Articles Posted in Utah Supreme Court

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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

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The Supreme Court dismissed the interlocutory appeal brought by Defendant challenging the district court’s decision to quash a subpoena Defendant sought seeking against his alleged victim to testify at his preliminary hearing, holding that the decision had been mooted and that the Court lacked jurisdiction to address the district court’s decision to bind Defendant over for trial. Defendant appealed the district court’s decision to quash the subpoena but did not appeal the district court’s determination that probable cause existed for him to face trial. Because the decision Defendant appealed had been mooted by the subsequent bindover and the Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction to consider the bindover decision, the Court dismissed this appeal and remanded the case. View "State v. Hernandez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of reckless aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult and interference with an arresting officer, holding that the district court did not err in excluding evidence of the victim’s prior sexual misconduct and correctly instructed the jury. Defendant received a sentence enhancement for his convictions because he qualified as a habitual violent offender. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court erred in excluding the victim’s prior sexual misconduct evidence and in instructing the jury. The Supreme Court found no error as to these issues. Defendant also argued that Utah’s aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult statute was unconstitutionally vague and that Utah’s habitual offender statute violated the Utah Constitution’s cruel and unusual punishment clause and the double jeopardy clause. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that Utah’s aggravated abuse statute is not unconstitutionally vague and that Utah’s habitual violent offender statute is constitutional. View "State v. Tulley" on Justia Law