Defendant appeals his conviction of aggravated arson on the grounds of insufficiency of evidence and insufficiency of counsel. We affirm.
On November 1, 1985, defendant was the lessee and operator of a gas service station located at 400 E. 1300 S. in Salt Lake City. At approximately 8:00 p.m. firemen were called to extinguish a fire in the ceiling over the office in that building. The fire was extinguished with little real damage although the ceiling was pulled down to put out any hot spots. The preliminary cause of the fire was stated to be electrical since a light fixture was located in the area where the fire began. No investigator was called and upon the arrival of defendant the fire department crew left the station in his care.
At approximately 11:00 p.m. the fire department was again called to the scene to fight another fire, this one in the office and service bay. The commander on the scene, Lt. Mauerman, saw that this fire had multiple origins and rather than being suppressed by water, was being spread as though the fire was being pushed around by the spray. He immediately suspected arson and called an investigator. The investigator, Captain Memmot, arrived on the scene very quickly. He began an investigation and concluded that the fire was arson caused. In the course of the investigation that night, he took two rolls of slides and picked up numerous items of evidence for preservation and analysis. Captain Memmot was assisted by a police arson investigator, Detective Clegg, who questioned several witnesses including defendant. The following day and again several days later Captain Memmot returned to the station where he did further investigation and took additional slides.
Several months after the fires, defendant was charged with the crime of aggravated arson. He was tried before a jury, convicted and sentenced to prison. This appeal followed.
Defendant first claims the evidence was insufficient to show arson. The standard of review to be applied to a criminal jury verdict is well established. The Utah Supreme Court in the case of State v. Underwood, 737 P.2d 995 (Utah 1987), outlined the standard.
737 P.2d at 996.
The jury was shown evidence which strongly supported the conclusion that both fires were intentionally set. Lieutenant Mauerman testified that the second fire exhibited characteristics of being caused by a flammable liquid. Also concerning the second fire, Captain Memmot testified of multiple points of origin, of pour patterns, burn patterns and damage characteristic of a flammable liquid being poured and then ignited. He testified that evidence taken from the fire scene showed the presence of gasoline. He ruled out the possibility of an electrical fire testifying to his examination of the wiring, junction box and circuit breaker box. He exhibited numerous slides to illustrate his findings and to show why he made his conclusions. While concluding that both fires were intentionally caused, he found no connection between the two.
The jury had before it adequate evidence to conclude that the fires were intentionally caused. We will not disturb their findings.
The defendant next claims the evidence was insufficient to show that he was responsible for either fire. As is the case in most arson investigations, the evidence was largely circumstantial. However, in this case the jury heard from a neighbor who stated she knew defendant and had done business with him. She testified that at 11:00 p.m. on the night of the fires she watched defendant enter the station through a hole in the door left from the
The jury heard testimony from other witnesses that supported the eyewitness and controverted defendant's version of the facts as given through the testimony of his wife. Testimony was also given as to a possible financial motive for the defendant to start the fires. We cannot say, from the evidence presented to the jury, that the evidence "is sufficiently inconclusive or inherently improbable that reasonable minds must have entertained a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime of which he was convicted." State v. Booker, 709 P.2d at 345 (quoting State v. Petree, 659 P.2d 443, 444 (Utah 1983)).
We next turn to the argument that defendant was denied the effective assistance of counsel. In the recent case of State v. Archuleta, 747 P.2d 1019 (Utah 1987), the Supreme Court re-emphasized the requirements necessary to prove ineffective assistance of counsel as follows:
747 P.2d at 1023.
Defendant raises two specific omissions which he claims are prejudicial. First is the failure of counsel to object to evidence seized in warrantless searches. No objection was raised to any of the evidence and defense counsel made use of it during cross examination of prosecution witnesses. Later the defense called an expert witness to testify that the fires were electrically caused. This expert based his analysis and conclusion on the same evidence. Had the jury chosen to believe him, the element of intentional burning could not have been proven and defendant could not have been found guilty. We find no prejudice in the failure to object to the evidence. This clearly falls within legitimate trial tactics of defense counsel. State v. Pursifell, 746 P.2d 270, (Utah App. 1987); Layton City v. Noon, 736 P.2d 1035, 1040 (Utah App. 1987); Codianna v. Morris, 660 P.2d 1101, 1110 (Utah 1983).
