Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Utah Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the district court's dismissal of Defendant's motion to suppress, holding that there was no error.Testing of a buccal swab of Defendant's cheek showed that Defendant was a genetic match for DNA found on evidence at the scene of a murder. Prior to his criminal trial, Defendant moved to suppress the DNA evidence, arguing that the forcible collection of the sample had violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The district court denied the motion, and a jury convicted Defendant of murder, aggravated burglary, and possession of a weapon by a restricted person. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals did not err in affirming the district court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained from the buccal swab, nor did it err in rejecting Defendant's statutory arguments. View "State v. Evans" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court in this criminal case repudiated the sweeping language of its opinion in State v. James, 13 P.3d 576 (Utah 2000), and held that it can no longer be said that it makes no constitutional difference, as regards community caretaking concerns, whether a police officer opens a car door or asks a driver to do so.Defendant was charged with felony DUI and possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence discovered after an officer looked inside his pickup truck, which was parked in a store parking lot, opened the truck door, and saw evidence of drug paraphernalia between Defendant's feet. The district court denied the motion. The court of appeals affirmed on alternative grounds, holding that the officer was justified in opening the car door incident to a lawful traffic stop under the standard in James. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the identity of the door-opener may well affect the reasonableness of a given police encounter; and (2) the denial of Defendant's motion to suppress was proper under the authority of Davis v. United States, 564 U.S. 229 (2011). View "State v. Malloy" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of dealing in material harmful to a minor, a third degree felony under Utah Code 76-10-1206, holding that Defendant's argument that the statute was unconstitutional as applied failed.As part of a sexually explicit online chat, Defendant sent photographs of women with nude breasts to someone who he thought was an underage girl. Defendant was convicted of dealing in material harmful to a minor, in violation of section 76-10-1206. On appeal, Defendant argued that because the photographs he sent did not depict sexual activity they could not qualify as obscenity, and therefore, the photographs were protected speech under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that where nudity may be obscene to minors without depicting sexual conduct, Defendant's argument that the statute was unconstitutional as applied to his conduct failed. View "State v. Watts" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of distribution of or arranging to distribute a controlled substance, holding that the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's challenge brought under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986) and that sufficient evidence supported the conviction.On appeal, Defendant argued that the State violated his right to equal protection when it used a peremptory strike to remove the only person of color from the jury pool. The trial court denied Defendant's Batson challenge, and the jury subsequently convicted him of drug-related counts. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's Batson challenge; and (2) there was sufficient evidence to support Defendant's conviction. View "State v. Aziakanou" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals ruling that the Post-Conviction Remedies Act (PCRA), Utah Code 78B-9-101-110, barred Appellant's claims because they "could have been" brought on appeal, holding that Appellant's claims failed because trial counsel was not ineffective.Appellant was convicted of sexually molesting his daughter. The convictions were affirmed on appeal. Appellant later filed a petition for post-conviction relief, arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective and that his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise ineffectiveness claims on direct appeal. The reviewing court denied relief. The court of appeals affirmed, ruling that the PCRA barred Appellant's claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the PCRA barred Appellant's direct claims against his trial counsel; and (2) appellate counsel was not ineffective. View "McCloud v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of distributing or arranging to distribute a controlled substance, holding that Defendant's trial counsel was not constitutionally deficient in not requesting a jury instruction pursuant to State v. Long, 721 P.2d 483 (Utah 1986), about the potential unreliability of eyewitness identification.During trial, Defendant's counsel presented a theory of mistaken identification in his opening and closing arguments and cross-examined the prosecution's witnesses about weaknesses in their testimony. On appeal, Defendant argued that his trial counsel's failure to request a Long instruction constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that Long does not apply to "real-time identifications," such as the identification in this case. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' holding that Long did not apply but nevertheless affirmed, holding (1) the court of appeals erred when it ruled that Long applies only to "memory-based" identifications; and (2) a reasonable, competent lawyer could have chosen not to request a Long instruction in this case. View "State v. Hunter" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals rejecting Defendant's claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, holding that a factfinder may consider extrinsic evidence of the sexual purpose of a person charged with producing a visual depiction of murder.Defendant was convicted of thirty-three counts of child sex crimes, including aggravated sexual abuse of a child and forcible sodomy of a child. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial counsel was ineffective based on his failure to object to the prosecutor's request that the jury consider Defendant's subjective intentions in deciding whether Exhibits 21 and 22 - two photographs obtained from Defendant's laptop - qualified as child pornography under Utah law. The court of appeals concluded that Defendant had asserted a successful claim for ineffective assistance of counsel with respect to Exhibit 22 but not Exhibit 21 and reversed Defendant's conviction based on Exhibit 22. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant did not identify a basis for challenging the State's invitation for the jury to consider Defendant's subjective intention in creating an image that qualified as child pornography as a depiction of child nudity for the purpose of sexual arousal under Utah Code 76-5b-103(10)(f). View "State v. Jordan" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the denial of post conviction relief sought by Defendant, holding that Defendant's claims failed.Defendant was convicted of sexually molesting his daughter. The convictions were affirmed on appeal. Defendant then filed a petition for post-conviction relief, asserting ineffective assistance of counsel. The reviewing court concluded that the Post-Conviction Remedies Act (PCRA), Utah Code 78B-9-101-110, barred Defendant's claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel but allowed Defendant's ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claims to proceed. The court then denied relief. On appeal, the court of appeals held (1) the PCRA barred Defendant's "direct" claims, and (2) appellate counsel was de facto not ineffective. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the PRCA barred Defendant's direct claims against his trial counsel; and (2) Defendant's ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claims were without merit. View "McCloud v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of felony driving under the influence (DUI) and possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia, holding that the exclusionary rule does not apply where law enforcement relied reasonably on then-existing precedent.In affirming Defendant's conviction, the court of appeals held that the police had the reasonable suspicion necessary to temporarily detain Defendant in his vehicle and ask him to step out of it. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) this Court repudiates the sweeping language of its opinion in State v. James, 13 P.3d 576 (Utah 2019), and holds that the identity of the opener of a car door may affect the reasonableness of any given police encounter; but (2) the evidence here was not subject to exclusion because the police acted objectively reasonably in reliance on the Supreme Court's opinion in James. View "State v. Malloy" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of aggravated robbery, holding that the trial court did not plainly err in its handling of the State's reports of a sleeping juror and that defense counsel did not provide ineffective assistance.On appeal, Defendant asserted that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial because at least one juror allegedly slept during the proceedings. The court of appeals concluded that Defendant failed to demonstrate that the trial court plainly erred in declining to inquire into the attentiveness of the juror and that Defendant failed to demonstrate that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance in responding to observations that the juror may have been sleeping. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) a trial court should respond to a report of an inattentive or drowsy juror in a manner that is proportional to the report before it, but the trial court in this case did not plainly err in its response; and (2) Defendant failed to show that his counsel's actions were deficient. View "State v. Marquina" on Justia Law