Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Utah Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court affirming Defendant's conviction of failure to signal for two seconds and failure to obey traffic control devices, holding that the Utah Constitution does not guarantee Defendant a jury trial for his traffic violations. At the time Defendant was charged, the Utah Code classified the offenses as class C misdemeanors. At the arraignment hearing the City amended both charges to infractions, thereby depriving Defendant of a jury trial. Defendant moved to dismiss the information charging him with infractions, arguing that the Utah Constitution guarantees a right to a jury trial in all criminal prosecutions, including those for infractions. The justice court denied Defendant's motion to dismiss and request for a jury trial and convicted Defendant. On appeal, the district court denied Defendant's motion for a jury trial and convicted him of both charges. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that minor offenses do not trigger the right to a jury trial under article I section 12 of the Utah Constitution. View "South Salt Lake City v. Maese" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court issuing an injunction enjoining the implementation of Senate Bill 78 (SB 78) on the grounds that it violates article X, section 8 of the Utah Constitution, holding that State Board of Education members are not employed in the state's education systems and are therefore not covered by article X, section 8. In 2016, the legislature passed SB 78, which makes the office of State Board of Education a partisan office and requires Board members to be elected through the general partisan election process. The district court concluded that Board members hold "employment" in a legal sense in the State's education system and therefore fell within the purview of article X, section 8. Thus, the court concluded, SB 78 was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court reversed the district court and reinstated SB 78, holding that because the Utah Constitution omits Board members from being in a condition of employment in the state's education systems, SB 78 does not violate the Utah Constitution. View "Richards v. Cox" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's convictions for aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, and obstruction of justice, holding that the court of appeals properly concluded that Defendant's free will was not overborne in confessing and making other incriminating statements to the police and properly concluded that a jury instruction given at trial was faulty but did not result in prejudice to Defendant. On appeal, Defendant argued that the court of appeals erred in (1) affirming the trial court's determination that his statements were admissible at trial as impeachment evidence, despite a violation of his Miranda rights, which barred the statements from being used in the Sate's case-in-chief; and (2) erred in affirming his conviction for aggravated robbery despite a jury instruction that incorrectly recited the requisite mental state for the offense. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the court of appeals correctly affirmed that Defendant's statements to police were voluntary and that his confession and incriminating statements could be used for impeachment purposes in the event that Defendant chose to testify; and (2) the faulty jury instruction did not affect the outcome or the verdict. View "State v. Apodaca" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the district court dismissing Appellant's motion for declaratory judgment, holding that Utah Code 77-41-105 requires individuals to register as a sex offender in Utah even though their conviction in another jurisdiction has been set aside. Appellant pled guilty in Idaho to a sex offense that required him to register as a sex offender. The entry of judgment was withheld, and after Defendant completed his probation, the court set aside Defendant's plea. When Defendant moved to Utah he filed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that he was not required to register in Utah because he was never actually convicted in Idaho. The district court dismissed the suit. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that section 77-41-105(3)(a) required Defendant to register regardless of whether he was convicted because he met the definition of an "offender." The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Appellant was required to register as a sex offender in Utah based on his status as an offender; and (2) Appellant was required to register in Utah because he was convicted in Idaho. View "Holste v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the post-conviction district court's conclusion that appellate counsel's performance did not prejudice Appellant, holding that Appellant was not prejudiced by his appellate counsel's failure to investigate the alleged ineffective assistance of Appellant's trial counsel. Appellant was conviction of aggravated murder and attempted aggravated murder. After a direct appeal, Appellant filed a petition seeking relief under the Post-Conviction Remedies Act, alleging that his trial counsel and appellate counsel were both constitutionally deficient. After a remand, the district court concluded that appellate counsel's performance was deficient because she had failed to investigate certain arguments while preparing the appeal but that Appellant was not prejudiced because his trial counsel had not rendered ineffective assistance. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) this Court may consider the evidence entered into the record during the proceedings below; and (2) the district court correctly concluded that Appellant did not suffer prejudice as a result of his appellate counsel's deficient performance. View "Ross v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the district court denying Defendant's motion to reinstate his time to appeal his conviction under Utah R. App. P. 4(f), holding that Defendant did not satisfy his burden of proving that he was deprived of the right to appeal through no fault of his own. Defendant was convicted of multiple counts of securities fraud. After he was sentenced Defendant filed a pro se notice of appeal and a docketing statement. The court of appeals dismissed his appeal because Defendant failed to submit a brief by the filing deadline. Twelve years later, Defendant filed a motion to reinstate his time to appeal, arguing that the sentencing court failed to inform him of his right to counsel on appeal in his sentencing hearing, and therefore, he was deprived of his right to appeal. The district court denied the motion. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the sentencing court was under no legal obligation to inform Defendant of his right to appellate counsel, and as a result, the court was not at fault for the dismissal of Defendant's direct appeal. Therefore, relief under 4(f) was not warranted. View "State v. Stewart" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of ten counts of forcible sexual abuse and one count of object rape for sexually abusing two of his sisters-in-law, holding that Defendant's counsel did not provide ineffective assistance, the district court did not err in its evidentiary rulings, the denial of Defendant's motion for a mistrial was not an abuse of discretion, and that Defendant did not suffer prejudice when Defendant's sisters-in-law were referred to as "victims." Specifically, the Court held (1) trial counsel did not provide constitutionally defective representation when he failed to move to sever the charges regarding each victim so that Defendant could have two separate trials; (2) trial counsel's failure to object to certain testimony was not unreasonable; (3) the district court did not err by admitting testimony that Defendant claimed was protected by the attorney-client privilege; and (4) Defendant was not prejudiced when the court and a witness referred to Defendant's sisters-in-law as victims. View "State v. Vallejo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of murder, holding that any error the trial court committed when it refused to allow a claim of perfect self-defense was harmless and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Defendant's motion for a mistrial. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court erred when it prevented him from arguing perfect self defense and that the trial court abused its discretion when it refused to declare a mistrial after the prosecutor asked Defendant to demonstrate the shooting using a facsimile gun. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court's failure to give a perfect self-defense instruction was harmless under any formulation of the prejudice standard; and (2) under the circumstances of this trial the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion for a mistrial. View "State v. Silva" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of three counts of possession of a firearm by a restricted person in violation of Utah Code 76-10-503(3), holding that the district court did not err in refusing the instruct the jury on an innocent possession defense. A jury convicted Defendant of violating section 76-10-503(3) after police officers responding to a domestic complaint found Defendant in his backyard carrying a rifle. Before trial, Defendant requested an innocent possession jury instruction, but the district court denied the request. On appeal, Defendant argued that the felon-in-possession statute included an innocent possession defense. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the felon-in-possession statute does not implicitly provide an innocent possession defense; and (2) case law does not require an innocent possession defense. View "State v. Sanders" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of one count of threatening with or using a dangerous weapon in a fight or quarrel, holding that there was no error in the district court's judgment. Defendant, a detective with the Unified Police Department, was bird hunting when he angrily confronted another hunter's group with his service weapon drawn and held at his side. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court erred in treating the relevant statute's exception for persons acting in self-defense and peace officers in performance of their duties as affirmative defenses rather than elements of the offense. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) under Utah Code 76-10-506, self-defense and acting as a peace officer in performance of duties are affirmative defenses, not elements of the offense; (2) the declaration from a juror submitted by Defendant in support of his motion for a new trial was inadmissible under Utah R. Evid. 606(b); and (3) the district court's deadlock instruction was not unconstitutionally coercive. View "State v. Bess" on Justia Law