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State v. Sepulveda

Supreme Court of Idaho

November 3, 2016

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
CESAR A. SEPULVEDA, Defendant-Appellant.

         2016 Opinion No. 123

         Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Jason D. Scott, District Judge.

         District court judgment of conviction and sentencing, affirmed.

          Eric Fredericksen, Interim State Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for appellant. Brian R. Dickson, argued.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for respondent. Theodore S. Tollefson, Deputy Attorney General argued.

          BURDICK, Justice.

         Cesar Antonio Sepulveda appeals from the Ada County District Court's judgment after a jury found him guilty of felony intimidating a witness, misdemeanor domestic battery, injury to a child, and two counts of attempted violation of a no contact order. Sepulveda contends that his right to confront witnesses, his right to present a defense, and his right to be free from double jeopardy were violated and that his convictions should be vacated. We affirm.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On December 27, 2013, officers responded to a 911 call placed by Connie Grainger. In the call, Grainger reported that she had heard a loud bang and yelling from Sepulveda's apartment, which shares a wall with Grainger's. When the officers arrived, they found a pipe and some methamphetamine in Sepulveda's pants pocket. Sepulveda told the officers that the pipe and methamphetamine belonged to his girlfriend, L.M., and that she had attacked him after he confronted her about her drug use. L.M. told officers that she had confronted Sepulveda about feeding the children, that she and Sepulveda then got into an argument, and that during the argument Sepulveda attempted to strangle her. Sepulveda was arrested and ultimately charged with attempted strangulation and misdemeanor injury to a child.[1] A no contact order was also entered prohibiting Sepulveda from contacting L.M.

         While in custody, Sepulveda called L.M.'s sister and was recorded asking her to contact L.M. and tell L.M., among other things, not to appear in court. Sepulveda was also recorded contacting Lisa Cameron, a cellmate's wife, and asking her to contact L.M. and tell L.M. that if L.M. did not show up at the preliminary hearing the charges would be dropped. These calls resulted in Sepulveda being charged with felony intimidating a witness and two counts of attempted violations of a no contact order.

         L.M. testified during a preliminary hearing that Sepulveda took her by the neck, got on top of her, and choked her with two hands. On cross-examination, L.M. was asked whether she had ever harmed herself and whether she had used methamphetamine a few days prior to the day of the incident. Both of these lines of questioning were objected to for relevance and the court sustained both objections.

         Several months after the December 27, 2013, incident but prior to trial, L.M. committed suicide by overdosing on methamphetamine and two other drugs for which she had prescriptions. As a result, the State filed a pretrial motion to admit L.M.'s preliminary hearing testimony at trial. Sepulveda objected, contending that he had not had an adequate opportunity to cross-examine L.M. during the preliminary hearing regarding issues that impacted her credibility, namely, her history of drug use and her history of self-abuse. The district court, finding that Sepulveda had an adequate opportunity to cross-examine L.M., granted the State's motion. The State also moved to exclude any reference to the cause of L.M.'s death during the trial. Sepulveda objected, contending that the cause of death was relevant to his theory of defense. The State argued that L.M.'s suicide was irrelevant to the trial. Agreeing with the State, the district court granted the State's motion.

         The jury found Sepulveda guilty of domestic battery, injury to a child, intimidating, impeding, influencing, or preventing the attendance of a witness, and two counts of attempted violation of a no contact order. Sepulveda timely appeals.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Sepulveda's claims are constitutionally based. "The requirements of the Idaho and U.S. Constitutions are questions of law, over which this Court has free review." State v. Draper, 151 Idaho 576, 598, 261 P.3d 853, 875 (2011).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Sepulveda contends his constitutional rights to confront witnesses against him, to present a defense, and to be free from double jeopardy were violated in the lower court proceedings. We address each claim in turn.

         A. Sepulveda's right to confront the witnesses against him was not violated.

         The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that a criminal defendant has "the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him." U.S. Const. amend. VI. " 'This provision bars admission of testimonial statements of a witness who did not appear at trial unless he was unavailable to testify, and the defendant had had a prior opportunity for cross-examination.' " State v. Richardson, 156 Idaho 524, 528, 328 P.3d 504, 508 (2014) (quoting Davis v. Washington, 547 U.S. 813, 821 (2006)). Testimonial statements include "at a minimum . . . prior testimony at a preliminary hearing, before a grand jury, or at a former trial . . . ." Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 68 (2004). The Confrontation Clause "is made obligatory on the States by the Fourteenth Amendment." Pointer v. Texas, 380 U.S. 400, 403 (1965).

         There is no dispute that L.M.'s statements at the preliminary hearing were testimonial or that L.M. was unavailable to testify at the trial. As such, the only issue is whether Sepulveda had a prior adequate opportunity to cross-examine L.M.

         In Richardson, we stated:

Crawford did not specifically address what constitutes an 'adequate' opportunity for cross-examination, but the cases the [U.S. Supreme] Court cited, Pointer, Green, and Mancusi, do provide some guidance in assessing whether an adequate opportunity has been afforded. There are three indicators of an adequate opportunity for cross-examination based on U.S. Supreme Court case law. The first indication of an adequate opportunity to cross-examine is representation by counsel. A second indication is no significant limitation in any way in the scope or nature of counsel's cross-examination. The third indication is counsel's failure to show any new and significantly material line of cross-examination that was not at least touched upon in the preliminary hearing. These three factors are illustrative and not meant to be exhaustive or exclusive in the determination of the adequacy of cross-examination under the Confrontation Clause. Whether a party had an adequate opportunity to cross-examine is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Richardson, 156 Idaho at 528-29, 328 P.3d at 508-09 (alteration in original) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Additionally, we have stated that " 'the exposure of a witness' motivation in testifying is a proper and important function of the constitutionally protected right of cross-examination.' " State v. White, 97 Idaho 708, 713, 551 P.2d 1344, 1349 (1976) (quoting Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308, 316 (1974)).

         Sepulveda contends that his right to confront the witnesses against him was violated because he was limited in his cross-examination of L.M. during the preliminary hearing and was "not afforded the opportunity to question L.M. about potential sources of bias or motives to testify falsely." Specifically, Sepulveda argues that he was restricted in his cross-examination of L.M. when the trial court sustained a relevance objection to his question regarding whether L.M. had used methamphetamine a few days prior to the day of the alleged incident.[2] Sepulveda contends that by sustaining the objection the court prevented him from cross-examining L.M. about her methamphetamine use and cut off his ability to question L.M. about "this source of bias and motive to testify falsely against him." The full exchange was as follows:

Q: Now, you said that you hadn't used any methamphetamine that day. Had you a few days prior ...

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