Articles Posted in Utah Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's summary judgment decision denying Appellant's petition for relief under the Post-Conviction Remedies Act (PCRA), Utah Code 78B-9-101, et seq., holding that Appellant failed to satisfy his burden of persuasion on appeal. Appellant was convicted of aggravated burglary, theft, and criminal mischief. Appellant later filed a petition for post-conviction relief arguing that he was entitled to relief under the PCRA. The district court granted summary judgment for the State. On appeal, Appellant argued that his due process rights under the Utah Constitution were violated when certain evidence was destroyed in accordance with rule 4-206 of the Utah Code of Judicial Administration. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Appellant failed to comply with any portion of the PCRA that could offer him relief; and (2) Appellant failed to demonstrate that the disposal of evidence violated his state due process rights. View "Sandoval v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the district court summarily dismissing Appellant’s petition for post-conviction relief, holding that the district court erred in determining that, as a matter of undisputed fact and law, Appellant was not prejudiced by his defense counsel’s conduct at either the guilt or sentencing phases of Appellant’s trial. In 1985, Appellant was sentenced to death for murder. In 2011, Appellant’s current counsel located two witnesses who testified in the murder case, and obtained their sworn declarations that the police threatened them if they did not cooperate in the case against Appellant, that their testimony was coached, and that they were instructed to lie under oath about benefits they received from the State. Appellant filed a petition for post-conviction relief based upon these revelations, but the district court dismissed the petition. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for an evidentiary hearing, holding that Appellant demonstrated a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether he was prejudiced. View "Carter v. State" on Justia Law

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In this action brought by the State seeking to overturn a conviction it recently obtained, the Supreme Court vacated the order of the district court denying the State’s Utah. R. Civ. P. 60(b) motion in the underlying criminal proceeding, holding that the district court had jurisdiction to adjudicate the State’s motion and that rule 60(b) provided the mechanism through which the State may bring its challenge. After final judgment had been entered against Bela Fritz, the State returned to the district court claiming Fritz had misled it about his identity. The State filed a motion under rule 60(b) seeking to vacate the conviction, sentence, and judgment. The district court denied the motion, concluding that following imposition of a valid sentence, a district court loses subject matter jurisdiction over a criminal case and that the State needed to proceed under the Post-Conviction Remedies Act. The State filed this petition for extraordinary relief asking that the Supreme Court direct the district court to exercise jurisdiction over the State’s motion for relief under rule 60(b). The Supreme Court exercised its discretion and granted the writ, thus vacating the order denying the State’s motion and instructing the district court to exercise jurisdiction over the matter. View "State v. Honorable Ann Boyden" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant’s conviction under Utah’s witness retaliation statute, Utah Code 76-8-508.3, holding that the statute does not criminalize threats a person makes regarding a witness outside the witness’s presence and without an intention to have the threat communicated to the witness. Section 76-8-508.3 makes it a crime to direct a threat of harm or a harmful action against a witness or a person closely associated with that witness as retaliation against that witness. After Defendant was convicted, he challenged his conviction on the ground that the witnesses that were the subject of the alleged threat were not present when Defendant made the threat. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the witness retaliation statute criminalizes only those threats that the threat-maker intended to be communicated to the witness; and (2) therefore, the court of appeals incorrectly interpreted the requirements of the statute. View "State v. Trujillo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of one count of stalking and one count of threat of violence, holding that neither issue raised by Defendant on appeal was preserved nor amounted to plain error. On September 12, 2014, Salt Lake City filed an information in justice court charging Defendant with threat of violence based on an incident that occurred on September 7, 2014. While that case was pending, the City charged Defendant in the district court with stalking and threat of violence. The threat of violence charge was based on an alleged threat that occurred on September 30, 2014. The stalking charge was based on alleged conduct occurring throughout September 2014. Defendant was convicted on both counts. