Court of Appeals of Arizona, Second Division, Department A
Not for Publication Rule 111, Rules of the Supreme Court.
APPEAL FROM THE SUPERIOR COURT OF PIMA COUNTY Cause No. CR20112701001 Honorable Scott Rash, Judge.
Thomas C. Horne, Arizona Attorney General By Joseph T. Maziarz and Jonathan Bass Tucson Attorneys for Appellee.
Piccarreta Davis PC By Michael L. Piccarreta and Jefferson L. Keenan Tucson Attorneys for Appellant.
MICHAEL MILLER, Judge.
¶1 Andres Buelna was convicted after a jury trial of second-degree murder for the shooting death of B.C. during a road-rage incident. On appeal, Buelna argues the trial court erred in precluding evidence of cocaine metabolites in B.C.'s system and in precluding testimony from two expert witnesses.
Factual and Procedural Background
¶2 "We view the facts in the light most favorable to upholding the jury's verdict." State v. King, 226 Ariz. 253, ¶ 2, 245 P.3d 938, 940 (App. 2011). On the afternoon of August 1, 2011, B.C. drove his Mustang northbound on Campbell Avenue, weaving in and out of traffic and cutting off one driver. Buelna, driving a truck, attempted to change lanes and nearly hit the Mustang. Both vehicles continued driving up Campbell in the left lane, and B.C. illegally passed Buelna using the center, universal-turn lane. Near Fort Lowell Road, both vehicles turned left into a parking lot with B.C. in the lead. B.C. parked his Mustang diagonally across multiple parking spaces while Buelna stopped his truck in the driveway five to fifteen feet behind B.C. B.C. got out of the car and walked quickly toward the door of Buelna's truck with his hands out to the side, yelling, "What the f---?" B.C. got within three to six feet of the driver's side of Buelna's truck. Buelna asked, "What, what, " displayed a gun he pulled out from between his seat and console, and fired three times in quick succession. Buelna testified the first shot was a warning, and the next two he fired with his eyes closed. B.C. was struck in the chest and back. He died at the hospital. Buelna drove away, but police found him in a motel room one day later. He confessed that he had shot at B.C. and told police where to find the gun and the truck.
¶3 Buelna asserted justification defenses at trial, specifically the use of force in prevention of an aggravated assault pursuant to A.R.S. § 13-411 and the use of force in defense of an occupied vehicle under A.R.S. § 13-418. Buelna was sentenced to a substantially mitigated term of eleven years. This appeal followed.
Discussion Was the Cocaine Evidence Relevant?
¶4 Buelna claims the trial court erred in precluding toxicology reports showing that B.C. had metabolites of cocaine in his system when he died, as well as testimony from Dr. Ed French, a pharmacologist, who would have testified that a person with B.C.'s level of cocaine metabolites would have used cocaine four to twenty-four hours previously, and would be anxious, irritable, and impulsive. The trial court precluded the evidence as irrelevant and prejudicial.
¶5 We review the court's determination on the admissibility of evidence, including expert testimony, for an abuse of discretion. State v. Amaya-Ruiz, 166 Ariz. 152, 169, 800 P.2d 1260, 1277 (1990); see also State v. Wright, 214 Ariz. 540, ¶ 5, 155 P.3d 1064, 1066 (App. 2007). A court may abuse its discretion if it commits an error of law in reaching a discretionary conclusion. State v. Fields, 196 Ariz. 580, ¶¶ 4, 10, 2 P.3d 670, 672, 674 (App. 1999) (trial court abused discretion in granting discovery requests).
¶6 Evidence is relevant if it has any tendency to make a fact that is of consequence in the action more or less probable. Ariz. R. Evid. 401; see also State v. Fulminante, 193 Ariz. 485, ¶ 57, 975 P.2d 75, 92 (1999). "This standard of relevance is not particularly high." State v. Oliver, 158 Ariz. 22, 28, 760 P.2d 1071, 1077 (1988). A trial court may exclude relevant evidence, however, if its probative value is "substantially outweighed by a danger of . . . unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, . . . or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence." Ariz. R. Evid. 403.
¶7 Before trial, the state moved to preclude the laboratory results and expert testimony related to cocaine metabolites. The trial court granted the motion, concluding the evidence was not relevant because it was generalized testimony about how a person might act and did "not provide the jury insight into how [B.C.] has acted in similar situations in the past." The court also found the use of expert testimony would be unfairly prejudicial because it would provide "undue weight and credibility to [Buelna's] version of events." Finally, the court found the expert testimony would be ...