Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Utah Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the opinion of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the post-conviction court denying Petitioner's pro se petition under the Post-Conviction Remedies Act, Utah Code 78B-9-101 to -503, holding that Petitioner failed to identify a material dispute sufficient to rebut the State's showing that he was not prejudiced by his guilty plea or the State's showing that his trial counsel's performance was not deficient. Petitioner pled guilty to first-degree murder. In his post-conviction petition, Petitioner argued that his guilty plea was unknowing and involuntary because he did not understand that the absence of imperfect self-defense was an element of murder and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because of a language barrier with trial counsel. The post-conviction court granted summary judgment in favor of the State, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Petitioner's claim that his plea was unknowing and involuntary failed because there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether he was prejudiced as a result; and (2) no genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether trial counsel's failure to obtain an interpreter constituted deficient performance. View "Arriaga v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court denying Defendant's request to view the alleged sexual abuse victim's privileged mental health therapy records, holding that Defendant failed to demonstrate that an exception to the mental health therapist-patient privilege exists under Utah R. Evid. 506. Defendant was accused of sexually abused his girlfriend's three-year-old child (Child). Before trial, Defendant filed a motion to produce Child's mental health therapy records under Utah R. Crim. P. 14(b)(1). The district court denied the motion, concluding that Defendant failed to make the particularly showings regarding relevance or that the records were reasonably certain to contain exculpatory information. The court of appeals affirmed on the grounds that Defendant failed to meet the "reasonable certainty" requirement under case law. The Supreme Court affirmed without considering the merits of Defendant's challenge to the "reasonable certainty" test, holding that Defendant failed to establish that Child had a "condition" under Rule 506(d)(1)(A). Because, however, Defendant raised significant concerns about the reasonable certainty test, the Supreme Court referred Rule 506 to the rules committee for review. View "State v. Bell" on Justia Law

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In this case where Defendant was charged with two separate instances of violating a protective order the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Defendant's motion to quash his bindover to stand trial, holding that the magistrate properly bound over Defendant to face both counts to the extent they were based on a previously issued ex parte order. In moving to quash the bindover Defendant argued that he had not been properly served with the protective order he was accused of violating and that the ex parte order had expired. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) because the protective order was served pursuant to Utah R. Civ. P. 5, it was not properly served; (2) the district court correctly determined that the ex parte order was still in effect at the time of the alleged violations; and (3) therefore, to the extent that the charges against Defendant were based on alleged violations of the ex parte order, the bindover is affirmed. View "State v. Bridgewaters" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction of aggravated sexual assault and aggravated assault, holding that Defendant was not prejudiced by any alleged error in the jury instruction for rape and that the State had no duty under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), to conduct a forensic examination of the complainant's cell phone before trial. The court of appeals affirmed Defendant's convictions, holding that (1) the district court had not erroneously instructed the jury on the elements of rape, and (2) the State did not commit a Brady violation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant was not prejudiced by his counsel's failure to object to the jury instruction on the elements of rape, and, going forward, this Court endorses the use of Model Utah Jury Instruction 1605 for rape; and (2) the State did not violate Brady when it did not complete a forensic examination of the complainant's cell phone. View "State v. Newton" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Utah Code 78A-7-118(4), (8) providing a hearing de novo in the district court on justice court convictions but foreclosing further appeal unless the district court rules on the constitutionality of a statute or ordinance, holding that the statute withstands constitutional scrutiny. Petitioner was convicted of three misdemeanors in justice court. Thereafter, Petitioner invoked his statutory right to appeal his convictions by seeking a trial de novo in the district court. In the district court, Petitioner was acquitted of one misdemeanor and reconnected of the other two. By statute, Petitioner had exhausted his right to an appeal following the district court's decision, but Petitioner nonetheless filed an appeal in the court of appeals. The court of appeals held that it lacked jurisdiction and dismissed the appeal. Petitioner sought certiorari review, arguing that 78A-7-118(8) is unconstitutional as applied to him. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that while the briefing in this case has highlighted some potential policy concerns with the process for filing an appeal from a justice court decision none of these concerns rises to the level of a constitutional problem. View "Taylorsville City v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction of attempted murder, holding that the court of appeals did not err in denying Defendant's Utah R. App. P. 23B motion, nor was Defendant prejudiced by his trial counsel's decision not to call an expert who would have testified about the problems inherent in eyewitness identifications. On appeal, Defendant argued that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to call the eyewitness testimony expert, who his prior counsel had previously identified and disclosed. Defendant also filed a Rule 23B motion asking the court to remand so that he could supplement the record with facts concerning the uncalled expert. The court of appeals denied the Rule 23B motion and affirmed Defendant's conviction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals (1) did not err by concluding that Defendant failed to present a sufficient basis for remand under Rule 23B; and (2) did not apply an incorrect version of the Washington v. Strickland, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), standard to its conclusion. View "State v. Gallegos" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the district court's denial of Appellant's petition for extraordinary relief, holding that, under the circumstances, the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole need not afford Appellant the due process protections explained in Neese v. Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, 416 P.3d 663 (2017), before it could determine that Appellant was a sex offender and condition his parole on sex offender treatment. Appellant was serving a prison sentence for his convictions of attempted child kidnapping and kidnapping. Because he was convicted of attempted child kidnapping Appellant was considered a sex offender under the sex offender registration statute. Further, Appellant admitted in his presentence report that he had sexual intercourse with a fifteen-year-old. Appellant filed a petition for extraordinary relief alleging that the Parole Board had violated his due process rights by conditioning his parole on completion of sex offender treatment even though he had not committed a sex offense. Summary judgment was granted for the Parole Board. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Parole Board owed Appellant no additional process before it considered unconnected sex offenses in its decision to require Appellant to undergo sex offender treatment. View "Blanke v. Board of Pardons & Parole" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals concluding that Defendant's trial counsel provided ineffective assistance during Defendant's criminal trial, holding that defense counsel's performance was not deficient. Defendant was convicted of forcible sexual abuse of a fifteen-year-old. The court of appeals reversed the conviction, concluding that because counsel did not object to the jury instruction for forcible sexual abuse Defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeals erred in concluding that counsel's acquiescence to the jury instruction could not have been sound strategy and that Defendant failed to overcome the strong presumption that his counsel exercised reasonable professional judgment. View "State v. Ray" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing Defendant's conviction for the murder of his wife on grounds that Defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel, holding that there was insufficient information to conclude that counsel's course of conduct was deficient or prejudicial. During trial, when Defendant tried to testify about a threat he claimed his wife had made a few days before he shot her, the trial court excluded the testimony on hearsay ground. On appeal, Defendant argued that his lawyer's failure to argue that the threat was not hearsay constituted ineffective assistance. The court of appeals agreed and reversed Defendant's conviction. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because the court of appeals did not know or consider the specifics of the threat, it was impossible to determine whether Defendant's trial counsel was ineffective under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). View "State v. Scott" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction as an accomplice to the crime of aggravated murder, holding that it was reasonably probable that the jury would not have convicted Defendant absent three jury instruction errors. The jury instruction discussing the elements for accomplice liability on aggravated murder contained three errors. The court of appeals affirmed the conviction, holding that, in the absence of these errors, there was not a reasonable probability that the jury would have reached a different result. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that there was a reasonable probability that the jury would not have convicted Defendant in the absence of the three errors in the jury instruction that provided the basis for Defendant's conviction. View "State v. Grunwald" on Justia Law