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State v. Woods

Court of Appeals of Idaho

May 2, 2019

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
JAYSON L. WOODS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District, State of Idaho, Canyon County. Hon. George A. Southworth, District Judge.

         Judgments of conviction for first degree murder, conspiracy to commit robbery, and accepting the earnings of a prostitute, affirmed.

          Eric D. Fredericksen, State Appellate Public Defender; Justin M. Curtis, Deputy Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for appellant.

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


          HUSKEY, Judge

         A jury found Jayson L. Woods guilty of first degree murder, robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, and accepting the earnings of a prostitute. On appeal, Woods argues the district court erred in allowing testimony of the witness who downloaded evidence from Woods's cell phone via two-way Skype[1] video in violation of the Confrontation Clause. Woods also argues his convictions of conspiracy to commit robbery and first degree murder constitute double jeopardy amounting to fundamental error. For the reasons provided below, we affirm.


         Woods was charged with first degree murder, conspiracy to commit robbery, robbery, and accepting the earnings of a prostitute. Woods pled not guilty and went to trial. The facts presented at trial by various testimony were as follows. Under Woods's direction, three men, Kelly Schneider, Daniel Henkel, and Kevin Tracy, and one woman, Abigail Williams, posted escort advertisements online. Initially, sexual services were performed for money; Woods coordinated and organized the activity. After some time, an additional scheme developed. If anyone responded to the advertisements, the plan was to steal any money found without providing any sexual services.

         On the night of the murder, Woods drove the group around while they waited for someone to respond to one of the advertisements. The victim (Victim) eventually responded to Schneider's advertisements, and Woods instructed Schneider to respond. Schneider responded, asking Victim to meet at a nearby store. Woods dropped Schneider off at the store. Shortly after being dropped off, Schneider returned to Woods's car, explaining that he had taken Victim's money without performing any sexual act. Schneider then gave Woods the money, which Woods divided between himself and Schneider.

         Woods continued to drive the group around until Victim texted Schneider again, requesting to meet. Woods instructed Schneider to reply that he would meet Victim. Woods then drove Henkel and Tracy to a nearby lake and dropped them off, telling them to hide in the bushes in case Schneider needed help. Woods next drove Schneider to a store to meet with Victim and, at some point, Woods texted Schneider instructing him to steal Victim's car. The plan was that Victim would drive Schneider to the lake where Tracy and Henkel hid, and Schneider would take Victim's money without performing any sexual acts.

         As Henkel and Tracy waited in the bushes, Tracy texted with Woods. Tracy texted Woods that Henkel would use a pipe to get Victim out of his car if needed. Woods responded, "Good. Do what you have to." After half an hour, Schneider texted he was on his way to the lake. At the lake, the car pulled up, Schneider and Victim got out, there was a scuffle, and Schneider yelled for Henkel. Schneider then got on top of Victim, pushing Victim's face in the dirt with Schneider's knee in Victim's back. Victim yelled "Don't kill me" and screamed in pain as Schneider kicked Victim repeatedly. Schneider yelled for Tracy to get into Victim's car as Schneider continued to kick Victim, threw Victim's shoes, and removed Victim's clothes. After putting the clothes in the back of the car, Schneider drove off in Victim's vehicle with Tracy inside. They stopped to pick up Henkel and drove to an apartment building. The three men left the car at the apartment building and walked to a convenience store where Woods and Williams picked them up. Schneider gave Woods the money Schneider had taken from Victim, and Woods split Victim's money between himself and the passengers, excluding Henkel.

         Meanwhile, Victim began banging on doors until a local resident called 911. Victim relayed the night's events to a police officer before being taken to a hospital in an ambulance. As a result of the recent attack and beating, Victim eventually went into cardiac arrest and died.

