Criminal Mischief Charges Result from Church Vandalism, Burglary

church vandalism equals criminal mischief

Photo: Center for Social Leadership

A Duchesne County LDS church was vandalized on Tuesday, Oct. 14. Two days later, the parties responsible were arrested and booked on charges of criminal mischief, burglary, and misdemeanor theft.

Thou Shalt Not Tag

The criminal mischief incident in question took place Tuesday night sometime after 10:30 p.m. at the church located at 181 N. 200 W. The damages weren’t discovered until the next morning.

It is unclear how the three vandals got into the church. There was no sign of forced entry into the building. However, several doors inside the church were kicked in, according to a report from KSL News. In addition to the damaged doors, various items–including cash–were stolen from the church, and red spray paint was used to “tag” various locations, including the door to the bishop’s office, the inside of the chapel, and a picture of Jesus Christ.

On Thursday, Tristan Joseph Peterson Hirst was detained and confessed to the crime to a Duchesne County Sheriff’s department sergeant. He also implicated Denver T. Bell and 17-year-old juvenile male in the crime. Hirst and Bell told police where the stolen items were located, and police were able to obtain them.

Both men were charged with criminal mischief, burglary, and misdemeanor theft. It is unclear what charges will be filed against the juvenile offender.

Criminal Mischief Defined

According to Utah Code 76-6-106, criminal mischief–more commonly known as vandalism–is considered an “offense against property.” According to the code, a person commits criminal mischief if he/she does any of the following:

  • damages or destroys (other than via fire/arson) property with the intent to defraud an insurer
  • tampers with the property of another resulting in endangering human life, health or safety
  • causes or threatens a substantial interruption of any critical infrastructure (such as communication, financial, transportation, health care, etc…)
  • intentionally damages, defaces or destroys the property of another
  • recklessly or willfully shoots a missile or other object against a vehicle of transportation.

A church does not qualify as “critical infrastructure,” and obviously Hirst and Bell didn’t fire a missile at anything. Their charge results from the most common form of criminal mischief, “intentionally damages, defaces or destroys the property of another.”

Criminal mischief ranges from a class B misdemeanor up to a second degree felony depending on the offense. When it comes to vandalism, the punishment will depend on the value of property damaged, with a second degree felony for over $5,000 down to a class B misdemeanor for less than $500.

If you or someone you know has been charged with criminal mischief or any other crime, be sure to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who will look out for your best interests.

Man Charged with Motor Vehicle Theft Tried to Elude K9 Unit

Motor vehicle theft charges

Photo: Michael Pereckas

In an attempt to escape pursuit after being caught red-handed for motor vehicle theft, a man fled from police cruisers and tried jumping in a river to elude a K9 unit. He was still ultimately apprehended and is being charged for suspicion of motor vehicle theft and fleeing police.

It Always Works in the Movies

On Thursday, Oct. 9, just before midnight, detectives from the Salt Lake Metro Gang Unit located a stolen vehicle on South State Street. Detectives waited and watched as John Hallberg, 47, showed up, got into the vehicle, and drove off.

Police gave chase but called off the pursuit when Hallberg’s reckless behavior–including almost colliding with one of the police cars–indicated he could be a threat to public safety. However, the abandoned vehicle was quickly was quickly located, and according to Salt Lake City police detective Dennis McGowan, two K9 units were deployed, cornering Hallberg along the Jordan River Parkway.

Whether it was the dogs closing in or a cinematic belief that going in water threw off his scent was unclear, but for whatever reason, Hallberg jumped into the Jordan River. Unfortunately for him, while this trick may have worked, he chose to hide on the other side of the river under some brush instead of continuing to flee. Even the dogs knew as much, using one of their trained signals to indicate that he was still nearby when officers showed up.

Hallberg was arrested and booked into Salt Lake County Jail on suspicion of motor vehicle theft.

Motor Vehicle Theft Repercussions

According to Utah Code 76-6-412, motor vehicle theft falls under “offenses against property.” In the case of motor vehicle theft, it is classified as a second degree felony based on the categorization of the property being valued either above $5,000 or if the property stolen is a firearm or operable motor vehicle. Obviously if Hallberg was able to flee police in the vehicle, it would be considered operable.

As a second degree felony, motor vehicle theft is punishable by a prison term of up to 15 years and a fine of up to $10,000. The key term to notice here is “up to.” If you or someone you know has been charged with motor vehicle theft, make sure to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who will work to get you the lower end of that sentence and fine.

