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State v. Weigle

Supreme Court of Idaho

August 27, 2019

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
ERIC LIVINGSTON WEIGLE, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Thomas Neville and Deborah A. Bail, District Judges.

         The judgment of conviction is affirmed.

          Eric D. Fredericksen, State Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for appellant Eric Livingston Weigle. Andrea W. Reynolds argued.

          Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for respondent State of Idaho. Theodore S. Tollefson argued.

          Stegner, Justice.

         Eric Livingston Weigle (Weigle) was found guilty of robbing a credit union following a two-day jury trial. During the trial, the State's forensic scientist used a PowerPoint presentation to explain how she matched one of Weigle's known fingerprints to one found on the note used in the robbery. At trial, the presentation was admitted as an exhibit for demonstrative purposes without objection. It was then published to the jury. During its deliberations, the jury asked for a copy of the PowerPoint presentation. Weigle's counsel objected; however, the district court overruled the objection and provided the jury with the presentation. The jury found Weigle guilty. The district court imposed a conviction.

         Weigle appealed from his judgment of conviction. The Court of Appeals affirmed. This Court granted his petition for review. Weigle argues that giving the presentation to the jury during deliberations was improper and constituted reversible error. For the following reasons, we affirm the trial court's decision to give the jury the PowerPoint presentation and the sentencing court's judgment of conviction.[1]

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On October 5, 2016, a man committed a robbery at the Icon Credit Union on North Orchard Street in Boise, Idaho. The man handed a teller a note which read, "MONEY on counter or I shoot u!" The man was not wearing gloves. The teller then handed over $1, 990 in cash. As the teller handed the man the money, she "scooped the note off onto the ground" as trained, so the authorities could examine it for fingerprints. The man then turned and walked out of the credit union. Multiple bank robbery alarms alerted the police. An officer arrived within a few minutes to secure the credit union. Not long after, a crime scene investigator arrived and took possession of the note as evidence.

         After security footage of the man committing the robbery was made public, a call was received by the police in which the caller identified Weigle as the man who had committed the robbery. The police eventually learned that fingerprints had been identified on the note, so they requested a comparison of Weigle's known fingerprints to those on the note. The known prints and the note were then sent to the Ada County Crime Lab for analysis. Natasha Wheatley (Wheatley), the forensic scientist in the lab who specializes in the processing and evaluating of latent fingerprints, was given the task of comparing the fingerprints.

         Wheatley analyzed five potential prints to determine if any of them were of value for comparison. She found one of the prints to be of sufficient value for comparison (the fingerprint). Wheatley then compared the fingerprint with Weigle's known prints. After her analysis, Wheatley concluded that the fingerprint obtained from the note matched Weigle's left thumbprint. Wheatley contacted the lead detective and informed him that the print on the note matched Weigle's. As a result, a warrant was issued for Weigle's arrest on October 31, 2016. He was arrested three days later. Weigle was charged with the felony crime of robbery, in violation of Idaho Code sections 18-6501 and 6502. The State also sought a persistent violator sentencing enhancement as set out in Idaho Code section 19-2514. Weigle's trial began on June 27, 2017, and ended the following day.

         In preparation for her trial testimony, Wheatley created a PowerPoint presentation which demonstrated how she compared the two fingerprints and why she came to the conclusion she did. At trial, the State moved to admit the presentation "for demonstrative purposes." No objection was voiced by defense counsel and the district court admitted the presentation as State's Exhibit 13. The presentation was then published to the jury. Wheatley testified about the presentation, slide-by-slide, explaining how she had compared and matched the two fingerprints.

         During deliberations, the jury submitted an inquiry to the court which read: "We are missing a piece of the State's evidence: State's Exhibit No. 13, the CD PowerPoint Presentation that Natasha Wheatley referred to for the fingerprint analysis." Defense counsel objected and argued that Exhibit No. 13 should not be given to the jury during deliberations because it was only admitted for demonstrative purposes. The district court overruled defense counsel's objection. The district court gave the presentation to the jury with an additional handwritten instruction that read, "Exhibit No. 13 will be submitted to you as requested. Remember that it was admitted for a limited purpose and is the subject of Instruction No. 14."[2] Weigle's counsel objected a second time on the same basis. The objection was again overruled.

         The jury found Weigle guilty of robbery. Weigle then pleaded guilty to the persistent violator enhancement.[3] A judgment of conviction was entered on September 18, 2017. Weigle was sentenced to a twenty year unified sentence, with the first six years fixed. Weigle timely appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that Weigle's argument on appeal was not properly preserved. This Court then granted his petition for review.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "When reviewing a case on petition for review from the Court of Appeals this Court gives due consideration to the decision reached by the Court of Appeals, but directly reviews the decision of the trial court." State v. Schmierer, 159 Idaho 768, 770, 367 P.3d 163, 165 (2016).

         "A defendant appealing from an objected-to, non-constitutionally-based error shall have the duty to establish that such an error occurred . . . ." State v. Perry, 150 Idaho 209, 222, 245 P.3d 961, 974 (2010). If a defendant can demonstrate error, the burden shifts to the State to demonstrate "that the error is harmless beyond a reasonable doubt." Id.

         III. ...


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