Justia Civil Rights 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 decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiff's claims against the Iron County attorney, holding that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that a previous federal court order dismissing Plaintiff's official-capacity claims against the same defendant with prejudice lacked preclusive effect. Plaintiff filed suit in federal district court asserting claims against several defendants, including the Iron County attorney in his official capacity. The federal court dismissed the claims with prejudice. Plaintiff refiled her suit in state court, alleging state constitutional violations against several defendants, including the Iron County attorney. The district court dismissed the case with prejudice, concluding that Plaintiff's claims were barred by res judicata. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiff failed to rebut the presumption that the federal court order was "on the merits" for purposes of the claim preclusion doctrine. View "Cheek v. Iron County Attorney" 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 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 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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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

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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