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court prosecution was barred by the earlier justice court prosecution or, alternatively, that the district court plainly erred in failing to merge the convictions at sentencing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) neither of Defendant’s arguments was adequately preserved in the proceedings below; and (2) because of the unsettled nature of this area of law, any error was not plain error. View "Salt Lake City v. Josephson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction for offering escort services without a valid license, holding that Defendant’s constitutional claims were either inadequately briefed or not properly raised in the district court. Defendant had an escort services license from Midvale City when she met an undercover Salt Lake City police officer in Salt Lake and asked him for a “show-up” fee, but Defendant did not have a license from Salt Lake City at the time. Because State law authorizes any municipality to impose licensing requirements on employees of sexually oriented businesses, the resulting regulatory scheme requires escorts to obtain licenses in each jurisdiction in which they seek to operate. On appeal from her conviction, Defendant argued that the imposition of multiple licensing requirements violates her First Amendment and Equal Protection rights. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Appellant did not preserve her Equal Protection claim in the district court; and (2) Appellant did not adequately brief her First Amendment challenge on appeal. View "Salt Lake City v. Kidd" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals vacating the juvenile judge’s bindover order in this case involving a juvenile’s criminal conduct, holding that it was error to excuse Defendant from preserving his claim of judicial bias. The State charged Defendant with three first-degree felonies in juvenile court. The juvenile judge bound over Defendant, who was sixteen years old when he committed the offenses, to the district court to be tried as an adult. Defendant then pled guilty to lesser charges. While serving his prison sentence, Defendant moved to reinstate the time to appeal his bindover order, which the district court granted. Defendant then argued on appeal that the juvenile judge should have recused herself from his case due to judicial bias. The court of appeals agreed and vacated the bindover order without requiring Defendant to show either that he had preserved his judicial bias claim in the trial court or that an exception to preservation applied. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Defendant’s judicial bias claim was not exempt from the preservation requirement. View "State v. Van Huizen" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction of rape and forcible sexual assault of his wife, holding that a single error occurred below, and the error was not prejudicial. Specifically, the Court held (1) Defendant failed to preserve for appeal his argument that the trial judge violated his constitutional rights by making comments to the jury pool about the O.J. Simpson case; (2) the trial court did not err in concluding that alleged sexual partner evidence created a danger of unfair prejudice that substantially outweighed the evidence’s probative value; (3) the trial court did not err in admitting evidence of Defendant’s prior bad acts or limiting defense counsel’s cross-examination of the victim on that point; and (4) Defendant was not prejudiced by his trial counsel’s failure to object to the trial judge’s comments to the jury. View "State v. Beverly" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of child abuse homicide, holding that Defendant’s challenges to expert testimony provided in his case would not receive consideration and that the district court properly denied Defendant’s motion to suppress. The Court, however, took the opportunity provided in this case to rebuke sole reliance on the factors set forth in Salt Lake City v. Carter, 664 P.2d 1168 (Utah 1983) for the determination of whether an individual is in custody for purposes of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) and clarified the role these factors play going forward in order to bring courts in lockstep with the United States Supreme Court as to this determination. View "State v. Fullerton" on Justia Law

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In this criminal case, the Supreme Court held that the court of appeals erred in accumulating errors that, standing alone, had no potential to cause harm, and thus reversed the court of appeals’ determination of cumulative error and remanded the case for the court of appeals to make a meritorious determination on Defendant’s motion to suppress. Defendant was convicted of two drug-related counts. After Defendant was convicted, the trial court stated that it was considering granting a new trial because of defense counsel’s ineffectiveness and appointed separate conflict counsel to represent Defendant on the issues it raised. The trial court declined to grant a new trial. Defendant appealed, asserting that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance during the jury selection and motion stages and that the trial court erred in its dealings with conflict counsel. The court of appeals concluded that none of Defendant’s three claims of error warranted reversal on its own but that the cumulative effect of the errors warranted a new trial. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the errors could not cumulate into reversible error; and (2) because the trial court did not determine whether the motion to suppress was meritorious, the case must be remanded to the court of appeals to make this determination. View "State v. Martinez-Castellanos" on Justia Law