The Arizona Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction and 19-year prison sentence of a Payson woman on multiple counts of fraud after she argued the court erred in letting a probation officer testify against her.
Sherri Lynn Dashney, 39, will now spend 19 years in prison for forging checks, including one she wrote to pay court fees for a prior fraud conviction.
After her most recent conviction, Dashney asked an appeals court to throw out the sentence because a witness had told the jury about other crimes she had committed. Under certain rules of law, a jury is not allowed to hear evidence of other crimes to prove the character of a person.
The Court of Appeals found the court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the testimony.
One crime leads to another
In November 2010, Dashney pleaded guilty to two counts of theft and fraud. As part of that plea, she agreed to pay the court $5,000 at or before sentencing. That money would go toward restitution.
At the time, Dashney ran her own business cleaning foreclosure homes. She was maintaining more than 100 homes, including those once occupied by men only identified by their initials, B.B. and M.H., according to court records.
In February 2010, Dashney deposited a $3,000 check into her account from B.B. and then a $2,000 check from M.H. She then got a $5,000 cashier’s check and took it down to the courthouse to pay her fines.
However, days later, the checks bounced.
The bank contacted B.B. who said he didn’t know Dashney and hadn’t written her a check. However, he said he might have left some checks behind at his former home.
The bank then learned M.H. had died in 2008, so there was no way he had written a check to Dashney.
A new indictment
Based on these new forged checks, a grand jury indicted Dashney for fraud, theft and two counts of forgery.
Instead of taking a plea, like she had for the other fraud charges, Dashney decided to go to trial.
But before the trial started, her lawyer filed a motion to prevent a probation officer from testifying that had previously interviewed Dashney before sentencing in the 2010 case. Her lawyer argued the probation officer’s testimony would be irrelevant and prejudicial, causing jurors to form a negative opinion of Dashney based on her prior crimes.
Judge Peter Cahill of Gila County Superior Court denied the motion and the probation officer testified at trial about Dashney’s prior felony conviction.
“Although evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is generally not admissible to show propensity, such evidence may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity or absence of mistake or accident,” according to the appeals court ruling.
The probation officer testified about the prior plea agreement and restitution requirement, which prosecutors said showed Dashney had a motive to deposit the forged checks.