State v. West

Docket Number20210335-CA
Decision Date02 June 2023
Citation2023 UT App 61
PartiesState of Utah, Appellee, v. Deborah Jean West, Appellant.
CourtUtah Court of Appeals

Fifth District Court, St. George Department The Honorable Jeffrey C. Wilcox The Honorable John J. Walton No. 191500815

Nicolas D. Turner, Attorney for Appellant

Eric Clarke and James R. Weeks, Attorneys for Appellee

Judge Michele M. Christiansen Forster authored this Opinion, in which Judges David N. Mortensen and Ryan D. Tenney concurred.


¶1 Deborah Jean West appeals from a jury's determination that she violated a civil stalking injunction, challenging her conviction and the sentencing court's sentence on several grounds. West asserts that the trial court erred in denying her pretrial motions to exclude certain evidence and to continue the trial. West also argues that her pro se post-trial motions to dismiss were denied in error. Finally West argues that her constitutional right to be represented by counsel was violated when the court sentenced her without first determining whether her decision to represent herself was made knowingly and intelligently.

¶2 We uphold the trial court's denial of the motion to exclude evidence and the motion to continue and therefore affirm West's conviction. However, because the sentencing court did not ensure that West's waiver of counsel was done knowingly, we vacate West's sentence and remand for further proceedings. Because of our resolution of those issues, we do not reach the merits of West's argument regarding her post-trial motions.

The Pretrial Motions and Trial

¶3 In May 2019, West was charged with violating a stalking injunction. The stalking injunction included the restriction that West was not to come within twenty feet of C.L (Petitioner). The charge against West derived from an encounter between Petitioner and West that occurred in their housing community's clubhouse library. At trial, the State bore the burden to prove that West intentionally or knowingly violated the stalking injunction. See Utah Code § 76-5-106.5(2)(b).

¶4 After being notified by the State that it intended to introduce evidence that West had allegedly violated the injunction on two other occasions after charges were filed West filed a motion in limine the day before trial to preclude the admission of that evidence. The court addressed this motion on the first day of trial. West argued that the evidence should be excluded because it was improper character evidence, lacked any relevance, and posed a danger of unfair prejudice. The State argued that the evidence of West's other alleged violations of the injunction should be admitted and presented to the jury to show West's intent, knowledge, or lack of mistake, which the State argued was relevant to proving the intent element of the charged crime. See Utah R. Evid. 404(b) (stating that evidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove propensity, but may be admissible to prove "motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident").

¶5 When the trial court indicated its intention to admit the evidence, West's counsel requested a continuance of the trial, arguing that as the State's disclosure of the evidence was made only fifteen days before trial, he was precluded from appropriately preparing for the evidence, such as giving potential witnesses the proper notice to appear to testify. West's counsel further contended that based on the sparse information regarding the State's evidence, he would not have known whom to subpoena. The trial court ultimately denied the motion to continue, stating, "We have a jury here, a jury panel. I want the case tried," indicating that it might "revisit the issue again" as the evidence was admitted.

¶6 During trial, the evidence presented showed that Petitioner was present at the clubhouse library, West entered the library, a brief verbal interaction occurred between the two, Petitioner called the police, and West left the library.

¶7 Petitioner testified that when she saw West was about to enter the library, she said, "Please don't come in now. There is a 20-feet rule. You need to stay away from me 20-feet. . . . Or I'm going to have to call the police." Despite this warning, West continued to enter the library and responded by saying something to the effect that she did not care and to "go ahead." She then proceeded to remove her shoes, step onto a couch cushion, and hang a poster advertising a community event. Petitioner then left the clubhouse library in search of another person to witness that West had entered the clubhouse library where Petitioner had been. During Petitioner's testimony, the State also showed video surveillance of the door to the clubhouse library, showing West walking in and Petitioner walking out shortly afterward. And a police officer testified that following the incident, based upon Petitioner's report, he measured the approximate distance that would have been between Petitioner and West and concluded that West was easily within the twenty-foot radius prohibited by the stalking injunction.

¶8 The State also presented evidence of the two other interactions between West and Petitioner-both occurring after the library incident for which West was charged and before the trial-where West was alleged to have been closer to Petitioner than the injunction's twenty-foot restriction. In the first incident, both West and Petitioner attended a community potluck, and West sat at a table within twenty feet of Petitioner. In the second incident, while attending services at their church, Petitioner was in the church foyer and West approached, put her things down near where Petitioner was standing, and then stood within the same area for an extended time.

¶9 West testified at trial and she and her counsel had the following exchange after viewing surveillance video from the clubhouse library:

Counsel: [S]o you saw in the video [Petitioner] walks off away from the library, correct? And then the video shows you walking out some seconds later in the same direction. Is that correct?
West: That is correct.
Counsel: Now did you know where she had gone?
West: No.
Counsel: Okay. So where were you going when you walked out of there?
West: I was going to the kitchen . . . . And then I went from there into the exercise room.
. . . . Counsel: So you hung up two more posters after the library. And then did you leave?
West: Yes . . . .

¶10 Following deliberation, the jury found West guilty of violating the stalking injunction.

The Post-trial Motions and Sentencing

¶11 After trial and prior to sentencing, West filed several pro se post-trial motions, claiming in each that she was no longer represented by counsel. West also aired numerous grievances, of which few are relevant here. Pertinent to this appeal, West took issue with the trial court's admission of the evidence of the other instances of alleged contact between her and Petitioner, and she repeatedly requested that her case be dismissed.

¶12 During a sentencing review hearing in December 2019, the sentencing court[1] asked West if she would "like a new lawyer," to which West responded in the negative. Without engaging in any colloquy[2] and without questioning West about her understanding of the significance and the risk of proceeding without counsel, the court accepted West's indication to proceed pro se, ordered West's trial counsel to withdraw, and allowed West to represent herself.

¶13 At her sentencing hearing approximately sixteen months later-the delay in proceedings due in small part to expected scheduling conflicts and in larger part to the COVID-19 pandemic-the court engaged in no further discussion with West about her decision to waive counsel and represent herself, other than to note that West "put [herself] at a disadvantage . . . having fired [her] lawyer," which was "pretty clear in the record, and [West] confirmed that . . . at [the sentencing review]." During this hearing, the sentencing court focused on West's post-trial motions. The sentencing court indicated on the record that West had "framed most of the written materials . . . as motions to dismiss," and noted that the motions had not "been submitted for decision, which would normally be required under the [Utah] Rules of Criminal Procedure." However, the court expressed its intention to provide immediate responses to the motions, having told West that the court "would rule on [the] motions" during the sentencing hearing. The court then proceeded to deny the portion of West's motions to dismiss dealing with the evidence of the other alleged injunction violations admitted at trial.

¶14 Next, the sentencing court addressed the other issues raised in West's motions, simply concluding that "frankly, . . . the motions that [West had] made [were] legally frivolous." The court ultimately denied all of West's motions in totality and then proceeded with sentencing. The court sentenced West to serve 364 days in jail, but it suspended the jail time, and imposed a fine. The court ordered West to serve eighteen months of probation with the conditions that she complete community service, complete an anger management course, and continue to comply with the stalking injunction. West appeals.


¶15 The first issue we address is West's challenge to the denial of her pretrial motions. She argues that the trial court erred in denying the motion in limine, contending that she was denied the right to a fair trial when the court allowed evidence of additional interactions between West and Petitioner to be admitted. We review for an abuse of discretion a trial court's decision to admit evidence under rules 404(b),...

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