Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Utah Supreme Court
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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

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In this eminent domain action, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court endorsing a "general rule that a party may not rely on post-valuation facts and circumstances to prove severance damages," holding that there is no categorical rule foreclosing the relevance of evidence of a subsequent transaction involving the property in question. In 2009, a portion of Plaintiff's property was taken by the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT). During the subsequent litigation, the parties disputed the amount of damages for the condemned property and on the amount of severance damages as to Plaintiff's remaining property. Plaintiff eventually sold the remaining property, which was developed into two car dealerships. On a pretrial motion in limine the district court excluded this development, concluding that that the property had to be valued as of the date of the taking and based on what a willing buyer and seller would have known at that time. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that there is no categorical rule deeming post-valuation-date evidence irrelevant to the determination of fair market value under Utah Code 78B-6-511 and -512. View "Utah Department of Transportation v. Boggess-Draper Co." on Justia Law

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In this case brought by an alleged victim of child-sex abuse years after the alleged abuse occurred, the Supreme Court held that the Utah Legislature is constitutionally prohibited from retroactively reviving a time-barred claim in a manner depriving a defendant of a vested statute of limitations defense. Plaintiff, who alleged that Defendant sexually abused her in 1981, conceded that each of her claims had expired under the original statute of limitations. Plaintiff, however, argued that (1) her claims were revived when the legislature, in 2016, enacted Utah Code 78B-2-308(7), and (2) her claims against Defendant were timely filed under this statue. The federal court certified this case to the Supreme Court asking the Court to clarify whether the legislature had the authority to expressly revive time-barred claims through a statute. The Supreme Court held (1) the legislature lacks the power to retroactively vitiate a ripened statute of limitations defense under the Utah Constitution; and (2) therefore, section 78B-2-308(7) is an unconstitutional exercise of legislative power. View "Mitchell v. Roberts" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the district court's dismissal of the Pearl Raty Trust's claim that it is an inhabitant of Salt Lake City and thereby entitled to the City's water under Utah Const. art. XI, 6, holding that the Trust failed to persuade the Court that the Utah voters who ratified the Constitution would have considered it an inhabitant of the City. The Trust sought water for an undeveloped lot it owned in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Although the lot sat in unincorporated Salt Lake County, the lot fell within Salt Lake City's water service area. The court of appeals ruled that the Trust was not an inhabitant of the City because it "merely holds undeveloped property within territory over which the City asserts water rights and extra-territorial jurisdiction." The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Trust failed to persuade that the people who ratified the Utah Constitution understood the word "inhabitants" to encompass any person who owned property in a city's approved water service area. View "Salt Lake City Corp. v. Haik" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction of aggravated sexual assault and aggravated assault, holding that Defendant was not prejudiced by any alleged error in the jury instruction for rape and that the State had no duty under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), to conduct a forensic examination of the complainant's cell phone before trial. The court of appeals affirmed Defendant's convictions, holding that (1) the district court had not erroneously instructed the jury on the elements of rape, and (2) the State did not commit a Brady violation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant was not prejudiced by his counsel's failure to object to the jury instruction on the elements of rape, and, going forward, this Court endorses the use of Model Utah Jury Instruction 1605 for rape; and (2) the State did not violate Brady when it did not complete a forensic examination of the complainant's cell phone. View "State v. Newton" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Utah Code 78A-7-118(4), (8) providing a hearing de novo in the district court on justice court convictions but foreclosing further appeal unless the district court rules on the constitutionality of a statute or ordinance, holding that the statute withstands constitutional scrutiny. Petitioner was convicted of three misdemeanors in justice court. Thereafter, Petitioner invoked his statutory right to appeal his convictions by seeking a trial de novo in the district court. In the district court, Petitioner was acquitted of one misdemeanor and reconnected of the other two. By statute, Petitioner had exhausted his right to an appeal following the district court's decision, but Petitioner nonetheless filed an appeal in the court of appeals. The court of appeals held that it lacked jurisdiction and dismissed the appeal. Petitioner sought certiorari review, arguing that 78A-7-118(8) is unconstitutional as applied to him. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that while the briefing in this case has highlighted some potential policy concerns with the process for filing an appeal from a justice court decision none of these concerns rises to the level of a constitutional problem. View "Taylorsville City v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction of attempted murder, holding that the court of appeals did not err in denying Defendant's Utah R. App. P. 23B motion, nor was Defendant prejudiced by his trial counsel's decision not to call an expert who would have testified about the problems inherent in eyewitness identifications. On appeal, Defendant argued that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to call the eyewitness testimony expert, who his prior counsel had previously identified and disclosed. Defendant also filed a Rule 23B motion asking the court to remand so that he could supplement the record with facts concerning the uncalled expert. The court of appeals denied the Rule 23B motion and affirmed Defendant's conviction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals (1) did not err by concluding that Defendant failed to present a sufficient basis for remand under Rule 23B; and (2) did not apply an incorrect version of the Washington v. Strickland, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), standard to its conclusion. View "State v. Gallegos" 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 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 denied the petition for extraordinary writ sought by advocates for a statewide ballot initiative called the Direct Primary Initiative, holding that Petitioners' statutory claims and all but one of the constitutional claims failed on the merit and that Petitioners failed to carry their burden of identifying an undisputed basis for the relief requested. Petitioners - Count My Vote, Inc., Michael O. Leavitt, and Richard McKeown - were advocates for a proposed initiative that would establish a direct primary election path for placement on the general election ballot for persons seeking a political party's nomination for certain elected offices. The lieutenant governor refused to certify the initiative for the November 2018 ballot, finding that Petitioners failed to satisfy the requirements of Utah Code 20A-7-201(2)(a). Petitioners then brought this petition for extraordinary writ on statutory and constitutional grounds. The Supreme Court denied the petition, holding (1) the majority of Petitioners' statutory and constitutional claims failed on the merits; (2) one of the constitutional claims implicates an underlying dispute of material fact on the nature and extent of any burden on the right to pursue an initiative under Utah Const. art. VI, 1; and (3) Petitioners failed to carry their burden of establishing an undisputed basis for the requested relief. View "Count My Vote, Inc. v. Cox" on Justia Law