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Sean D. Reyes
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Utah Supreme Court Rules Children Don’t Have to Testify Against Abusers Twice

August 25, 2020

Last week the Utah Supreme Court unanimously ruled that children do not have to testify in-person against those charged with sexually abusing them at a preliminary hearing. Going forward, subpoenas for a victim’s testimony can be rejected if there are other ways of receiving the information, except in rare cases.

This decision is a great victory for victims and will spare them from reliving traumatic events.

During child sexual assault cases, victims can become retraumatized when they have to recount the assault and trauma multiple times. The Supreme Court ruling cites research that “establishes that the experience of testifying about past abuse may cause substantial emotional trauma for victims of child sex abuse.”

Preliminary hearings are held once a defendant has entered a plea of guilty or not guilty. The prosecutor must then show enough evidence to charge the defendant. If a judge decides there is probable cause to believe the crime was committed by the defendant, a trial will be scheduled.

“A defendant has the general authority to ‘call witnesses’ at a preliminary hearing, but a subpoena compelling alleged victims to testify is per se ‘unreasonable’ when it seeks testimony that is immaterial to the probable-cause determination, would obviate the legal sufficiency of hearsay evidence, and would unnecessarily intrude on the rights of victims,” Associate Chief Justice Lee wrote in the opinion of the Court.

While the ruling does not pertain to a trial, this decision will keep victims from being subjected to reliving their trauma multiple times.

Read the Utah Supreme Court ruling here.

Media coverage:

Deseret News: Utah Supreme Court says children don’t have to testify against abusers ahead of trial

Salt Lake Tribune: Child sex abuse victims don’t need to testify twice, Utah Supreme Court rules

Fox 13: Utah Supreme Court gives more protections for victims compelled to testify

KSL: Utah Supreme Court says children don’t have to testify against abusers ahead of trial

Man convicted using brother’s name

The Utah Attorney General’s Office recently found itself on the winning side of a strange and extraordinary appeal case before the Utah Supreme Court.

Here are the cliff notes:

  • Salt Lake PD stop a car with a revoked registration and find heroin and a .44 revolver in the car and arrest the driver. Defendant gives the name Bela Fritz.
  • During the trial process, Fritz takes a plea deal and is sent to prison. 
  • Fritz arrives at the prison and the Corrections officer checking him in discovers the photo associated with Bela Fritz does not match the man standing in front of him.
  • Upon questioning the defendant, the officer discovers that the defendant gave his brother’s name.

This was a first for Utah.

From there, the case went back to the prosecutors who then had to figure out what to do with a conviction of a man using a wrong name. The prosecutors went to the Third District Court seeking to undo a criminal conviction. The judge would not grant their request.

Enter the Utah Attorney General’s Criminal Appeals division who then took the case to the Utah Supreme Court. The Utah Supreme Court, in turn, told the Third District Court to revisit their decision stating, “A defendant’s misrepresentation of his or her identity is an illicit attempt to game the criminal justice system. It carries with it troubling consequences.”

Deseret News and ABC4 did a great job covering the story.
Click below for more.

Deseret News: Oh, brother: Offender posing as sibling fools Utah justice system, court says

ABC4: Appeal Case a First in Utah

Utah Attorney General's Office

Utah Supreme Court Upholds Esar Met Convictions and Part of Sentencing

SALT LAKE CITY November 22, 2016 –The Utah Supreme Court today affirmed the convictions and part of the sentence of Esar Met, who kidnapped, sexually abused, and brutally murdered 7-year-old Hser Ner Moo in 2008. 

“I congratulate Assistant Solicitor General John Nielsen on successfully representing Utah in this difficult case,” said Sean Reyes, Utah Attorney General. “One of the most important duties of our office is providing the best advocacy possible to make sure that justice is fairly and fully served. My thanks to all those who assisted John in briefing and arguing the appeal, including Solicitor General Tyler Green, Criminal Appeals Division Director Thomas Brunker, Search and Seizure Section Director Jeff Gray, and Assistant Solicitor General William Haines.”