         At the end of the seventh day of the eleven-day jury trial, the State requested that Berrios, a witness from Virginia, be allowed to testify via two-way Skype video in order to lay foundation for the data that was retrieved from Woods's cell phone. The State argued that Berrios's testimony via Skype rather than in-person was necessary because the data recovery was only recently returned and was only provided to Woods the previous day. The State also argued that because Woods objected to the State's previous request for a continuance, he waived any right to object to the late disclosure. Woods objected to the admission of the testimony, arguing that pursuant to Maryland v. Craig, 497 U.S. 836 (1990), such testimony violated his Sixth Amendment right to confront the witness because using Skype was not necessary to further an important public policy. First, Woods argued that objecting to a continuance does not automatically waive a right to object. Next, Woods pointed out that the State had the phone for nine months prior to the request for video conferencing and had plenty of time to resolve any issues. Finally, Woods speculated that the reason the State did not fly the witness to Idaho was due to a financial reason and that reason was insufficient to ignore the requirements of the Confrontation Clause of face-to-face confrontation and cross-examination. The State responded that the right to confront is not absolute, the witness was purely foundational, and the State did its due diligence to attempt to get the information as promptly as possible so therefore the court should allow the witness to testify via Skype. At the hearing, the State provided no information about the cost or the practical logistics of getting the witness to Idaho to testify in person, nor did it agree that the absence of the witness was due to a financial burden.

         The district court granted the request, stating it had done its own research and found that although Idaho had addressed the issue in regard to a one-way video where a young victim testified while screened from the alleged perpetrator of a sexual assault, Idaho has not yet addressed the precise issue in this case. In reaching its decision, the district court stated:

I have considered the costs and the time limits of flying somebody from Quantico, Virginia here to Idaho just to identify the process of getting into the phone that they were able to do it and sent a package of results, although not totally printed out, back to Idaho where those results were printed in a usable form in Idaho by the witness that has testified. I think that those are considerations that have been allowed in other cases.

         Following the trial, the jury found Woods guilty of first degree murder, conspiracy to commit robbery, robbery, and accepting the earnings of a prostitute. At the State's recommendation, the district court merged the robbery charge with the first degree murder charge and sentenced Woods on the remaining three charges. Woods timely appeals.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Any Error in Admitting Berrios's Testimony Was Harmless

         On appeal, Woods contends two-way video testimony is governed by the rule articulated in Craig, and thus the absence of physical face-to-face confrontation is only permitted when necessary to further an important public policy and where the testimony is otherwise reliable. Although Woods does not challenge the reliability or content of the testimony, he maintains that admission of the two-way, video-conferenced testimony was not necessary to further an important public policy, and therefore it violated the rule announced in Craig. Woods also argues that Idaho Criminal Rule 43.2 is unconstitutional in light of Craig.

         The State argues that two-way video testimony does not require a finding of an important public policy to support its admission as is required for a one-way video conference. The State also argues that Idaho Criminal Rule 43.2 allows for such testimony to be presented via two-way video conference without a finding of necessity. However, if a showing of necessity is required, the State argues the timing of the report coupled with the physical and logistical problems of transporting the expert cross-country satisfies the necessity requirement. Alternatively, the State asserts that even if there was a constitutional violation, it was harmless. In support of its harmless error argument, the State contends that the detective testifying regarding the contents of the phone had already laid proper foundation and chain of custody. The State also contends the witness testifying via two-way video was not subject to credibility attacks, and therefore the lack of physical presence was harmless. In addition, the State argues the evidence was sufficient to convict Woods regardless of the data from his phone. Woods argues this misstates the Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18 (1967) harmless error test. In this case, assuming without deciding the district court erred in admitting the testimony, this Court finds any Confrontation Clause error harmless because a review of the entire record demonstrates a rational jury would have found Woods guilty absent the error.

         The harmless error test as set forth in State v. Perry, 150 Idaho 209, 245 P.3d 961 (2010) is: where a constitutional violation occurs at trial, and is followed by a contemporaneous objection, a reversal is necessitated, unless the State proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the error complained of did not contribute to the verdict obtained. Id. at 221, 245 P.3d at 973. The United States Supreme Court applied that standard in Neder v. United States, 527 U.S. 1, 18 (1999). There, the Court noted that like in cases in which evidence had been admitted in violation of the right to confront witnesses, the harmless error test for Fifth and Sixth Amendment violations and for instructional error "must be essentially the same: Is it clear beyond a reasonable doubt that a rational jury would have found the defendant guilty absent the error?" Id. The Court further explained that a reviewing court applying a harmless error test does not become in effect a second jury to ...

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