State of Utah v. Miller

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State v. Miller. Filed September 23, 1999 IN THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS


State of Utah,
Plaintiff and Appellee,


Jonathan Raymond Miller,
Defendant and Appellant.

(Not For Official Publication)

Case No. 981604-CA

September 23, 1999
  1999 UT App 266 -----

Seventh District, Moab Department
The Honorable Lyle R. Anderson

Happy Morgan, Moab, for Appellant
Jan Graham and Kenneth A. Bronston, for Appellee


Before Judges Wilkins, Greenwood, and Bench.

GREENWOOD, Associate Presiding Judge:

Defendant Jonathan Miller argues the trial court erred in denying his motion for a mistrial based on the admission of hearsay statements regarding the Geo Metro. A trial court's decision to admit or exclude hearsay evidence is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. See State v. Pena, 869 P.2d 932, 938 (Utah 1992). Similarly, trial courts are afforded broad discretion in granting or denying a motion for a new trial. SeeChild v. Gonda, 972 P.2d 425, 428 (Utah 1998). Finally, reversal based on the improper admission of evidence is warranted only when the error is harmful. See State v. Jaeger, 973 P.2d 404, 410 (Utah 1999); accord Utah R. Evid. 103(a); Utah R. Crim. P. 30(a).

Hearsay is "a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted." Utah R. Evid. 801(c) (1999) (emphasis added). The State argues the statements concerning the stolen Geo Metro were not hearsay because they were not admitted to prove the Metro was, in fact, stolen. Rather, these statements were introduced to provide context for defendant's conversation with the officers and to explain the circumstances surrounding the theft of Rodriguez's Geo Tracker. "[W]hether a statement is offered for the truth of the matter asserted is a question of law, which we review under a correction of error standard." State v. Perez, 924 P.2d 1, 2-3 (Utah Ct. App. 1996), cert. denied, 934 P.2d 652 (Utah 1997).

In this case, the stolen Geo Metro was not the subject of the charges against defendant, and the State was not trying to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the challenged testimony--that the Geo Metro was stolen. In fact, whether the Geo Metro was stolen had no bearing on the theft of Rodriguez's Geo Tracker. Therefore, the statements regarding the Geo Metro were not offered to prove the truth of the matter and were properly admitted as nonhearsay. See State v. Morgan, 813 P.2d 1207, 1211 (Utah Ct. App. 1991) (holding statements "not offered as proof of the matter asserted . . . but to show the chronology of events leading to the specific incidents at issue" admissible as nonhearsay).

Even if the admission of the statements regarding the stolen Geo Metro were improperly admitted, such error is reversible only if it was harmful. See Jaeger, 973 P.2d at 410. In this case, the State presented abundant evidence supporting its charges of theft and auto theft. Because defendant would have been convicted even without the challenged statements, any error in the admission of these statements was not reversible error. See State v. Bruce, 779 P.2d 646, 656 (Utah 1989) ("Erroneous admission of evidence is harmless if there is convincing properly admitted evidence of all essential elements of the case.").

Based on the foregoing, we affirm defendant's convictions.

Pamela T. Greenwood,
Associate Presiding Judge



Michael J. Wilkins,
Presiding Judge

Russell W. Bench, Judge