Met was previously convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.  He raised more than a dozen claims on appeal, challenging the constitutionality of Utah’s non-capital aggravated murder sentencing statute on eight different grounds.  Met also claimed that police coerced his statements during his police interview, that police illegally searched his apartment, that the prosecution unlawfully used two pictures of the victim at trial, that the prosecution destroyed important evidence, and that his conviction for child kidnapping should merge into his conviction for aggravated murder.  The Utah Supreme Court rejected each of these claims. 

Met was sentenced to two concurrent terms of life without the possibility of parole, but the Utah Supreme Court held that the trial judge misapplied the law to Met’s aggravated murder conviction by presuming that life without parole was the appropriate starting sentence.  The court sent the case down for the trial court to determine if this presumption affected its decision on the aggravated murder count, but affirmed the imposition of life without parole on the child kidnapping count.

Assistant Solicitor General John Nielsen represented the State on appeal, briefing and arguing the case.  Solicitor General Tyler Green, Criminal Appeals Division Director Thomas Brunker, Search and Seizure Section Director Jeff Gray, and Assistant Solicitor General William Haines helped develop and refine the State’s arguments.

A copy of the ruling can be found here.

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Utah Attorney General's Office

Utah Supreme Court Affirms Murder Conviction of Glenn Howard Griffin

More than 30 years after the murder of Bradley Perry,
Utah’s highest court unanimously confirmed the First Degree Conviction of his killer

SALT LAKE CITY July 28, 2016 – More than 30 years after the murder of Bradley Perry, the Utah Supreme Court affirmed the first degree murder conviction of Glenn Howard Griffin in a unanimous decision written by Justice Constandinos Himonas (State v. Griffin, 2016 UT 33). The ruling comes after a long legal process that included a month-long trial, a 23B hearing, almost 200 hundred pages of briefs and three oral arguments.

“We are pleased with the Utah Supreme Court’s decision to affirm Mr. Griffin’s conviction,” said Attorney General Sean Reyes.  “Even after three decades, Bradley Perry and his family deserve justice and closure. This ruling demonstrates that the legal system works and that we will pursue criminals until justice is served. My sincere congratulations to Assistant Solicitor General John Nielsen for his tireless efforts and articulate advocacy on this case, as well as to Laura Dupaix, Tom Brunker, Erin Riley, Chris Ballard, and Tyler Green for their role during the editing and mooting process. Thank you also to Steve Hadfield and Blair Wardle from Box Elder County, who helped during the 23B remand hearing.”

Case Background

Bradley Perry was working the late shift at the Texaco gas station in Perry, Utah near Brigham City on the night of May 25, 1984.  Early in the morning of May 26, he was tied up in the back room, severely beaten, strangled, stabbed multiple times with a screwdriver and what was most likely a knife, and his head crushed by a soda canister.  

Earlier that same morning, two Utah State students stopped for gas at the Perry Texaco and encountered a lean, dark-haired man who offered to pump their gas and get cigarettes for them.  One student paid for the gas with five one-dollar bills. The other student paid for cigarettes with a five dollar bill, and got change from the one-dollar bills that his friend had just given the purported attendant.  One of those bills had “wet” “fresh” “damp” blood on it.

For more than 20 years, police interviewed hundreds of suspects in the hunt for Perry’s killer, but found no solid leads.  A break came when DNA testing technology advanced to the point that the crime lab could test the small amount of blood on the bill, discovering that the blood belonged to Griffin.  Additionally, the State was able to test hairs that had been collected from the scene using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing.  Griffin could not be excluded as a contributor of those hairs, though about 99.94% of the rest of humanity could be excluded. Further, one of the students drew a picture of the suspect that matched Griffin’s appearance in 1984.

Although the State sought the death penalty, the jury in the case imposed life without parole (LWOP) on Griffin.  On appeal Griffin argued various grounds for reversal, but the court found none of them persuasive.  The DNA evidence was admissible, rendering any other errors harmless at best. 

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