State v DeJesus

DeJesus appealed the denial of her motion to dismiss arguing the failure to retain a copy of video of the incident which lead to her being charged for assault on a corrections officer violated her due process rights. The Court, with two justices concurring in part and in judgment, reversed. The majority held that the Court’s Tiedemann precedent holds that Utah’s Constitution requires defendants to prove a threshold reasonable probability that lost evidence is exculpatory before the district court undertakes the balancing test weighing the state’s culpability against the prejudice and the district court did not err in requiring DeJesus to make that threshold showing. The majority rejected the concurrence’s argument that the lost evidence analysis should be handled under the rules of criminal procedure as inconsistent with the Tiedemann decision and further noted the concurrence’s approach would weaken the fundamental right to a fair trial. It held that the standard for proving the reasonable probability is met when a defendant proffer some evidence as to the lost evidence and the claimed benefit the lost evidence would have provide and held the district court erred in requiring Dejesus to prove the recording here was more likely exculpatory than not. It held that Dejesus presented sufficient evidence through testimony of another inmate and pointing to inconsistencies in the testimony of the corrections officer to demonstrate a reasonable likelihood that the video would have supporter her defense that her kicks were aimed at another inmate not the officer. The majority held the district court correctly ruled that the State was negligent but not highly so, but that it erred in its balancing analysis because it relied on its determination of no reasonable likelihood in its prejudice evaluation. Independently evaluating the record, the majority held that significant prejudice resulted from the loss of the video as the case was credibility contest and the video could have tipped the case in DeJesus’ favor and the remedy of dismissal is appropriate here given the high degree of prejudice. Justice Lee, joined by Pearce, concurred in part and in judgment arguing that the Tiedemann decision rested in part on courts inherent right to regulate proceedings before them, the rules of criminal procedure here provide a basis to reverse and thus constitutional avoidance counsels the Court to not base its decision on Utah’s constitution and using the rules route allows for change through the rulemaking process instead of setting the majority’s approach in stone which is especially important as originalism analysis is unlikely to find the right claimed here by DeJesus.

State v Mohamud

Mohamud appealed his conviction for possessing a shank in prison arguing due process violations form destruction of video evidence and ineffective assistance of counsel. The Court, with two justices concurring in part and in judgment, affirmed. The majority held there was no ineffective assistance here as trial counsel correctly agreed with the district court that a threshold showing of reasonable probability of exculpatory evidence was required. It held that Mohamud failed to demonstrate a reasonable probability as there was only speculation as to the content of any video recording of the incident and thus only speculation that the recording was exculpatory. Justices Lee and Pearce concurred in part and judgment for the same reasons as in Dejesus.

State v Lowther

The state sought review of the Utah Court of Appeals decision reversing the district court’s admission of prior bad acts testimony under the doctrine of chances. The Court affirmed on different reasoning. It held that the doctrine of chances plies in contexts of mistake, coincidence, accident and lack of intent as well as when a defendant raises the defense of witness fabrication and thus it was not premature for the state to raise the issue in its motion in liminie particularly as both the fact of sex without consent and Lowther’s state of mind were in dispute. It held the Court of Appels erred in limiting the rule of Evidence 403 balancing test to the factors identified in the Court Verde precedent which identify when other bad acts can be admitted under the doctrine of chances as that approach is inconsistent with text of 403 and recent Curt precedent allowing consideration of all relevant factors in any given case while balancing probative value and unfair prejudice. It finally held that the Court of Appels conclusion that the district court erred is correct as the district court mechanically applied factors set out in Court precedent instead of applying the correct rule of balancing the tendency of the other bad acts evidence to sustain a proper inference against the propensity of the evidence to sustain an improper inference or confuse the jury. Lowther was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea and the case was remanded for analysis under the correct standard.