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State of Idaho v. Aniceto Betancourt

August 3, 2011

STATE OF IDAHO, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
ANICETO BETANCOURT, IV, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District, State of Idaho, Canyon County. Hon. Bradly S. Ford, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Melanson, Judge

2011 Opinion No. 46

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

Judgment of conviction for possession of a controlled substance, vacated and remanded.

Aniceto Betancourt, IV, appeals from his judgment of conviction for possession of a controlled substance. For the reasons set forth below, we vacate the judgment of conviction and remand for a new trial.

I.

FACTS AND PROCEDURE

Betancourt was stopped by an officer for failure to display a front license plate. Upon approaching the vehicle, the officer asked Betancourt where he was driving and where he had been prior to the stop. Betancourt responded that he had been sleeping in the passenger's seat of the vehicle when he heard gun shots, jumped into the driver's seat, and drove away. Betancourt also admitted to carrying a concealed weapon for which he had a permit. The officer asked permission to retrieve the weapon from the vehicle and Betancourt declined. The officer noticed a strong odor of alcohol on Betancourt's breath and placed him under arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence. An inventory search of the vehicle after Betancourt's arrest revealed methamphetamine under the floor mat of the passenger's seat. Officers took a sample of Betancourt's blood, which later tested positive for methamphetamine.

Betancourt was charged with driving under the influence, I.C. § 18-8004; carrying a concealed weapon while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, I.C. § 18-3302B; and possession of a controlled substance, I.C. § 37-2732(c)(1). Betancourt pled guilty to driving under the influence and carrying a concealed weapon while under the influence. Prior to trial on the remaining charge, Betancourt filed a motion in limine. Betancourt argued that testimony regarding the results of his positive blood test for methamphetamine should not be presented to the jury because the test was not relevant and, if relevant, would be prejudicial and confuse the jury. Further, Betancourt also asserted, by way of a motion on the morning of trial, that a redacted video of the traffic stop was irrelevant and prejudicial. The district court held that both the blood test results and the video were admissible. During trial, the officer testified that, after initially cooperating with the officer and answering questions, Betancourt refused to answer any further questions without a lawyer present. On the following day, trial counsel filed a motion for a mistrial in response to the officer's statements regarding Betancourt's refusal to answer questions. The district court denied the motion. Finally, during closing arguments, the prosecutor asked the jury to pay close attention to Betancourt's demeanor during the video and to note that Betancourt did not want the officer to search the vehicle. The jury found Betancourt guilty of possession of a controlled substance. Betancourt appeals.

II.

ANALYSIS

Betancourt raises six issues on appeal. First, he argues that the district court erred by admitting the redacted video of his traffic stop.*fn1 Second, he asserts that the district court erred by admitting testimony regarding the results of Betancourt's positive blood test for methamphetamine. Third, he contends that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's guilty verdict. Fourth, he argues that the testimony regarding his refusal to answer further questions violated his constitutional rights. Fifth, he argues that the state's comments during closing argument regarding Betancourt's refusal to allow officers to search the vehicle constituted prosecutorial misconduct. Finally, Betancourt contends that, even if this Court concludes that the asserted errors are harmless, the cumulative effect of the errors should result in the vacation of his judgment of conviction for possession of a controlled substance.

A. Evidentiary Issues

First, we address Betancourt's argument that the district court erred by allowing the jury to view a redacted video of his traffic stop and by admitting the results of ...


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