State v. Valdez, No. 20181015-CA

CourtCourt of Appeals of Utah
Writing for the CourtHARRIS, Judge
Citation482 P.3d 861
Parties STATE of Utah, Appellee, v. Alfonso Margo VALDEZ, Appellant.
Decision Date11 February 2021
Docket NumberNo. 20181015-CA

482 P.3d 861

STATE of Utah, Appellee,
v.
Alfonso Margo VALDEZ, Appellant.

No. 20181015-CA

Court of Appeals of Utah.

Filed February 11, 2021


Emily Adams, Cherise M. Bacalski, and Freyja Johnson, Salt Lake City, Attorneys for Appellant

Sean D. Reyes, Salt Lake City, and John J. Nielsen, Attorneys for Appellee

Judge Ryan M. Harris authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory K. Orme and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.

Opinion

HARRIS, Judge:

482 P.3d 865

¶1 A jury convicted Alfonso Margo Valdez of kidnapping, robbery, and aggravated assault, after his ex-girlfriend (Ex-Girlfriend) testified that he forced her into his car with a gun, threatened her, hit her with the gun, cut her face with a knife, and stole her purse and phone. Valdez appeals his convictions, claiming that the trial court incorrectly—and in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution—allowed the State to imply guilt from Valdez's refusal to provide the swipe code to unlock his cell phone. Valdez also asserts that his attorney rendered ineffective assistance and that the court improperly excluded a witness's testimony. We find merit in Valdez's Fifth Amendment argument, reverse his convictions on that basis, and remand for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND1

¶2 Valdez and Ex-Girlfriend dated and cohabited for a time in 2017 and, as Ex-Girlfriend recounted it, their relationship was a volatile one. She described Valdez as accusatory and violent, sometimes hitting and choking her, other times confining her in a locked room and once beating her so severely that her injuries required hospitalization. After their relationship ended, Ex-Girlfriend moved out of Valdez's apartment, but Valdez continued to contact her via phone and text message. Ex-Girlfriend maintained that, after they parted ways, she largely tried to keep her distance from Valdez but acknowledged that she had willingly seen him "a couple times" after their breakup, but before the incident at issue here occurred.

¶3 About two months after their relationship ended, Valdez sent Ex-Girlfriend a text message telling her he had some mail to give her and asking her to meet him. Although Ex-Girlfriend had concerns about meeting Valdez, she thought it was "nice of him" to reach out for the purpose of passing along her mail, and she "had hope" that their meeting "would be decent." Ex-Girlfriend told Valdez to meet her early one morning near her workplace after she finished her night shift. When Valdez pulled up in an SUV, Ex-Girlfriend approached the passenger side of the vehicle. She later testified that when she leaned into the open passenger-side window to speak to Valdez, he pulled out a revolver and told her to get in the car. Frightened, she complied, and Valdez began driving.

¶4 After Ex-Girlfriend got in the vehicle, Valdez told her "how stupid [she] was" for agreeing to meet him before saying, "I hope you have talked to your kids today, because you are not going to get away from me this time." Valdez also pulled out a twelve-inch knife, which he wedged, blade pointed upward, between Ex-Girlfriend and the vehicle's center console. Ex-Girlfriend testified that, as Valdez drove, he held the gun in his left hand, hit her in the head with it, and struck her "several times in the head and face" with his other hand. He also demanded that she give him her phone and purse, which she did, and that she take off her clothes, a demand she perceived as an attempt to prevent her from escaping. Other than beginning to unlace her shoes, she did not remove her clothing.

¶5 At one point, while the vehicle was stopped, Valdez dislodged the knife and ran it down Ex-Girlfriend's face, cutting her lip. Ex-Girlfriend testified that, soon thereafter, she went into "survival mode," and began attempting to get out of the vehicle, an endeavor Valdez impeded by putting his hand around her throat and holding on to her hair. Eventually, Ex-Girlfriend was able to spin out of Valdez's grip, open the car door, and exit the vehicle. She then ran toward nearby houses, first knocking on a door and receiving no answer, and then attempting to flag down a passing vehicle. Finally, Ex-Girlfriend noticed a woman (Witness) standing on a nearby front porch and made her way toward that house.

¶6 Ex-Girlfriend explained to Witness that she was trying to escape from Valdez, and that Valdez had a knife and a gun and was

482 P.3d 866

trying to kill her. Ex-Girlfriend did not mention any injuries, and Witness did not see any blood on Ex-Girlfriend. Witness called the police, and a detective (First Detective) soon arrived and took statements from both Witness and Ex-Girlfriend. Much of First Detective's encounter with Witness and Ex-Girlfriend was recorded on First Detective's body camera. Witness told First Detective that she had seen Valdez's vehicle stop in front of her house, and she could tell that Valdez and Ex-Girlfriend were arguing but could not see a knife or gun. During her trial testimony, Witness described watching the vehicle drive a few houses down the street, and observing Ex-Girlfriend apparently trying to get out of the vehicle, with her legs hanging out of the car; from Witness's vantage point, it appeared that Valdez was attempting to prevent Ex-Girlfriend from leaving the vehicle. A few hours later, another detective (Second Detective) interviewed Ex-Girlfriend at the police station; this interaction was also recorded.

¶7 The next day, police arrested Valdez and seized, among other things, an Android phone discovered on his person at the time of his arrest. Police later obtained a warrant to search the phone, but were unable to access its contents because they did not know the code to unlock the phone, which in this case was a "swipe code," a "nine dot pattern." According to the officer assigned to try to access the phone's contents, this particular phone would "only allow so many attempts" to unlock it "before completely locking you out of the phone or wiping or resetting the device and losing all of the data." After obtaining a warrant to search the phone, officers asked Valdez "for his pass code" and explained that if he did not provide it then they would attempt "maneuver[s]" with the phone that could "destroy[ ]" it. An officer testified that Valdez "refused to give [him] the pass code and just told [him] to destroy the phone." Officers were ultimately unable to access the phone's contents.

