Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Utah Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the post-conviction court's grant of summary judgment against Defendant's post-conviction claims, holding that Defendant's Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), claim was not cognizable under the Post-Conviction Remedies Act (PCRA).Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Later, Defendant filed a third state petition for post-conviction relief, including an Atkins claim and twelve additional claims unrelated to Atkins. The post-conviction court concluded that all of Defendant's claims were barred under the PCRA. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the PCRA did not provide a remedy for Defendant's Atkins claim; and (2) each of Defendant's remaining claims was procedurally barred. View "Archuleta v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that any power a defendant has to subpoena witnesses at a preliminary hearing is limited by the court's authority to quash unreasonable subpoenas, and that reasonableness inquiry must be informed by the standards that govern preliminary hearings and the rights that the law guarantees for crime victims.The two defendants in this consolidated opinion sought to compel their alleged victims to testify by way of subpoena. The victims, however, had previously participated in interviews about their alleged abuse, and those interviews were introduced as reliable hearsay at the defendants' preliminary hearings. The Supreme Court held that once the State has used a victim's reliable hearsay to make a prima facie showing of probable cause, a subpoena compelling the victim to give additional, live testimony will survive a motion to quash only if the defendant demonstrates that the subpoena is necessary to present specific evidence that is reasonably likely to defeat the showing of probable cause. View "State v. Lopez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for aggravated murder, holding that Defendant was not entitled to a new penalty-phase trial.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) even if Defendant's trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance, Defendant was not prejudiced by that deficiency; (2) any error in admitting certain hearsay statements during trial was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt; (3) Defendant was not prejudiced by victim-impact evidence; (4) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to give a beyond-a-reasonable-doubt jury instruction under State v. Lafferty, 749 P.2d 1239 (Utah 1988); and (5) Defendant inadequately briefed his argument under the doctrine of cumulative error. View "State v. Drommond" on Justia Law

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In this criminal case, the Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the court of appeals that the trial court erred in admitting the testimony of the State's expert witness, holding that the court of appeals conflated the requirements and remedies of the Expert Notice Statute, Utah Code 77-17-13, and Utah R. Evid. 702 and in shifting the burden to the State to disprove prejudice.The court of appeals vacated Defendant's convictions of four counts of sodomy on a trial, holding (1) the trial court committed reversible error in allowing the State's expert witness to testify in violation of Rule 702; and (2) the State did not meet its burden to prove that Defendant had not been prejudiced by the denial of his motion for a continuance. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the court of appeals' Rule 702 analysis was erroneous; and (2) the court of appeals erred in shifting the burden to the State to disprove prejudice. View "State v. Peraza" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court largely affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's convictions of violating a protective order, aggravated sexual assault relating to rape and digital penetration, kidnapping, burglary, and assault but held that the district court erred in refusing to instruct on sexual battery as a lesser included offense of aggravated sexual assault based on forcible sexual abuse.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the court of appeals (1) did not err in concluding that any error in the jury instructions on aggravated sexual assault, rape, and forcible sexual abuse did not prejudice Defendant; (2) did not err in affirming the district court's refusal to instruct the jury on additional lesser included offenses of aggravated sexual assault based on rape, aggravated burglary, and aggravated kidnapping but erred in affirming the district court's refusal to instruct on sexual battery as a lesser included offense of aggravated sexual assault based on forcible sexual abuse; (3) did not err in affirming the district court’s sentence of fifteen years to life on both convictions of aggravated sexual assault; (4) did not err in concluding that the district court conducted a proper interests of justice analysis at sentencing; and (5) did not err in rejecting Norton’s claim of cumulative error.` View "State v. Norton" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction for being an accomplice to the crime of aggravated murder, holding that it was reasonably probable that the jury would not have convicted Defendant of aggravated murder absent jury instruction errors.After Defendant was convicted she appealed, arguing that her trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to three errors in the jury instruction regarding accomplice liability. The court of appeals concluded that there were three errors in the jury instruction and that the performance of Defendant's trial counsel was deficient because he did not object to the errors. However, the court of appeals determined that the errors were not prejudicial because there was not a reasonable probability of a more favorable outcome absent the errors. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial, holding (1) the jury instruction discussing the elements for accomplice liability on aggravated murder contained three errors; and (2) there was a reasonable probability that at least one juror would not have voted to convict Defendant in the absence of the errors. View "State v. Grunwald" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court denying Appellant's expungement petition, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the petition.Appellant was charged with one count of unlawful sexual conduct with a sixteen or seventeen year old. Before trial, because the complaining witness was unavailable for trial, the district court granted the State's motion to dismiss the case without prejudice. Seven months later, Appellant filed his expungement petition. The district court denied the petition on the basis that Appellant had failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that his expungement was not be contrary to the public interests. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in the way it handled the matter or in its decision to deny Appellant's expungement petition. View "State v. Malo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction for burglary and sexual abuse, holding that any error found or assumed in this case was not prejudicial.On appeal, Defendant argued that the prosecutor's comments about he differences between his initial statement at the scene of the crime and his trial testimony violated his constitutional right to remain silent and that the trial court's admission of two prior acts - a peeping incident and a trespassing incident - was prejudicial error. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) assuming that a constitutional violation occurred during the prosecutor's cross-examination about omissions in Defendant's statement at the scene, the violation was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt and did not prejudice Defendant; (2) any assumed error in the admission of the trespassing incident was harmless; and (3) Defendant failed to preserve his challenge to the admission of the peeping incident. View "State v. Argueta" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that when a Utah prison inmate must register as a sex or kidnap offender the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole need not afford the inmate the due process protections required by Neese v. Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, 416 P.3d 663 (Utah 2017).Kevin Blanke was serving a prison sentence for attempted child kidnapping and kidnapping. Because of his conviction for attempted child kidnapping Blanke was considered a sex offender under Utah's sex offender registration statute. At the time he was sentenced for kidnapping, Blanke further admitted to having sexual intercourse with a fifteen-year-old, conduct that would place him, if he were convicted, on the sex offender registry. The Parole Board declined to set a parole date for Blanke because he refused to participate in the prison sex offender treatment program. Blanke filed a petition for extraordinary relief under Utah R. Civ. P. 65B(d), arguing that the Parole Board had violated due process by conditioning his parole on completion of sex offender treatment even though he had not committed a sex offense. The district court granted summary judgment for the Parole Board. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, the procedural protections in Neese did not apply. View "Blanke v. Utah Board of Pardons & Parole" on Justia Law

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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