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State v. Law

State v. Law, 2020 UT App 74 (Pohlman, J.)

Criminal

The defendant got in a scuffle with a police officer at a hospital and was eventually charged with and convicted of disarming a peace officer. He contested his conviction, arguing that insufficient evidence supports a required finding that he intentionally tried to disarm the officer. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction, holding:

  • Sufficient evidence supports a finding of intent. The jury heard evidence that the defendant made statements that he was suicidal and would “kill himself” before being admitted to a certain hospital. The officer and a medical technician both testified that while being admitted at the hospital, the defendant attempted to remove the officer’s gun from the officer’s holster. A guard further testified that he saw the defendant “going for the officer’s gun,” even though he did not see his hand on the gun. The jury also heard audio of the incident, including defendant stating that he was trying to kill himself, not the officer. The defendant’s statements and the other testimony support an inference that he was intentionally trying to take the officer’s firearm.
  • Even if it was equally reasonable to find that the defendant accidentally jostled or brushed up against the firearm under State v. Cristobal, 2010 UT App 228, identification of an equally plausible alternative inference is not enough to set a verdict aside under State v. Ashcraft, 2015 UT 5. Cristobal’s statement regarding equally plausible inferences is effectively invalid.
  • On review, it is not the function of an appellate court to determine the credibility of conflicting evidence. Contradictory testimony alone is not enough to disturb a jury’s verdict. The fact that officer’s, the technician’s, and the guard’s testimonies were not completely consistent with each other and with the audio recording is not a basis to reverse.
  • The technician’s testimony is not inherently improbable under a Robbins-Prater analysis. This issue is unpreserved and is reviewed for plain error. A Robbins-Prater objection is a narrow exception to the general rule that appellate courts do not reweigh evidence already considered by a jury. Inconsistencies alone between the technician’s testimony and the other evidence do not provide a basis to discredit the testimony on review. The trial court did not plainly err when it did not sua sponte discredit the technician’s testimony. And even without the technician’s testimony, the jury had before it plenty of other evidence to provide it a basis to find intent.

Read the full court opinion

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