Articles Posted in Utah Supreme Court

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of child abuse homicide, holding that Defendant’s challenges to expert testimony provided in his case would not receive consideration and that the district court properly denied Defendant’s motion to suppress. The Court, however, took the opportunity provided in this case to rebuke sole reliance on the factors set forth in Salt Lake City v. Carter, 664 P.2d 1168 (Utah 1983) for the determination of whether an individual is in custody for purposes of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) and clarified the role these factors play going forward in order to bring courts in lockstep with the United States Supreme Court as to this determination. View "State v. Fullerton" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction of rape of a child, holding that each of Defendant’s claims on appeal failed. Specifically, the Court held (1) this Court declines to consider whether the district court erred in relying upon each of the factors previously articulated in State v. Shickles, 760 P.2d 291 (Utah 1998), to determine the admissibility of Defendant’s previous acts of child molestation because review of this claim was precluded by the invited error doctrine; (2) the district court did not err in admitting evidence of Defendant’s prior acts of child molestation; and (3) Defendant’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel failed because he did not show that any of counsel’s alleged deficiencies constituted deficient performance and resulted in prejudice. View "State v Ring" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions of possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia, holding that the trial court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained during a Terry stop. Specifically, the Court held (1) when law enforcement officers stopped Defendant’s vehicle, they had reasonable suspicion to investigate two traffic violations and possible drug possession; (2) when the officers approached the vehicle they gained reasonable suspicion of driving under the influence; and (3) under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), the officers were entitled to detain Defendant for a reasonable time while they investigated these offenses. View "State v. Binks" on Justia Law

by
Unavailability of witnesses for trial may not be established merely on the basis of an illness on the particular day a trial is scheduled by a court. Rather, there must be a showing that the illness is of such an extended duration that a reasonable continuance would not allow the witness to testify. The Supreme Court reversed Defendant’s aggravated robbery conviction but affirmed Defendant’s possession of a firearm by a restricted conviction. The court held (1) the trial court committed prejudicial error in admitting preliminary hearing testimony under Utah R. Evid. 804 because the witness in question was not unavailable for trial under the standard clarified in this opinion and because the testimony was inadmissible because Defendant’s motive to cross-examine the witnesses at the preliminary hearing was not similar to the one he would have at trial; and (2) any error in admitting evidence of field test results, offered to confirm that a substance found on Defendant was marijuana, was harmless. View "State v. Ellis" on Justia Law

by
Unavailability of witnesses for trial may not be established merely on the basis of an illness on the particular day a trial is scheduled by a court. Rather, there must be a showing that the illness is of such an extended duration that a reasonable continuance would not allow the witness to testify. The Supreme Court reversed Defendant’s aggravated robbery conviction but affirmed Defendant’s possession of a firearm by a restricted conviction. The court held (1) the trial court committed prejudicial error in admitting preliminary hearing testimony under Utah R. Evid. 804 because the witness in question was not unavailable for trial under the standard clarified in this opinion and because the testimony was inadmissible because Defendant’s motive to cross-examine the witnesses at the preliminary hearing was not similar to the one he would have at trial; and (2) any error in admitting evidence of field test results, offered to confirm that a substance found on Defendant was marijuana, was harmless. View "State v. Ellis" on Justia Law

by
A notice of termination may be an adverse employment action independent of an actual termination under the Utah Protection of Public Employees Act (UPPEA). Plaintiff filed suit against Employer, claiming infringement of her free speech rights under the Utah Constitution and under the UPPEA. Employer moved for summary judgment, arguing, inter alia, that the UPPEA claim was time-barred because Plaintiff suffered an “adverse employment action” triggering the 180-day filing requirement under the UPPEA. The United States District Court certified three questions for the Utah Supreme Court’s review. The Supreme Court declined to exercise its discretion to resolve the first two questions and instead answered only the third question. The court answered the question as set forth above and set forth an analytical framework for assessing whether such employment actions are independent of each other under the UPPEA. View "Zimmerman v. University of Utah" on Justia Law