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State v. Frahm

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

May 30, 2018

STATE OF WASHINGTON, Respondent,
v.
JOSHUA CANE FRAHM, Appellant.

          Melnick, J.

         Joshua Cane Frahm's vehicle rear-ended another vehicle which caused it to lose control. It became disabled in the roadway. Frahm did not stop. A third vehicle struck the disabled vehicle, which resulted in the death of a Good Samaritan.

         Frahm appeals from his convictions for vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, hit and run, false reporting, and conspiracy to commit perjury. Frahm argues he received ineffective assistance of counsel, and that insufficient evidence supports his vehicular homicide and conspiracy to commit perjury convictions. He also raises four assertions in his statement of additional grounds (SAG). We affirm.

         FACTS

         Shortly before dawn on December 7, 2014, a Ford F-150 truck driven by Frahm rear-ended a Honda CR-V sport utility vehicle (SUV) driven by Steven Klase. The impact caused the SUV to spin out of control, strike a concrete barrier in the freeway median, and come to rest partially blocking the left and middle lanes of I-205. Klase sustained serious injuries and remained in his vehicle. Frahm fled the scene.

         An eyewitness, Richard Irvine, stopped his vehicle on the right shoulder. Irvine activated his vehicle's emergency flashers, exited his vehicle, and crossed the freeway on foot. Seeing Klase's injuries, Irvine called 911. While Irvine spoke with a 911 dispatcher, a Honda Odyssey minivan driven by Fredy Dela Cruz-Moreno approached in the left lane. Cruz-Moreno's minivan struck Klase's vehicle and propelled it into Irvine. As a result, Irvine died.

         Later that same day, Frahm, the registered owner of the F-150, contacted police to report his vehicle as stolen. When the police later recovered Frahm's truck, it had front end damage.

         The police processed the vehicle, and Frahm's DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) matched DNA taken from the deployed airbag. The police interrogated Frahm, and he maintained both that his truck had been stolen and that he had not been driving at the time of the accident.

         In February 2015, a witness, Dusty Nielsen, contacted the police. Nielsen provided an alibi for Frahm for the time of the accident. Nielsen lied. Frahm had not been with Nielsen the night of the accident. The two men did not know each other until they met in jail, after the accident. When questioned by police about discrepancies in his story, Nielsen recanted. He insisted that he alone came up with the idea to provide the false alibi.

         The State charged Frahm with six crimes: vehicular homicide, manslaughter in the first degree, vehicular assault, hit and run, false reporting, and conspiracy to commit perjury in the first degree.

         At trial, and without objection, the State played an unredacted recording of Frahm's interrogation by the police. During the interrogation, the police repeatedly accused Frahm of lying. Frahm admitted to drinking the night before the accident but iterated that somebody stole his truck, and that he was not the driver at the time of the accident.

          The jury convicted Frahm of vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, hit and run, false reporting, and conspiracy to commit perjury.[1] The court imposed a standard range sentence. Frahm appeals.[2]

         ANALYSIS

         I. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         A. Legal Principles

         The State has the burden to prove every element of every crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt. U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1; In re the Matter of Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 362-64, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970). Evidence is sufficient if, when viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, "'any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'" State v. Green, 94 Wn.2d 216, 221, 616 P.2d 628 (1980) (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2791, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979)). "A claim of insufficiency admits the truth of the State's evidence and all inferences that reasonably can be drawn therefrom." State v. Salinas, 119 Wn.2d 192, 201, 829 P.2d 1068 (1992).

         B. Sufficient Evidence Supports the Vehicular Homicide Conviction

         Frahm argues that the evidence did not support the jury's finding that his actions proximately caused Irvine's death. Frahm asserts that Irvine's acts of stopping his car and crossing the freeway to render aid to Klase constituted a superseding, intervening cause. In a separate SAG, Frahm also argues that the secondary collision between Cruz-Moreno's minivan and Klase's disabled SUV also broke the causal chain as a superseding cause. We disagree.

         A driver is guilty of vehicular homicide "[w]hen the death of any person ensues within three years as a proximate result of injury proximately caused by the driving of any vehicle by any person." RCW 46.61.520(1).

         Legal causation, "'involves a determination of whether liability should attach as a matter of law given the existence of cause in fact. If the factual elements of the tort are proved, determination of legal liability will be dependent on 'mixed considerations of logic, common sense, justice, policy, and precedent.'" State v. Bauer, 180 Wn.2d 929, 936, 329 P.3d 67 (2014) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Hartley v. State, 103 Wn.2d 768, 779, 698 P.2d 77 (1985)).

         A defendant's conduct is a "'proximate cause' of harm to another if, in direct sequence, unbroken by any new independent cause, it produces the harm, and without it the harm would not have happened." State v. Meekins, 125 Wn.App. 390, 396, 105 P.3d 420 (2005). A defendant need not be the sole cause of the harm to be held responsible. However, a defendant's ...


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