¶8 After investigation, the State charged Valdez with aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated robbery. The case first proceeded to a jury trial in August 2018, but the court declared a mistrial when the State's first witness—Ex-Girlfriend—told the jury, in contravention of a pretrial order, that Valdez had previously spent time in prison. About two months later, a new jury was empaneled and a second trial was held; this trial spanned five trial days and included testimony from eleven witnesses.

¶9 In the second trial, the State called as its first witness First Detective, who gave a lengthy and detailed narrative account of his interaction with Ex-Girlfriend at Witness's house on the day of the incident. After First Detective offered his observations of Ex-Girlfriend's appearance—that she had a small cut on her top lip and a broken hair clip, but no other apparent injuries—the prosecutor asked him whether Ex-Girlfriend had "provide[d] any details about how [the] kidnapping had occurred." First Detective answered in the affirmative, and spent the next five transcript pages describing in narrative fashion what Ex-Girlfriend had said to him about her encounter with Valdez. As First Detective began to describe Ex-Girlfriend's account of how she escaped from Valdez's vehicle, Valdez's attorney lodged a hearsay objection, stating that First Detective's testimony may have "fit within an [exception] up until this point," but that his description of her escape from the vehicle was no longer "showing any effect on this officer and how he conducted the investigation." The court overruled the objection, explained to the jury that the testimony was admissible "under a hearsay exception where it tells us why the officer acted in his investigation the way he did," and instructed the jury that First Detective's testimony in this vein was not to be considered "for the truth of the matter asserted." First Detective then completed his narrative description of what Ex-Girlfriend had told him, taking another two pages of trial transcript to do so. First Detective also described his interaction with Witness, but in much less detail.

¶10 After First Detective's testimony, Witness and Ex-Girlfriend testified about the incident, as recounted above. The State also called two additional police officers, who—among other things—testified that police were never able to find Ex-Girlfriend's phone or any knife, and located only a starter pistol, 2

482 P.3d 867

but no actual handgun, during a search of Valdez's residence.

¶11 The State called Second Detective as its final witness. One of the other officers had already testified that police were unable to access the contents of Valdez's phone, but had not described Valdez's refusal to provide the swipe code. As Second Detective began describing Valdez's refusal, Valdez's attorney...

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11 practice notes
  • State v. Garcia-Lorenzo, 20200369-CA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • August 18, 2022
    ...likely to arise again," we elect to briefly discuss two of Garcia-Lorenzo's other arguments. See State v. Valdez , 2021 UT App 13, ¶ 54, 482 P.3d 861, cert. granted , 496 P.3d 715 (Utah 2021) ; see also State v. Low , 2008 UT 58, ¶ 61, 192 P.3d 867 (reversing on other grounds and remanding ......
  • Diversified Concepts LLC v. Koford, 20191071-CA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • July 1, 2021
    ...moment to describe the analytical steps the court should undertake in this particular case. See State v. Valdez , 2021 UT App 13, ¶ 54, 482 P.3d 861, cert. granted , (Utah June 10, 2021) (No. 20210175). ¶53 In the discharge-of-duty inquiry, the court must evaluate whether the Kofords even h......
  • State v. Carrera, 20181053-CA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • August 18, 2022
    ...an expert in being able to discern truthful sexual abuse allegations from false ones"); see also State v. Valdez , 2021 UT App 13, ¶ 55, 482 P.3d 861 (classifying as "improper and inadmissible" certain testimony from a police officer stating "that he believed [the complaining witness] was t......
  • Diversified Concepts LLC v. Koford, No. 20191071-CA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • July 1, 2021
    ...moment to describe the analytical steps the court should undertake in this particular case. See State v. Valdez, 2021 UT App 13, ¶ 54, 482 P.3d 861, cert. granted, (Utah June 10, 2021) (No. 20210175).¶53 In the discharge-of-duty inquiry, the court must evaluate whether the Kofords even had ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
11 cases
  • State v. Garcia-Lorenzo, 20200369-CA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • August 18, 2022
    ...likely to arise again," we elect to briefly discuss two of Garcia-Lorenzo's other arguments. See State v. Valdez , 2021 UT App 13, ¶ 54, 482 P.3d 861, cert. granted , 496 P.3d 715 (Utah 2021) ; see also State v. Low , 2008 UT 58, ¶ 61, 192 P.3d 867 (reversing on other grounds and remanding ......
  • Diversified Concepts LLC v. Koford, 20191071-CA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • July 1, 2021
    ...moment to describe the analytical steps the court should undertake in this particular case. See State v. Valdez , 2021 UT App 13, ¶ 54, 482 P.3d 861, cert. granted , (Utah June 10, 2021) (No. 20210175). ¶53 In the discharge-of-duty inquiry, the court must evaluate whether the Kofords even h......
  • State v. Carrera, 20181053-CA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • August 18, 2022
    ...an expert in being able to discern truthful sexual abuse allegations from false ones"); see also State v. Valdez , 2021 UT App 13, ¶ 55, 482 P.3d 861 (classifying as "improper and inadmissible" certain testimony from a police officer stating "that he believed [the complaining witness] was t......
  • Diversified Concepts LLC v. Koford, No. 20191071-CA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • July 1, 2021
    ...moment to describe the analytical steps the court should undertake in this particular case. See State v. Valdez, 2021 UT App 13, ¶ 54, 482 P.3d 861, cert. granted, (Utah June 10, 2021) (No. 20210175).¶53 In the discharge-of-duty inquiry, the court must evaluate whether the Kofords even had ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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