State of Utah, v. Harding

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State v. Harding. Filed February 19, 1999 IN THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

State of Utah,
Plaintiff and Appellee,


Travis Ben Harding,
Defendant and Appellant.

(Not For Official Publication)

Case No. 971390-CA


(February 19, 1999)
  1999 UT App 044 -----

Fourth District, Provo Department
The Honorable Ray M. Harding, Sr.

Margaret P. Lindsay, Provo, for Appellant
Jan Graham and Joanne C. Slotnik, Salt Lake City, for Appellee


Before Judges Wilkins, Bench, and Orme.

BENCH, Judge:

Defendant argues that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of defendant's arrest warrant. Under Rule 404(b) of the Utah Rules of Evidence, "[e]vidence of other wrongdoing by the accused is not admissible to prove defendant's character or propensity, but is relevant to show intent, knowledge, identity, or other circumstances surrounding the offense." State v. Pierce, 722 P.2d 780, 782 (Utah 1986) (citing Utah R. Evid. 404(b)). Here, the warrant came before the jury to prove the "circumstances surrounding the offense." Id.; see also United States v. Garces, 133 F.3d 70, 77 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (affirming district court ruling "that the government could introduce evidence of the [arrest] warrant, execution of which had led to seizure of the car and its contraband, as part of the explanatory background"). Thus, the trial court properly admitted the warrant evidence.

Defendant next argues that the post-arrest statements only proved bad character "by causing the jury to believe that [defendant] knew and associated with drug dealers on a regular basis." The State argues that Rule 404(b) does not apply to the wrongful acts of others. Even assuming that Rule 404(b) applies to the facts of this case, the statements are relevant to defendant's knowledge and intent.

Defendant did not spontaneously state that the contraband must belong to his girlfriend, as he later asserted. Instead, defendant first tried to conceal the bag and then attempted to obtain a deal, which undercut the credibility of his claim that the contraband was not his. Furthermore, alternative explanations go to the weight of the evidence, not to its admissibility. See State v. Smith, 927 P.2d 649, 654 (Utah Ct. App. 1996) (citing State v. Williams, 904 P.2d 437, 445 (Ariz. 1995)) cert. denied, 937 P.2d 136 (Utah 1997). "Admission of prior bad acts is proper when it tends to prove a contested material element of the crime charged." State v. Morrell, 803 P.2d 292, 295 (Utah Ct. App. 1990). We therefore conclude that the trial court properly admitted the post-arrest statement.

Defendant also argues that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of other illegal activity under Rule 403 of the Utah Rules of Evidence. Defendant has not shown that evidence of an outstanding warrant arising from a vehicle inspection has "an unusual propensity to unfairly prejudice, inflame or mislead the jury." State v. Dunn, 850 P.2d 1201, 1221 (Utah 1993). Nor does an inference that he knows people of bad character "rouse the jury to overmastering hostility" against him. State v. Shickles, 760 P.2d 291, 296 (Utah 1988) (quoting McCormick's Handbook on the Law of Evidence, § 190, at 565 (Edward W. Cleary ed., 3d ed. 1984)). Defendant has simply not shown that the "probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice." Utah R. Evid. 403. We therefore hold that the trial court did not reach "'beyond the limits of reasonability'" by admitting the challenged evidence. Dunn, 850 P.2d at 1221 (quoting State v. Hamilton, 827 P.2d 232,

240 (Utah 1992)).


Russell W. Bench, Judge



Michael J. Wilkins,
Presiding Judge

Gregory K. Orme, Judge