Defendant next argues that because defense counsel did not understand a rule of evidence, he was prevented from testifying in his own behalf. Defendant claims he could explain his whereabouts prior to the first fire. The focus of the prosecution, however, was on the second fire. During the trial, several witnesses testified as to movements, whereabouts and statements made by defendant.
We find no merit in defendant's arguments raised on appeal. Accordingly the judgment and sentence are affirmed.
BENCH, J., concurs.
JACKSON, Judge (dissenting):
I respectfully dissent.
On appeal, Morehouse claims he was denied his right, under the sixth amendment to the United States Constitution, to effective assistance of counsel at trial because of each of the following two instances of alleged incompetency by his retained counsel: (1) counsel kept Morehouse from testifying in his own behalf based on counsel's erroneous belief that the rules of evidence would allow the defendant to be impeached on cross-examination by the introduction of all his previous criminal convictions; and (2) counsel failed, both before and during trial, to seek exclusion of evidence seized in warrantless searches of the gas station after the night of the fires, as well as the expert opinion testimony based thereon. I do not address the second alleged error by counsel, although it adds fuel to the issue of prejudice, because the first is constitutionally dispositive.
In order to succeed in his claim, Morehouse must demonstrate that his trial counsel's specific act or omission fell below an objective standard of professional reasonableness and that the deficiencies in representation resulted in prejudice to him. State v. Archuleta, 747 P.2d 1019, 1023 (1987); State v. Frame, 723 P.2d 401, 405 (Utah 1986) (adopting the two part standard for ineffective assistance of counsel enunciated in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984)).
QUALITY OF REPRESENTATION
With regard to the first claimed error by appellant's counsel, there is no question that Morehouse has met the first part of the Strickland test by showing a specific action that falls outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance. See State v. Frame, 723 P.2d at 405. At their first consultation, Morehouse told the attorney that he wanted to testify in his own behalf. He had alibi witnesses
But his attorney deprived him of his constitutional right to testify. Counsel erroneously advised him not to testify because he could be cross-examined concerning all his numerous prior convictions, thereby keeping Morehouse off the witness stand and prohibiting his testimony.
Counsel would not proceed on those adverse admissions as an appeal tactic if they were not true. He considered his erroneous advice to be of serious proportions and prejudicial. He was the only person, other than Morehouse, who knew the full story. However, my colleagues, without the benefit of any greater knowledge, deem the matter harmless. I do not.
Appellant's attorney failed to know and understand Utah R.Evid. 609, even though it was adopted on April 14, 1983, three years before Morehouse's trial, and became effective September 1, 1983. It is true that the rule, when adopted, conflicted with the last sentence of Utah Code Ann. § 78-24-9 (1987), allowing a witness to be cross-examined on any previous felony conviction. But, even though Banner was the first Utah case to explicitly declare that portion of the statute superseded by Utah R.Evid. 609, the Preliminary Note to the 1983 Utah Rules of Evidence declared that any existing statute inconsistent with the rules was impliedly repealed with their adoption and that the new rules provided a fresh starting place for the law of evidence in this state. The pertinent subsections of Rule 609 state:
Morehouse's prior convictions were:
Under subsection (a)(1) of Rule 609, the DUI conviction was not admissible because not punishable by more than one year's imprisonment. The 1964 and 1972 convictions, being more than ten years old, were inadmissible under subsection (b) unless the court determined that their probative value outweighed their prejudicial effect, an unlikely result given the nature of the
In short, reasonably competent defense counsel would have sought to restrict the prosecutor's use of Morehouse's convictions at a pre-trial hearing conducted in accordance with Rule 609, at which it would have been the prosecution's burden to persuade the court that their probative value outweighed their prejudicial effect. State v. Banner, 717 P.2d at 1334. Furthermore, reasonably competent defense counsel would have known the content of Utah R.Evid. 609 and its applicability to appellant's circumstances and would have been able to give Morehouse correct legal advice about the rule's impact on his right to testify in his own defense.
