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State v. Sanchez

Supreme Court of Idaho

June 13, 2019

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
BYRON LEE SANCHEZ, Defendant-Appellant.

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

         District court judgment of conviction, affirmed.

          Eric D. Frederickson, State Appellant Public Defender, Boise, for appellant. Jenevieve C. Swinford, Deputy State Appellate Public Defender argued.

          Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for respondent. Lori A. Fleming, Deputy Attorney General argued.

          BURDICK, Chief Justice.

         Byron Lee Sanchez appeals the Ada County district court's judgment of conviction for one count of threats against a public servant. In September 2016, Sanchez was in prison for a felony injury to a child offense arising out of Gem County. While incarcerated, Sanchez sent a letter to the Gem County prosecutor that allegedly threatened harm to the prosecutor and his family. Sanchez's letter prompted the State to charge Sanchez with one count of threats against a public servant with an enhancement because Sanchez committed the offense on the grounds of a correctional facility. A jury convicted Sanchez and he was sentenced to consecutive five-year prison terms, with four years fixed. On appeal, Sanchez challenges the district court's denial of his pre-trial motion to dismiss as well as several evidentiary rulings by the district court. We affirm.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Sanchez was charged and convicted of one count of threats against a public servant in violation of Idaho Code section 18-1353(1)(b) with an enhancement because the offense was committed on the grounds of a correctional facility in violation of Idaho Code section 19-2520F. The charge arose after Sanchez sent an allegedly threatening letter to a Gem County prosecutor who was involved in a separate criminal case against Sanchez. The prosecutor had previously prosecuted and obtained a conviction against Sanchez for felony injury to a child. Following Sanchez's injury to a child conviction, the prosecutor represented the State in a Child Protection Act case to determine placement of Sanchez's children. While Sanchez was incarcerated for the injury to a child charge and awaiting action on his petition for post-conviction relief, Sanchez mailed a letter to the prosecutor's office stating the following:

I hope you and your's [sic] are doing well and congradulations [sic] on the new addition to your family.
To business: A prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice . . . This responsibility carries with it specific obligations to see that the defendant is accorded justice, that guilt is decided upon the basis for sufficient evidence and that precautions are taken to prevent and to rectify the conviction of innocent persons. I.C.R. 3.8(g); (H).
I am about to put some things into motion that neither you or I can undo.
I don't want to, but I absolutely will. I would like to think that we are reasonable. I consider myself a Christian. Retribution does not restore. Hurting others, (even when they deserve it) also injuries [sic] me. I seek mitigation. I am coming to you from a position of Legal strength asking you to consider coming to the prison and talking privately.
I have operated transparently from the beginning. I am willing to make a one time offer which must be acted upon very soon; otherwise I will be forced to do this the hard-way. My chess pieces are ready to move, and moving. Parties have been contacted who await instructions.
I seek an opportunity to show Idaho what mercy looks like.
My God desires mercy over judgement, but make no mistake, when left no options, He will execute vengence [sic] and wrath. Mistakes have been made; let us mitigate them by having an honest private conversation and decide what action may be acceptable to all parties.
Me, sitting in prison, with my children in harm's way, for a crime I didn't commit, past my fixed time, is unacceptable. I have four possible solutions to offer and all of them are more pleasant than what is about to happen. Refuse, and what happens next is your doing.

         After the State charged Sanchez with one count of threats against a public servant after he sent the letter, Sanchez filed two motions to dismiss, first arguing section 18-1353(1)(b) was unconstitutionally overbroad and vague. In his second motion to dismiss, Sanchez argued the amended information was jurisdictionally deficient because it did not include the "material element of 'harm' in the offense charged." After a hearing on Sanchez's motions, the district court denied both of Sanchez's motions to dismiss. As to the first motion, the district court determined Sanchez failed to carry his burden of establishing section 18-1353(1)(b) was unconstitutionally overbroad or vague. As to Sanchez's second motion, the district court determined "harm" was implicated in the information, but the district court granted the State leave to amend the information to expressly include the element of harm.

         Prior to trial, Sanchez moved to exclude two of the State's exhibits, one being the first page of Sanchez's conviction for injury to a child, and the second being the first page of Sanchez's petition for post-conviction relief. The district court denied both motions, determining both were relevant to Sanchez's motive and intent. During trial, the State elicited testimony from the prosecutor about his reaction to reading the letter. Sanchez objected and was overruled. A jury convicted Sanchez, and the district court sentenced him to five years, with four fixed, to run consecutively with his current term. Sanchez timely appeals the district court's judgment of conviction.

         II. ISSUES ON APPEAL

         1. Whether the district court erred when it denied Sanchez's motion to dismiss.

         2. Whether the district court abused its discretion when it admitted evidence of the prosecutor's reaction to Sanchez's letter.

         3. Whether the district court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of Sanchez's prior conviction for injury to a child.

         4. Whether the district court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of Sanchez's post-conviction proceeding.

         5. Whether the errors alleged by Sanchez, in the aggregate, deprived him of a fair trial.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "[C]onstitutional questions and questions of statutory interpretation are questions of law, [therefore] this Court exercises free review over both." Leavitt v. Craven, 154 Idaho 661, 665, 302 P.3d 1, 5 (2012) (quoting Stuart v. State, 149 Idaho 35, 40, 232 P.3d 813, 818 (2010)). In cases challenging the constitutionality of a statute:

There is a presumption in favor of the constitutionality of the challenged statute or regulation, and the burden of establishing that the statute or regulation is unconstitutional rests upon the challengers. An appellate court is obligated to seek an interpretation of a statute that upholds it [sic] constitutionality. The judicial power to declare legislative action unconstitutional should be exercised only in clear cases.

Id. (quoting Stuart, 149 Idaho at 40, 232 P.3d at 818).

This Court reviews questions regarding the admissibility of evidence using a mixed standard of review. State v. Stevens, 146 Idaho 139, 143, 191 P.3d 217, 221 (2008). First, whether the evidence is relevant is a matter of law that is subject to free review. State v. Field, 144 Idaho 559, 569, 165 P.3d 273, 283 (2007). Second, we review the district court's determination of whether the probative value of the evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect for an abuse of discretion. Stevens, 146 Idaho at 143, 191 P.3d at 221.

State v. Ehrlick, 158 Idaho 900, 907, 354 P.3d 462, 469 (2015). When this Court reviews whether a trial court has abused its discretion, the four-part inquiry is "[w]hether the trial court: (1) correctly perceived the issue as one of discretion; (2) acted within the outer boundaries of its discretion; (3) acted consistently with the legal standards applicable to the specific choices available to it; and (4) reached its decision by the exercise of reason." Lunneborg v. My Fun Life, 163 Idaho 856, 864, 421 P.3d 187, 194 (2018) (citation omitted).

         IV. ...


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