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State v. Baeza

Supreme Court of Idaho

November 2, 2016

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
MARCELINO B. BAEZA, Defendant-Appellant.

         2016 Opinion No. 116

         Appeal from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Blaine County. Hon. Jonathan Brody, District Judge.

         The district court's judgment of conviction is affirmed.

          Eric Fredericksen, Interim State Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for appellant. Ben P. McGreevy argued.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General, Boise, for respondent. Ted S. Tollefson argued.

          HORTON, Justice.

         Marcelino Baeza appeals from the district court's judgment of conviction for one count of lewd conduct with a minor child under the age of sixteen involving his five-year-old niece, J.C. Baeza argues that allowing J.C. to testify at trial through closed-circuit television violated his due process right to a fair trial and presumption of innocence and that the district court failed to adequately consider the relative rights of the parties under Idaho Code section 9-1806 when it ordered the alternative method for presenting J.C.'s testimony. We affirm.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On July 16, 2013, the Blaine County grand jury returned an indictment charging Baeza with two counts of lewd conduct with a minor child under the age of sixteen, a violation of Idaho Code section 18-1508. Both counts alleged that Baeza had sexual contact with his five-year-old niece, J.C. Count One alleged manual-genital contact and Count Two alleged manual-anal contact.

          On January 9, 2014, the State filed a motion to allow the child witness to provide testimony by an alternative method. The State argued that its key witness, J.C., was a five-year-old child who would suffer serious emotional trauma if she were required to testify in open court or confronted face-to-face by Baeza. At the hearing on the motion, the State called Tami Kammer, a licensed clinical professional counselor. Kammer testified that J.C. was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and recommended that J.C. not be required to testify in open court or in front of Baeza. The State argued that under Idaho Code sections 9-1805 and 9-1806, J.C. should be allowed to testify through alternative methods. On January 17, 2014, Baeza filed a written response to the State's motion. Baeza argued that allowing J.C. to testify through closed-circuit television raised constitutional questions under the Confrontation Clause and Baeza's due process right to a fair trial and presumption of innocence.

         On March 4, 2014, the district court issued a pretrial order regarding an alternative method of presenting J.C.'s testimony. The district court concluded that the State had shown by clear and convincing evidence that J.C. "would suffer serious emotional trauma that would substantially impair the child's ability to communicate with the finder of fact if required to be confronted fact-to-face by the defendant." The district court explained that it had thoroughly considered all of the factors listed in Idaho Code section 9-1806 and that permitting an alternative method of testimony was appropriate.

         On April 9, 2014, the State filed a motion to close the trial and to allow child-friendly procedures during J.C.'s testimony. At the hearing on the motion, Baeza objected to closing the courtroom and to some of the proposed child-friendly procedures. On April 18, 2014, the district court issued a second pretrial order regarding the alternative method of presenting the child's testimony. The district court concluded that "the trauma to the child from public testimony needs to be minimized to the extent reasonably possible." The district court explained that "[w]eighing [Baeza's] interests against [J.C.'s] the court concludes the public and [Baeza] should be excluded during [J.C.'s] testimony...." The order provided that Baeza would be "present, alone, in the small jury room during the victim's testimony, where he [would] be able to both see and hear the victim testify...." The district court also ordered that Baeza's family members would be permitted to view a live video feed of J.C.'s testimony in an adjoining courtroom.

         Following the second pretrial order regarding the alternative method of presenting J.C.'s testimony, the presiding district judge recused himself and a new district judge was assigned. On May 12, 2014, Baeza filed a motion to reconsider the order regarding J.C.'s testimony. Baeza argued that requiring Baeza and the public to leave the courtroom during J.C.'s testimony would have a prejudicial effect on his due process right to a fair trial. On July 15, 2014, the district court issued its Order re: Testimony by Alternate Method. The district court found that "there is clear and convincing evidence that the child could suffer serious emotional trauma that would substantially impair her ability to communicate with the jury if she is required to be confronted face-to-face by the Defendant." Based on that finding, the district court stated that "testimony by alternative means will be allowed, and this court has considered the factors in I.C. Sec. 9-1806." However, the district court ordered that instead of removing Baeza and his family from the courtroom during J.C.'s testimony, J.C. would testify via two-way closed-circuit television and that "the camera will be set in such a way that [Baeza] is not seen by the child."

         At trial, prior to J.C.'s testimony, the district court instructed the jury not to give any different weight to J.C.'s testimony based on any of the child-friendly procedures that were in place:

THE COURT: And, ladies and gentlemen, it's going to be obvious in a second, but [J.C.] is going to testify over a video link. There should be audio. So you're going to see that. And if we have to deal with that during the testimony, please bear with us.
But I do have an instruction regarding that for you. So the instruction as to the testimony is this: Do not give any different weight to [J.C.'s] testimony because of the child-friendly procedures used during her testimony.

         At the close of evidence, the district court again instructed the jury not to give different weight to J.C.'s testimony because of the manner in which her testimony was presented:

THE COURT: Do not give any different weight to [J.C.'s] testimony because of the child-friendly procedures used during her testimony.

         The jury found Baeza guilty of Count One and not guilty of Count Two. The district court sentenced Baeza to twenty years imprisonment, with ten years fixed. Baeza timely appealed.

         II. ...


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