Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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The Supreme Court reversed the district court’s order granting Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained incident to his arrest. The district court concluded that the law enforcement officer who stopped Defendant’s vehicle for an improper lane change violated Defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights when he asked to see Defendant’s identification and ran a warrants check without reasonable suspicion that Defendant had committed or was about to commit a crime. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) to promote officer safety, the Fourth Amendment does not prevent an officer from asking a passenger to produce identification and running a warrants check so long as that does not unreasonably prolong the duration of the stop; and (2) in this case, the officer’s seconds-long extension of the lawful traffic stop did not unreasonably prolong the detention. View "State v. Martinez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated Petitioner’s conviction for dealing materials harmful to minors, holding that trial counsel was ineffective in failing to assert a free speech First Amendment defense and that such a defense would have succeeded if it had been raised. The conviction stemmed from the interception of drawings Petitioner had sent to his five-year-old daughter from jail depicting Petitioner as naked and holding his daughter in the air. The district court granted summary judgment to the State on Petitioner’s petition for post-conviction relief, concluding that Petitioner suffered no prejudice because his First Amendment defense lacked merit. The Supreme Court reversed and vacated Petitioner’s conviction, holding that Petitioner’s drawing was not overtly sexual or sexually suggestive, and therefore, Petitioner’s First Amendment defense was viable. View "Butt v. State" on Justia Law

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The plain language of Utah Code 41-6a-517, does not require a showing of impairment, and the statute does not violate the federal or state constitutions. Defendant was charged under section 41-6a-517 with operating a motor vehicle with a metabolite of a controlled substance in his body. The district court denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss. Defendant entered a plea of no contest, reserving his right to appeal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) an individual violates section 41-6a-517 when he or she operates or is in actual physical control of a motor vehicle with any measurable controlled substance or metabolite of a controlled substance in the person’s body; and (2) the statute does not violate the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution or the uniform operation of laws provision of the Utah Constitution. View "State v. Outzen" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the district court’s order granting Defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence obtained after a law enforcement officer stopped a vehicle for a traffic violation and searched Defendant, a passenger, incident to his arrest on an outstanding arrest warrant. The district court had concluded that the trooper had violated Defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights when he asked to see Defendant’s identification and ran a warrants check without reasonable suspicion that Defendant had committed or was about to commit a crime. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the officer’s seconds-long extension of the lawful traffic stop to request Defendant’s identification did not unreasonably prolong the detention and that officer safety concerns justified the “negligibly burdensome extension of the traffic stop[.]” View "State v. Martinez" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of possessing a shank in prison. Defendant appealed, arguing (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss because the State lost or destroyed a video recording of the discovery of the shank, and (2) his counsel was ineffective in stipulating to the due process analysis applicable to claims regarding evidence destroyed or lost by the State. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) under the due process analysis set forth in State v. Tiedemann, Defendant’s due process rights were not violated; and (2) Defendant’s counsel did not provide ineffective assistance. View "State v. Mohamud" on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged and tried on four counts of theft and one count of attempted theft. After a jury trial, all jurors found Defendant guilty on all five counts. Defendant challenged his conviction under the Unanimous Verdict Clause of the Utah Constitution, alleging that there was lack of unanimity as to alternative factual theories advanced by the prosecution in support of some of the theft counts against him. Alternatively, Defendant alleged two other sets of trial errors as grounds for reversal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) precedent does not support the requirement of unanimity or sufficiency of the evidence for alternative, exemplary means of committing a crime, and the Utah Constitution imposes no such requirement; (2) the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict; and (3) Defendant otherwise failed to identify a basis for reversal of his convictions. View "State v. Hummel" on Justia Law

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The district court terminated Father’s parental rights with respect to his child, making the child legally available for adoption by her stepfather. Father appealed the termination order. The court of appeals certified the case for transfer to the Supreme Court. At issue before the Supreme Court were Father’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel and claims to the right to counsel under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and under the due process clause of the Utah Constitution. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Father had a federal due process right to counsel in the district court proceedings and that that right was erroneously denied in violation of Father’s federal due process rights. View "In re K.A.S." on Justia Law

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Mother’s parental rights to her daughter were terminated. During the termination proceedings at the juvenile court, Mother was unrepresented by counsel. At the end of the proceeding, the juvenile court found by clear and convincing evidence that Mother was unfit as a parent and that it was in the best interests of the child to be placed with Adoptive Parents. Mother appealed, challenging on multiple constitutional grounds Utah Code 78A-6-1111(2), the statutory scheme that provides appointed counsel for indigent parents in state-initiated parental termination proceedings while denying such counsel for indigent parents in privately initiated proceedings. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) section 78A-6-1111(2) is not facially unconstitutional; but (2) the court erred in relying on the statute to deny Mother’s request for counsel without considering Mother’s circumstances and due process rights. View "In re E.K.S." on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of one count each of aggravated murder and child kidnapping, each a first degree felony. Defendant was sentenced to two concurrent sentences of life imprisonment without parole for the convictions. The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions, holding (1) Utah’s noncapital aggravated murder sentencing statute is not constitutionally deficient; (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion with respect to various evidentiary rulings Defendant challenged on appeal, including the court’s admission into evidence of two photographs, although in reaching that decision the Court abandoned its prior test that determined the threshold for the admission of potentially gruesome photographs; (3) the district court did not err in declining to merge Defendant’s child kidnapping conviction with his aggravated murder conviction; and (4) even assuming Defendant’s trial counsel provided constitutionally ineffective assistance, counsel’s performance did not prejudice Defendant. The sentencing court, however, incorrectly stated that the presumptive sentence for Defendant’s aggravated murder conviction was life in prison without parole. Remanded for the limited purpose of permitting the district court to clarify what impact is misapprehension of the law had on its sentencing decision. View "State v. Met" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of murder. The jury imposed a sentence of life without parole. On appeal, the Supreme Court remanded the case for the trial court to conduct a rule 23B hearing addressing Defendant’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. The Court stayed the remainder of Defendant’s appeal pending the outcome of those proceedings. The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction, holding (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting certain DNA and mtDNA evidence; (2) Defendant’s counsel did not provide ineffective assistance; and (3) even if the remainder of Defendant’s claims established errors, any such errors would not have resulted in a reasonable likelihood of a different outcome. View "State v. Griffin" on Justia Law