from the District Court of the First Judicial District of the
State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Honorable Richard S.
Christensen, District Judge.
decision of the district court is affirmed.
Honorable Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise,
for appellant. Kenneth K. Jorgensen argued.
D. Fredericksen, State Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for
respondent. Jenny C. Swinford argued.
State appeals from the dismissal of a charge against the
defendant for her failure to notify of a death pursuant to
Idaho Code section 19-4301A. The statute imposes a duty on
persons who find or have custody of a body to promptly notify
authorities. It also prescribes the punishment for failure to
comply with that duty, including felony punishment for
failing to notify with intent to prevent discovery of the
manner of death. The question presented on appeal is whether
the defendant's prosecution under this statute would
violate her Fifth Amendment privilege against
self-incrimination. We hold that it would based on the unique
set of facts of this case and affirm the district court's
decision to dismiss the charge.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
November 2015, Kimberly Vezina's body was found wrapped
in a tarp and a shower curtain in Lake Coeur d'Alene. Law
enforcement's investigation revealed that Laura Akins was
suspected of disposing the body after Vezina died of a drug
overdose. The investigation established that on the morning
of October 15, 2015, Vezina was found deceased in a bathroom
of a house in Spokane Valley, Washington. At the time, Akins
was living in the house with a collection of other occupants.
The residence had been raided earlier that month and was
known by local law enforcement as a place where significant
drug use and distribution occurred. During the course of the
investigation, multiple persons relayed suspicion that Vezina
was the victim of an intentional overdose caused or ordered
by a former resident.
the discovery of Vezina's death, one of the other
residents directed Akins and another person who had been at
the house, Lacy Drake, to dispose of the body at a lake house
owned by Akins's relatives in Coeur d'Alene. This
decision reflected that Akins and Drake had less extensive
criminal records than the other occupants of the house. That
evening, Akins and Drake were provided with a
"burner" SUV in which the wrapped body had been
placed in the rear cargo area. After briefly stopping at the
lake house, Akins and Drake drove to a nearby public boat
launch, unloaded the body, carried it to the dock, and dumped
it into the water with an attached bag of cement. Three weeks
later, the body was discovered by two fishermen who initially
noticed the tarp on the surface of the lake and thereafter
notified authorities. A subsequent coroner's examination
confirmed that Vezina had died of combined drug toxicity.
State charged Akins with one count of failure to notify of a
death (I.C. § 19-4301A(3)) and one count of destruction
of evidence (I.C. § 18-2603). As to the first count, the
State specifically alleged
[t]hat the defendant, Laura Louise Akins, on or about the
15th day of October, 2015, in the County of Kootenai, State
of Idaho, having had custody of the body of Kimberly Sue
Vezina, a human being who died, failed to notify or delayed
notification to law enforcement or coroner of said death
where the death would be subject to the coroner's
investigation, with the intent to prevent discovery of the
manner of death[.]
moved to dismiss this count, contending that her prosecution
under section 19-4301A violated her Fifth Amendment privilege
against self-incrimination. Following a hearing on the
motion, the district court issued a memorandum decision
dismissing the count. The district court later entered a
written order, from which the State now appeals.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court applies an abuse of discretion standard when it reviews
a trial court's decision on a motion to dismiss."
State v. Eversole, 160 Idaho 239, 244, 371 P.3d 293,
298 (2016) (citing State v. Card, 137 Idaho 182,
184, 45 P.3d 838, 840 (2002)). To determine if a trial court
abused its discretion, this Court considers whether the trial
court perceived the issue as one of discretion, acted within
the outer boundaries of that discretion, acted consistently
with the applicable legal standards, and reached its decision
by an exercise of reason. Id. (citing State v.
Joy, 155 Idaho 1, 6, 304 P.3d 276, 281 (2013)).
Akins's motion raised a constitutional challenge.
"Constitutional issues are purely questions of law over
which this Court exercises free review." State v.
Baeza, 161 Idaho 38, 40, 383 P.3d 1208, 1210 (2016)
(quoting Morgan v. New Sweden Irrigation Dist., 160
Idaho 47, 51, 368 P.3d 990, 994 (2016)).
appeal presents a question of first impression for this
Court. The issue underlying Akins's motion was whether
enforcement of section 19-4301A against her would be
constitutionally permissible in light of her Fifth Amendment
privilege against self-incrimination. The Fifth Amendment of
the U.S. Constitution provides that "[n]o person . . .
shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness
against himself." U.S. Const. amend. V. The privilege
against compulsory self-incrimination has been incorporated
against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.
Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 6 (1964); see
also Idaho Const. art. I, § 13. In its application,
the privilege "protects against any disclosures which
the witness reasonably believes could be used in a criminal
prosecution or could lead to other evidence that might be so
used." Kastigar v. United States, 406 U.S. 441,
445 (1972) (citing Hoffman v. United States, 341
U.S. 479 (1951); Blau v. United States, 340 U.S. 159
(1950); Mason v. United States, 244 U.S. 362
(1917)). "This provision of the Amendment must be
accorded liberal construction in favor of the right it was
intended to secure." Hoffman, 341 U.S. at 486.
19-4301A is found amongst the criminal procedure statutes
regarding coroner inquests. See I.C. §§
19-4301 to 19-4310. The statute imposes a duty on persons who
find or have custody of a body to promptly notify the coroner
or appropriate law ...