Holdaway. Stricklan told Holdaway that E.D. had never lied to him. Stricklan said that he did not think E.D. was making anything up. Stricklan also indicated he did not have "any recollection" of what happened that night. He indicated he did not remember turning off E.D.'s television or light or going into her room at all.

¶11 Detective Timpson testified there was some concern that Stricklan was either impaired or intoxicated during the initial interview on the night of the incident.[6] But at the time of the follow up interview, Stricklan indicated he was sober and had just come back from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

¶12 Stricklan then discussed the events of the night of the incident and admitted that he had been drinking. Stricklan indicated that he remembered watching television and then "his wife coming out yelling at him and waking him up."

¶13 At trial, E.D. testified that what she told Holdaway at the CJC was a lie. E.D. testified that Stricklan did not touch her. E.D. explained that she woke up during the night because her television was off, and she was used to sleeping with the sound on. She testified that when she woke up, she saw Stricklan on the floor and went to tell Mother. E.D. testified Mother got up and asked Stricklan what he was doing. According to E.D., Stricklan responded that he did not know, "got scared and so that's when he told, called the cops on himself."

¶14 The State reminded E.D. that she had previously given another reason why she woke up that night. When asked about her prior statements to Holdaway, E.D. did not want to testify and tried to invoke her Fifth Amendment right. The court recessed so E.D. could watch a portion of the video of her CJC interview outside the presence of the jury.

¶15 After watching the video, E.D. was again asked about her prior statements to Holdaway during the CJC interview. Q: Did that refresh your recollection of what you told the detective?

A: Yes.

Q: Can you tell me what you told the detective?

A: That he touched me and stuff and that is a lie because I was so scared because I thought I was going to get in trouble and then my mom was going to get in trouble. So yeah.

Q: Tell me what you told the detective.

A: That he touched me right at the bottom.

. . . .

Q: Okay. And did you tell the detective that it was over the clothes, under the clothes, or something else?

A: That part I don't remember.

Q: Okay. So touched your bottom and what else did you tell the detective about where [Stricklan] touched you?

A: On the back and the chest area.

Q: Okay. Do you have another word for chest area so I understand what you mean?

. . . .

A: My boobs? I don't know.

Q: Okay. Is that the right word, boobs? Is that what you told the detective indicating where he touched you?

A: Yes, uh-huh (affirmative).

¶16 E.D. also testified that she could not remember what she told Holdaway about how she had awakened that night. When responding to defense counsel's questioning, E.D. indicated she could not remember what she told Holdaway the day of the incident or at the CJC because she "couldn't remember what [she] made up." E.D. confirmed that she had twice told the police that she was "touched on the boobs and the butt"-once when Holdaway came the night of the incident and once at the CJC interview.

¶17 E.D. said that she told Holdaway a lie because she was scared. E.D. offered that "nothing happened" that night. And when questioned by defense counsel, E.D. testified she was "100 percent sure" that Stricklan did not touch her and that there was "no doubt in her mind." E.D. also testified that nobody had pressured, threatened, or promised her anything to say Stricklan did not touch her. When asked, "Are you saying that [Stricklan] didn't touch your boobs or your butt because that is 100 percent the truth?" E.D. responded, "Yes."

¶18 E.D. also confirmed testimony she had given at Stricklan's preliminary hearing in which she indicated she has had an "experience when [she wakes] up and being half awake that [she] sometime[s] say[s] crazy and untrue stuff." When asked by defense counsel, E.D. confirmed that "when [she] woke up [she] had one of those crazy and untrue moments in which [she] believe[d] that [Stricklan] had touched" her. E.D. further testified she was afraid when she "told the police the lie" at the CJC and was "afraid that [she] and [her] mother were going to get in trouble."

¶19 E.D. testified that when she finally "spoke[] out the truth, now I don't feel like I'm going to get in trouble anymore." And she later testified, "No, I said it didn't happen, so . . . that's the truth, it didn't happen."

¶20 The State asked E.D. about the change in her story. The State focused on what life had been like after Stricklan left. E.D. testified that the house was quiet. She said that she, Mother, and her grandparents all missed Stricklan. E.D. also testified that Mother cried "a whole bunch of times" after Stricklan's departure. E.D. stated she...

To continue reading

Request your trial