Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Utah Supreme Court
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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

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court dismissing Appellant's claim brought under the Post-Conviction Remedies Act (PCRA), holding that, contrary to the conclusions of the district court, Appellant's petition was not barred because his initial petition did not count as a "previous request for post-conviction relief" under Utah Code 78B-9-106(1)(d). In 2013, Appellant was convicted of aggravated sexual abuse of a minor. In 2017, Appellant submitted a petition in the Second District Court of Utah seeking to challenge his conviction. Appellant subsequently withdrew his petition under Utah R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1)(A). Later, Appellant filed a new petition in the Second District Court. The district court dismissed the petition, concluding that it was procedurally barred because it asserted claims that were, or could have been, raised or addressed in a previous request for post-conviction relief. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that there is no "previous request for post-conviction relief" where the action was initiated but voluntarily dismissed under Rule 41(a)(1)(A). View "Hand v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing Defendant's conviction of aggravated robbery on the ground that the legal framework established in State v. Ramirez, 817 P.2d 774 (Utah 1991), is no longer viable and reinstated the jury verdict on the alternative basis that any arguable error in admitting eyewitness identification evidence in this case was harmless. Defendant was convicted based on eyewitness identification testimony and other evidence admitted at trial. The court of appeals reversed the conviction under the reliability factors set forth in Ramirez and on the ground that the improperly admitted eyewitness identifications were not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The court of appeals, however, also raised concerns about the viability of the standard set forth in Ramirez, indicating that the Ramirez framework must be revisited. The Supreme Court endorsed the need for revising and updating the factors set forth in Ramirez based on new developments in scientific and legal research regarding the reliability of eyewitness identification testimony. The Court then held (1) admissibility of eyewitness identification testimony is to be measured in the first instance by the rules of evidence; and (2) in this case, any error in admitting such evidence was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "State v. Lujan" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed Appellant's appeal, in which Appellant raised two new arguments, from the district court's denial of his motion to withdraw his plea under Utah Code 77-13-6, the Plea Withdrawal Statute, holding that the Plea Withdrawal Statute prohibited this Court from considering Appellant's unpreserved arguments. Appellant pled guilty to felony driving under the influence. Before sentencing, Appellant moved to withdraw his plea. The district court denied the motion. Appellant appealed and raised two new arguments under the plain error and ineffective assistance of counsel exceptions to the preservation rule. The court of appeals certified the case to the Supreme Court for original appellate review. The Supreme Court held (1) the Plea Withdrawal Statute prevents this Court from considering Appellant's unpreserved arguments; and (2) defendants may not rely on preservation exceptions when appealing the denial of a motion to withdraw a guilty plea. View "State v. Flora" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals holding that it acted jurisdiction to hear Defendant's unpreserved claim on appeal, holding that Utah's Plea Withdrawal Statute, Utah Code 77-13-6, bars review of unpreserved claims raised as part of an appeal from the denial of a timely plea-withdrawal motion. Defendant pled guilty to attempted murder. Before he was sentenced Defendant moved to withdraw his plea. The district court denied the motion. Defendant appealed this denial and raised a new challenge under the plain error exception to the preservation rule. The court of appeals concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to entertain Defendant's unpreserved claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that that the Plea Withdrawal Statute bars appellate review of unpreserved claims raised as part of an appeal of a timely motion to withdraw a guilty plea. View "State v. Badikyan" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court convicting Defendant of two of four counts of sexual exploitation of a minor but reversed the district court on the remaining two convictions, holding that the second and fourth counts of sexual exploitation of a minor did not meet the Sexual Exploitation Act's definition of simulated sexually explicit conduct. Appellant was charged with four counts of sexual exploitation of a minor after he was discovered in his middle school classroom where he taught with scrapbooks containing pornographic images of adults and images of underage, and sometimes nude, girls. Appellant entered a Sery plea of no contest and then appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's two of the counts of sexual exploitation of a minor but reversed the district court on the remaining two counts, holding that the district court did not err in interpreting the Act but that there was insufficient evidence to convict Defendant on counts two and four. View "State v. Hatfield" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals concluding that there was sufficient evidence to sustain the charged aggravator for Defendant's aggravated murder conviction and that the district properly denied Defendant's motion for a new trial, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below. On appeal, Defendant argued that there was insufficient to sustain the determination that he placed another person at "great risk of death" when he killed his victim and that the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion for a new trial. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) in determining whether a murder was committed under circumstances in which the defendant caused a "great risk of death" to another person Utah Code 76-5-202(1)(c) is satisfied if the great risk of death was created with a "brief span of time" of the act causing the murder and the acts together "formed a concatenating series of events"; (2) there was a reasonable basis for the jury to conclude that Defendant caused a great risk of death to another in the circumstances of the murder in this case; and (3) the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion for a new trial. View "State v. Sosa-Hurtado" on Justia Law