PREJUDICE TO DEFENDANT
Having determined that trial counsel's representation of Morehouse was demonstrably incompetent, the next question is whether that deficiency was prejudicial to appellant.
The evidence in this case, although legally sufficient to support a conviction, was meager. There was no affirmative evidence that Morehouse caused the first fire; moreover, his behavior the remainder of the night appears inconsistent with that of the second fire's instigator. The purported motive — that Morehouse wanted to burn himself out of his business lease — is highly suspect.
Testimony by Morehouse to explain the half-hour gap in his alibi was crucial to his case, especially since the prosecutor's argument focused the jury on the gap. As previously stated, only he could explain to the jury why he was sitting in a car at the gas station, in plain view of the neighbors and all others on the busy street, until minutes before the second alarm was called in. Only he could tell what went on inside the building when he entered it.
Morehouse's trial counsel considered that testimony consequential enough to raise a "reasonable probability" of a different outcome. Otherwise, trial counsel would not have filed the highly embarrassing post-trial motion for a new trial.
The jury was deprived of the benefit of both hearing and observing this critical witness. It was not for his attorney to muzzle him in this manner. Wright v. Estelle, 572 F.2d 1071, 1078 (5th Cir.1978) (Godbold, J., dissenting), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 1004, 99 S.Ct. 617, 58 L.Ed.2d 680 (1978). "Where the very point of a trial is to determine whether an individual was involved in criminal activity, the testimony of the individual himself must be considered of prime importance." United States v. Walker, 772 F.2d 1172, 1179 (5th Cir.1985). Plainly, Morehouse's testimony had exculpatory potential and would have enhanced his defense. Id. (quoting United States v. Larson, 596 F.2d 759, 779 (8th Cir.1979)).
After a careful review of the testimony and evidence presented at trial, I am compelled to conclude that there is a reasonable probability that the jury verdict would have been different if counsel had competently understood the rules of evidence and not kept Morehouse from testifying. Therefore, defendant's conviction ought to be reversed and the case remanded for a new trial.
United States v. Smith, 551 F.2d 348, 362 (D.C. Cir.1976), (quoting H.R.Conf.Rep. No. 93-1597, 93d Cong., 2d Sess. 9, reprinted in 1974 U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News, pp. 7098, 7103). The rule's intent was to limit introduction of prior convictions for impeachment purposes only to those crimes that bear directly on a witness's propensity not to tell the truth. Otherwise, one could argue that any crime could be introduced to impeach. See United States v. Millings, 535 F.2d 121, 123 (D.C. Cir.1976). Burglary and ordinary theft are not crimes of dishonesty or false statement within the meaning of Rule 609(a)(2) because they do not involve the credibility-deteriorating quality contemplated in the rule. See United States v. Glenn, 667 F.2d 1269 (9th Cir.1982); United States v. Entrekin, 624 F.2d 597 (5th Cir.1980), cert. denied, 451 U.S. 971, 101 S.Ct. 2049, 68 L.Ed.2d 350 (1981); United States v. Seamster, 568 F.2d 188 (10th Cir.1978).
United States v. Butts, 630 F.Supp. 1145, 1148 (D.Me. 1986). Although, as here, the issue as presented to the court was the denial of a sixth amendment right to effective assistance of counsel, the Butts court instead recognized a due process right of the defendant to testify in his own behalf because counsel's actions had "affected the very fairness of the trial process itself." Id. Defendant's motion for a new trial was granted, with the court holding that, where ineffective assistance of counsel deprives a defendant of his right to testify, prejudice is sufficiently proven from that deprivation. However sympathetic I may be to this analysis, this court is constrained to apply both parts of the Strickland test to the case before us, in light of the conclusion in State v. Banner, 717 P.2d at 1335, that the trial court's error in not excluding use of defendant's convictions for impeachment purposes — which kept defendant from testifying in his own behalf — "does not reach constitutional proportion."