Utah Aiding and Abetting Case Examined by SCOTUS

Supreme Court Examines Aiding and Abetting

Photo: Miroslav Pragl/Wikimedia Commons

In a 2007 Utah case of a drug deal gone bad, the facts have been unclear since the beginning. However, what is known is that one of the defendants was charged with possessing drugs with an intent to distribute, possessing ammunition as a felon, and a firearms charge revolving around either discharging the weapon or aiding and abetting the use of one (although this delves into murky waters again, as it was unclear who actually fired the weapon or had knowledge of it).

These charges led to a sentence of 48 months in prison, plus an addition mandatory sentence of ten years for the firearms charge under Federal law. This conviction was appealed on the basis that the trial judge erroneously instructed the jury regarding the aiding and abetting aspect of the crime, but the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court, and the case of Rosemond v. United States continued on to the U.S. Supreme Court in November of 2013.

Who’s on First, and Who Shot Whom? The Case at Hand

In 2007 in Tooele, Utah, Justus Rosemond, a previously convicted felon, and two others were attempting to sell a pound of marijuana in a deal set up by one of Rosemond’s accomplices. Upon arrival at the scene of the crime, the potential buyers inspected the marijuana and then assaulted one of Rosemond’s accomplices and ran. Shots from a 9mm were fired at the thieves, and the would-be-drug dealers gave chase.

Those are the only facts not being disputed. After this point, the details get fuzzy. Regarding the shots fired, testimony was unclear as to who did the actual shooting. Immunity was given to both of Rosemond’s accomplices in exchange for their testimony (but not to the convicted felon Rosemond), but while one of the suspects claimed it was Rosemond, the other said her back was turned and she didn’t see who it was–a change from her earlier statement. Even the testimony of a witness was inconclusive.

These details were considered irrelevant by the prosecution who tried Rosemond under one of two theories, either A) he was the actual shooter, or B) he was guilty of aiding and abetting the drug crime because he knew a gun was used. Notice the last part, “he knew a gun was used.” When the jury brought back a guilty verdict, it was a “general verdict,” meaning that they did not state under which theory they convicted him.

So What Actually Constitutes Aiding and Abetting?

Rosemond didn’t appeal any of the convictions except for the firearms charge which added a mandatory ten years to his sentence. The reason for this mandatory sentence can be found under U.S. Code 924(c), which essentially states that if a weapon is used in the furtherance of a drug crime, someone guilty of aiding and abetting that crime is as guilty as the person who used the gun.

However, in the response from the Supreme Court, they stated that in order to be found guilty of aiding and abetting, the government must prove “that the defendant actively participated in the underlying drug trafficking or violent crime with advance knowledge that a confederate would use or carry a gun during the crime’s commission.”

This “advance knowledge” is different than the prosecution and judge’s direction to the jury that he would be guilty of the aiding and abetting if he “knew his cohort used a firearm in the drug trafficking crime.” The defense maintained that he needed to have acted intentionally “to facilitate or encourage” the firearm’s use.

When the case was taken to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, they agreed with the district court, even though they stated other Circuit Courts had found along the same lines as the defense. They justified this by stating that previous cases in their circuit had already established precedence in this matter.

While the prosecution stated that even if Rosemond didn’t have advanced knowledge that a gun would be used, the fact that the crime continued (via the car chase) after shots had been fired contributed to their argument that the Rosemond facilitated or encouraged the use of the firearm. According to prosecution, he knew that a gun was used, making him guilty of aiding and abetting.

There were various other arguments on both sides of the issue, and when the case was presented to the U.S. Supreme Court, both the defense and the judges raised various scenarios to establish whether or not aiding and abetting applied in this case.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court found that the circumstances surrounding Rosemond’s case did indeed satisfy certain requirements of 924(c), specifically that he acted with intent to bring about the drug trafficking crime and make it successful “with full knowledge of the circumstances constituting the charged offense.” However, they maintained that the instructions to the trial court jury were erroneous in this issue because “they failed to require that Rosemond knew in advance that one of his cohorts would be armed … to decide whether Rosemond knew about the gun in sufficient time to withdraw from the crime.”

In March of this year, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Court of Appeals to determine whether or not this objection was properly preserved and whether the error in instructions was sufficient to cause harm to the final verdict.