Justia Constitutional 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 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 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 dismissed this petition for extraordinary relief asserting that the actions of Governor Gary R. Herbert, Lieutenant Governor Spencer J. Cox, and the Utah Legislature in replacing a citizens' initiative approved by Utah voters that legalized medical cannabis and replacing the initiative with H.B. 3001 were unconstitutional, holding that some of Petitioners' arguments failed on the merits and that the remainder of the petition did not comply with Rule 19 of the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure. The day H.B. 3001 passed, some of the Petitioners filed a referendum application with the Lieutenant Governor that would have allowed H.B. 3001 to be put to a vote of the people. The Lieutenant Governor denied the petition because he determined one of the referendum sponsors did not meet the applicable statutory requirements and because the Utah House of Representatives and the Utah Senate passed the bill by a supermajority, which made the bill referendum-proof. Petitioners subsequently brought this petition. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition, holding (1) the Governor did not effectively veto Provision 2, and the Two-Thirds Provisions of the Utah Constitution and Utah Code applied to the legislation here; and (2) the rest of the petition is dismissed without prejudice for failure to comply with Rule 19. View "Grant v. Governor Gary R. Herbert" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court denying the petition filed by Petitioners, a same-sex married couple and a woman and her husband requesting that the court validate their agreement that the woman act as a gestational surrogate for the couple, holding that Utah Code 78B-15-802(2)(b), which precludes same-sex male couples from obtaining a valid gestational agreement, is unconstitutional. A married couple, both men, entered into an agreement with a woman and her husband to have the woman act as a gestational surrogate to carry a fertilized embryo that contained the genetic material of one of the couple. This type of gestational agreement is not enforceable in Utah unless it is validated by a tribunal, and a court may not validated the agreement if medical evidence is not presented showing that the "intended mother" is unable to bear a child or will suffer health consequences if she does. Petitioners filed a petition requesting that the district court validate their gestational agreement, but the court denied the petition because neither of the intended parents were women. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the statute is unconstitutional and that the unconstitutional subsection should be severed. The Court then remanded this case for further proceedings. View "In re Gestational Agreement" 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 in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court dismissing on summary judgment Plaintiff's claims against Box Elder County and the Box Elder County Sheriff's Office, including claims of violations of his rights to due process and bail, holding that the court did not err in dismissing the bail clause claims but erred in dismissing the due process claims. Plaintiff was held in the Box Elder County Jail for seventeen days on a probable cause determination that he was driving under the influence, but no evidence showed that he was actually driving impaired, and Plaintiff was never brought before a judge for his initial appearance or formally charged with any crimes. The district court concluded that Plaintiff had not suffered a flagrant violation of his constitutional rights and that he could not identify a specific municipal employee who had violated his rights. The Supreme Court held (1) Plaintiff's bail clause claims were properly dismissed because Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the bail clause was self-executing; but (2) the court incorrectly applied the standard for determining when a municipal employee is liable for damages for a constitutional violation in dismissing Plaintiff's due process claims. View "Kuchcinski v. Box Elder County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the district court summarily dismissing Appellant’s petition for post-conviction relief, holding that the district court erred in determining that, as a matter of undisputed fact and law, Appellant was not prejudiced by his defense counsel’s conduct at either the guilt or sentencing phases of Appellant’s trial. In 1985, Appellant was sentenced to death for murder. In 2011, Appellant’s current counsel located two witnesses who testified in the murder case, and obtained their sworn declarations that the police threatened them if they did not cooperate in the case against Appellant, that their testimony was coached, and that they were instructed to lie under oath about benefits they received from the State. Appellant filed a petition for post-conviction relief based upon these revelations, but the district court dismissed the petition. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for an evidentiary hearing, holding that Appellant demonstrated a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether he was prejudiced. View "Carter v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court striking down the Public Waters Access Act (PWAA), Utah Code 73-29-101 to 73-29-208, under “public trust” principles set forth in Utah Const. art. XX, 1, holding that the district court erred in treating the easement established by Conaster v. Johnson, 194 P.3d 897 (2008), as a matter beyond the legislature’s power to revise or revisit. The Supreme Court held in Conaster that the incidental right of touching the privately-owned bed of state waters is reasonably necessary to the public right to float on the water and to wade in the waters for recreation. Thereafter, the legislature enacted the PWAA, which restricted the scope of the Conaster easement by foreclosing the right to touch a streambed for purposes other than flotation. The Utah Stream Access Coalition then filed this lawsuit asserting a constitutional right of its members to wade in waters of the Provo River flowing through land owned by VR Acquisitions. The district court granted relief. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that its analysis in Conaster was based only on common-law easement principles, and because common-law decisions are subject to adaptation or reversal by the legislature, the district court erred in treating the Conaster easement as a right rooted in constitutional soil. View "Utah Stream Access Coalition v. VR Acquisitions, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction of rape and forcible sexual assault of his wife, holding that a single error occurred below, and the error was not prejudicial. Specifically, the Court held (1) Defendant failed to preserve for appeal his argument that the trial judge violated his constitutional rights by making comments to the jury pool about the O.J. Simpson case; (2) the trial court did not err in concluding that alleged sexual partner evidence created a danger of unfair prejudice that substantially outweighed the evidence’s probative value; (3) the trial court did not err in admitting evidence of Defendant’s prior bad acts or limiting defense counsel’s cross-examination of the victim on that point; and (4) Defendant was not prejudiced by his trial counsel’s failure to object to the trial judge’s comments to the jury. View "State v. Beverly" on Justia Law

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In 2010, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) condemned an access point from Bangerter Highway to the West Point Shopping Center. At the time of the condemnation, the shopping center was owned by FPA West Point, LLC. FPA leased buildings in the shopping center to a number of businesses, including K MART Corporation (Kmart). Both FPA and Kmart entered the condemnation proceedings, asserting rights to just compensation. The first appeal (Utah Department of Transportation v. FPA West Point, LLC) addressed valuation methods in the context of a condemnation award determination. In that case, the Utah Supreme Court held that courts must use the aggregate-of-interests approach (which determines the value of properties with divided ownership interests by assessing the value of each property interest separately) in deciding the amount of a condemnation award. In this appeal the issue presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether the district court erred by granting a condemnation award to Kmart, a lessee, even though Kmart’s lease contained a clause terminating its leasehold interest in the event of a condemnation. The Court held that it did: because the termination clause extinguished all of Kmart’s compensable property interests, Kmart was not entitled to compensation. Accordingly, the district court’s grant of a condemnation award to Kmart was reversed. View "UDOT v. Kmart Corp." on Justia Law