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State v. Salinas

Supreme Court of Idaho

August 1, 2018

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
JUAN SALINAS, JR., Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Steven Hippler, District Judge.

         The district court's judgment of conviction is affirmed.

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

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for respondent. Mark W. Olson argued.

          BRODY, JUSTICE

         This case addresses whether the district court erred in its application of Idaho Rule of Evidence 404(b). Juan Salinas was charged with the crime of attempted lewd conduct with a minor under sixteen. He engaged in online conversations with a detective posing as an adult. He discussed entering a sexual relationship with the fictitious adult and her minor daughter, and was arrested when he later drove to a hotel where he and the detective had agreed to meet. The State sought to admit evidence of similar conversations that Mr. Salinas had with others, as well as sexual pictures of a fifteen-year-old and four-year-old girl, not part of the State's fictitious scenario. The district court admitted all the challenged evidence except the picture of the fifteen-year-old, which the court found was propensity evidence and prohibited under the Idaho Rules of Evidence. The district court found Salinas guilty of attempted lewd conduct after a bench trial. Mr. Salinas appeals the judgment of conviction, contending that the challenged evidence should have been excluded as inadmissible propensity evidence. We conclude the district court did not err in admitting the challenged evidence and affirm the judgment of conviction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The State and Mr. Salinas agree on the relevant facts in this case. On December 15, 2015, an Ada County Sheriff's Office detective observed a Craigslist advertisement entitled "Taboo Moms Only." The ad was created on December 14, 2015, and ostensibly sought a sexual encounter with a mother and daughter, stating "[a]ge not an issue." The detective determined that Salinas posted the ad based on the email address associated with the account. The detective then used the fictitious persona of a 34-year-old single mother named Jill with a 9-year-old daughter named Chloe to engage Salinas in conversations-initially by email, then by text message. After several weeks of sexually explicit exchanges, Salinas requested to meet Jill and Chloe. The detective (posing as Jill) set up a meeting at a nearby hotel. Salinas was arrested upon showing up at the hotel, and the State charged him with attempted lewd conduct with a minor under sixteen years old.

         The State filed a notice of intent to use in its case in chief certain evidence of Salinas' other acts to establish or prove motive or intent, in accordance with Rule 404(b) of the Idaho Rules of Evidence. The State sought to use evidence that (1) Salinas emailed himself a nude picture of an approximately four-year-old girl in a sexually-suggestive position; (2) Salinas requested and received a nearly-nude picture of a girl who responded to a separate sexual advertisement and who claimed to be fifteen years old; and (3) Salinas engaged in two additional conversations with women with young daughters who answered his "Taboo Moms Only" advertisement, using sexually explicit language regarding the daughters. Salinas objected, and the court held a hearing on the State's motion on July 29, 2016. The trial judge ruled all evidence except the picture of the fifteen-year-old girl admissible as relevant to motive.

         Salinas proceeded to a bench trial on August 16-18, 2016. The court found him guilty of the charged conduct and sentenced him to fifteen years, with four-and-a-half years fixed and ten-and-a-half years indeterminate. Salinas timely appealed, claiming the court erred in admitting the challenged evidence as relevant to motive. We now affirm.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Evidence is relevant if it has "any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." I.R.E. 401. "Whether evidence is relevant is an issue of law" that this Court reviews de novo. State v. Page, 135 Idaho 214, 219, 16 P.3d 890, 895 (2000). Idaho courts employ a two-step analysis to determine the admissibility of evidence under Rule 404(b). State v. Russo, 157 Idaho 299, 308, 336 P.3d 232, 241 (2014) (citing State v. Pepcorn, 152 Idaho 678, 688, 273 P.3d 1271, 1281 (2012)). "First, the evidence 'must be sufficiently established as fact and relevant as a matter of law to a material and disputed issue other than the character or criminal propensity of the defendant.'" Id. (quoting Pepcorn, 152 Idaho at 688, 273 P.3d at 1281). Second, the court must conduct a Rule 403 analysis to ensure that the evidence's probative value is not "substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice." Id.; I.R.E. 403.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. The district court did not err in admitting the ...


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