Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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In this criminal case convicting Defendant of murder, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals’ conclusion that exceptional circumstances merited review of an issue not preserved in the trial court and not argued on appeal. After supplemental briefing, the court of appeals reversed Defendant’s conviction, concluding that the homicide by assault instruction given to the jury was erroneous. Although Defendant never preserved an objection to the instruction and likely invited the error by submitting the instruction to the court, the court of appeals decided that the exceptional circumstances exception to the preservation rule permitted the court to examine the error. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeals erred in overruling the trial court sua sponte on an issue that was neither preserved in the trial court nor argued on appeal. View "State v. Johnson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction of four counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child and sentence of a composite term of thirty years to life in prison. The court held (1) to the extent that Defendant’s arguments that the district court erred in admitting expert testimony by a forensic interviewer at the Children’s Justice Center, they lacked merit; (2) the district court did not violate Defendant’s constitutional right to present a complete defense when it excluded evidence of a witness’s supposed prior false accusations of sexual misconduct; and (3) there was no abuse of discretion in the district court’s sentencing decision. View "State v. Martin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court disavowed its holding in State v. Brooks, 638 P.2d 537 (Utah 1981) that counsel always has the same motive to develop testimony at a preliminary hearing that she will have at trial. At issue was the admission of preliminary hearing testimony of an unavailable witness at Defendant’s criminal trial. The court of appeals concluded that the unavailable witness’s testimony was properly admitted under Utah R. Evid. 804. On appeal, Defendant argued because Utah Const. art. I, section 12 limits preliminary hearings to establishing probable cause, his counsel had a different motive in conducting cross-examination at the preliminary hearing than she would have at trial. The Supreme Court agreed and held (1) a district court should examine preliminary hearing testimony to ensure that the defendant possessed a similar motive before admitting the testimony under Rule 804; (2) the court of appeals in this case erred when it affirmed the admission of the witness’s preliminary hearing testimony; and (3) the admission of preliminary hearing testimony constituted error with respect to Defendant’s misdemeanor conviction, but its admission was harmless as to Defendant’s felony conviction. View "State v. Goins" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the legislature’s classification of offenses in the DUI and measure substance statutes. The Supreme Court thus reversed the court of appeals’ decision vacating Defendant’s second degree felony convictions under the Uniform Operation of Laws Clause of the Utah Constitution. The court of appeals concluded that the classification of Defendant’s three crimes as second degree felonies under the measurable substance provision ran afoul of the Uniform Operation of Laws Clause. The court of appeals, however, rejected Defendant’s challenge to the imposition of consecutive sentences for the three counts against him. The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals’ decision upholding Defendant’s sentences and thus reinstated the convictions and sentences as entered and imposed against Defendant in the district court. View "State v. Ainsworth" on Justia Law

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The court of appeals vacated Defendant’s conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of attempted murder but affirmed Defendant’s conviction of possession of a firearm by a restricted person. The court found that Defendant’s counsel provided ineffective assistance when he failed to object to a defective jury instruction on the lesser-included offense of attempted manslaughter, and the error prejudiced Defendant’s trial. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals with respect to the jury instruction issue, holding that the court of appeals erroneously failed to perform fully the prejudice analysis required by Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), and that Defendant was not prejudiced by his counsel’s complicity in the jury receiving a flawed instruction. View "State v. Garcia" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The weekend before Defendant’s trial, Defendant and the State entered into a plea agreement. Before Defendant entered his plea, however, the State rescinded its offer because Defendant’s alleged victim disapproved of the agreement. At Defendant’s request, the court granted a continuance and rescheduled the jury trial. Defendant subsequently filed a motion to enforce the plea agreement, asserting that he had detrimentally relied on the State’s offer. The district court rejected the motion, and Defendant sought interlocutory review. The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s order denying enforcement of the plea agreement, holding (1) the State may withdraw from a plea bargain agreement at any time prior to the actual entry of a defendant’s guilty plea or other action by a defendant constituting detrimental reliance on the agreement; and (2) Defendant did not perform under the terms of the plea agreement before the State rescinded its offer and failed to show that he detrimentally relied on the State’s offer. View "State v. Francis" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts, Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the conviction of Defendant for the murder of his wife. During trial, Defendant sought to reduce the conviction from murder to manslaughter by establishing special mitigation through extreme emotional distress. The jury rejected Defendant’s arguments for special mitigations. On appeal, Defendant argued that the jury instructions concerning extreme emotional distress were in error. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court agreed, holding (1) a criminal defendant who seeks to establish special mitigation by extreme emotional distress must prove that his loss of self-control is reasonable; and (2) under the circumstances of this case, the jury instructions accurately described the law. View "State v. Lambdin" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s grant of partial summary judgment in favor of Hadley Christensen, who claimed reimbursement pursuant to Utah Code 52-6-201 from Juab School District, his former employer, for attorney fees and costs incurred in a successful defense against charges of aggravated sexual abuse of a child. The district court awarded judgment pursuant to a stipulation entered by the parties. The Supreme Court held (1) the reimbursement statute provides reimbursement for the successful defense against an information filed in connection with the acts of a public officer or employee; (2) under the reimbursement statute, Christensen was entitled to reimbursement; and (3) Christensen was charged under color of authority as a person in a position of special trust, a prong in the reimbursement statute. View "Christensen v. Juab School District" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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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 affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims seeking a declaration that Utah Code 63G-7-601 and 78B-3-104 violate the Open Courts Clause of the state Constitution by restricting access to courts in lawsuits against police officers. The district court dismissed the claims on summary judgment, concluding that Plaintiff lacked traditional standing to challenge these statutory provisions and, alternatively, that his claims failed on the merits. The Supreme Court affirmed without endorsing the merits of the district court’s standing analysis or its alternative consideration of the merits, holding that Defendant failed to carry his burden on appeal of challenging the district court’s standing decision. View "Kendall v. Olsen" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law