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Arredondo v. State

Court of Appeals of Alaska

January 12, 2018

AARON L. ARREDONDO, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee.

         Appeal from the Superior Court Trial Court No. 3AN-11-3873 CR, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Gregory Miller, Judge.

          Callie Patton Kim, Assistant Public Defender, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Appellant.

          Terisia K. Chleborad, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal Appeals, Anchorage, and Craig W. Richards, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.

          Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, and Allard, Judge.

          OPINION

          MANNHEIMER, JUDGE.

         Aaron L. Arredondo appeals his conviction for felony driving under the influence. Arredondo's wife Jackie refused to testify at his trial. (She invoked her spousal immunity privilege under Alaska Evidence Rule 505(a).) But the State called Jackie's mother (Arredondo's mother-in-law) to testify about a conversation she had with Jackie on the night of this incident. During this conversation with her mother, Jackie described a statement that Arredondo had made to her - a statement suggesting that Arredondo had been driving.

         Arredondo's attorney objected that Jackie's mother's testimony on this subject was (1) inadmissible hearsay and, in any event, (2) protected by the marital communications privilege codified in Alaska Evidence Rule 505(b). The trial judge overruled these objections and allowed the State to present this testimony.

         On appeal, Arredondo renews his objections to this testimony - but for the reasons explained in this opinion, we uphold the trial judge's rulings and we therefore affirm Arredondo's conviction.

         Underlying facts

         In the early morning hours of April 3, 2011, the Anchorage police found Arredondo's truck resting on a steep embankment below the freeway exit where Muldoon Road meets the Glenn Highway. Soon after, the police found Arredondo walking alone; he had keys to the vehicle in his pocket, and he was intoxicated. However, Arredondo told the police that the keys in his pocket were not the only keys to his truck. He stated that he kept a spare set of keys in the vehicle itself, and he declared that someone else had been driving the vehicle.

         The primary question litigated at Arredondo's trial was whether Arredondo was the person who was driving his truck when it skidded off the freeway exit and down the embankment - or whether (as Arredondo's attorney argued) it was Arredondo's wife Jackie who was driving the truck.

         In fact, this was the primary question litigated at all three of Arredondo's trials for this offense. Arredondo's first two trials ended in mistrials when the jury was unable to reach a verdict.

         At the third trial, to bolster its case that Arredondo had been driving the truck, the State called Arredondo's mother-in-law, Annette McDole, to testify about a conversation she had with her daughter Jackie (Arredondo's wife).

         At the time of these events, Arredondo and Jackie were separated, and Jackie was staying at McDole's house. According to McDole's testimony, Jackie woke up McDole in the early morning hours and reported that Arredondo had just been inside the house. Jackie told McDole that she had awakened to find Arredondo in her bedroom, and that Arredondo said that he needed her help - but in response, Jackie told Arredondo to leave the house.

         (As Arredondo correctly notes in his brief, when the prosecutor made his offer of proof concerning McDole's testimony, he made broader assertions about what Arredondo told Jackie. According to the prosecutor's offer of proof, Jackie told McDole that Arredondo asked for her help because he had "wrecked the truck". And later, when McDole gave foundational testimony during voir dire examination outside the presence of the jury, McDole said that Jackie reported that Arredondo asked for help "with his vehicle". But when McDole actually testified in front of the jury about her conversation with Jackie, she never asserted that Arredondo had said anything about wrecking the truck, or about needing help with his vehicle - only about needing help for some unspecified purpose.)

         Soon after Jackie had this conversation with her mother, a friend of Jackie's arrived at the house. (Apparently, Jackie had already called this friend for assistance before she woke her mother up.) Jackie, McDole, and Jackie's friend then drove to where Arredondo's truck was resting beside the highway - but the police were already in the process of impounding it.

         Arredondo's attorney objected to McDole's testimony about what Jackie said during their conversation. The defense attorney argued that McDole's testimony was inadmissible hearsay to the extent that it was offered to prove the truth of what Jackie said. The defense attorney also argued that whatever Arredondo had said to Jackie was protected by the marital communications privilege codified in Alaska Evidence Rule 505(b).

         The trial judge overruled both of these objections and allowed McDole to testify about her conversation with Jackie - including Jackie's statement that Arredondo had asked for her help (although the subject of this help remained unspecified).

         The jury convicted Arredondo of driving under the influence, and he now appeals.

         Arredondo's hearsay objection to McDole's testimony

         McDole's testimony was double hearsay: it was offered to prove (1) that Jackie had, in fact, had the prior conversation with Arredondo (the conversation she related to her mother), and (2) that Arredondo had, in fact, asked Jackie for help during this conversation.

         When this hearsay issue was litigated in the trial court, the judge found that McDole's testimony was not barred by the hearsay rule because Jackie's statements to McDole fell within the exception for excited utterances codified in Alaska Evidence Rule 803(2). More specifically, the judge found that, at the time of Jackie's initial conversation with McDole, Jackie had just experienced a "startling event" - i.e., Arredondo's early-hour intrusion into her bedroom - and that Jackie "was still under the stress" of this ...


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