Direct Appeal Third District, Salt Lake The Honorable Judith
S. H. Atherton No. 081902720
Herschel Bullen, Salt Lake City, for appellant
D. Reyes, Att'y Gen., John J. Nielsen, Asst. Solic. Gen.,
Salt Lake City, for appellee
Justice Pearce authored the opinion of the Court in which
Chief Justice Durrant, Justice Durham, and Justice Himonas
joined. Associate Chief Justice Lee filed a concurring
Defendant Esar Met appeals his convictions on one count of
aggravated murder, see Utah Code § 76-5-202,
and one count of child kidnapping, see Utah Code
§ 76-5-301.1, each a first degree felony. Met is
currently serving two concurrent sentences of life in prison
without parole for these convictions.
¶2 Met raises a panoply of issues on appeal. He
challenges the constitutionality and the district court's
application of Utah's noncapital aggravated murder
sentencing statute, Utah Code section 76-3-207.7. He contends
that the district court improperly ruled that the State could
use a transcript of his police interview for impeachment
purposes if he chose to testify. He also argues that the
police violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States
Constitution when they searched his apartment without a
warrant and that all evidence stemming from the allegedly
illegal search should have been suppressed. Met asks us to
conclude that the district court improperly admitted two
photographs of the victim, which he contends are
prejudicially gruesome. He also argues that the district
court erred by declining to merge his child kidnapping
conviction with his aggravated murder conviction. Finally, he
argues that his trial counsel provided constitutionally
ineffective assistance by failing to pursue a mistrial motion
related to the State's failure to test and preserve
We conclude (1) that Utah Code section 76-3-207.7 is not
constitutionally deficient, (2) that the district court did
not abuse its discretion with respect to the various
evidentiary rulings Met challenges, although in reaching that
decision we abandon our prior gloss on the Utah Rules of
Evidence that had implemented a more stringent threshold for
the admission of potentially gruesome photographs, (3) that
the court did not err in declining to merge Met's
convictions, and (4) that, even assuming Met's trial
counsel provided ineffective assistance, counsel's
performance did not prejudice Met. We therefore affirm
Met's child kidnapping and aggravated murder convictions.
We conclude, however, that the district court erroneously
treated life without parole as the presumptive sentence for
Met's aggravated murder conviction. See Utah
Code § 76-3-207.7 (2007). Accordingly, we remand the
case for the limited purpose of permitting the district court
to clarify what impact its misapprehension of the law had on
its sentencing decision or for resentencing on the aggravated
murder charge. Finally, we affirm the sentence of life in
prison without parole for the child kidnapping conviction.
On March 31, 2008, seven-year-old Hser Ner Moo (Victim) was
reported missing. The next day, she was found dead in the
basement of a nearby apartment. Victim's body was badly
injured, and there were indications that she had been
Victim and her family were refugees from Burma, now known as
Myanmar. The Burmese civil war of the 1980s forced
Victim's parents, who are ethnically Karen, to flee to a
Thai refugee camp. In 2007, Victim and her family were
relocated from Thailand to the Salt Lake City apartment where
they were living when Victim was killed.
In February 2008, Defendant Esar Met, also a Burmese refugee,
was relocated to Salt Lake City and moved into the basement
of an apartment in the same complex as Victim's family.
Met, who was Burmese but not Karen, shared the apartment with
four Karen roommates.
Met befriended Victim and her ten-year-old friend. The two
girls would, on occasion, visit Met's apartment to play
games and watch movies. Usually "other Karen kids"
were also playing at the apartment when Victim was there, but
on at least one occasion, Victim and her friend were alone
On March 31, 2008, Victim's father was at work, and her
mother was at a dentist appointment. Victim's aunt
testified that she last saw Victim around 1:00 p.m. A
neighbor remembered seeing Victim walking in front of her
apartment sometime between 11:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. traveling
southbound in the direction of Met's apartment. A friend
of Victim also testified that sometime after her
"morning meal but [before her] afternoon meal, "
Victim came to her house to ask to play, but Victim's
friend declined because she did not feel well.
Victim's mother returned from her appointment that
afternoon and noticed that Victim was missing. Victim's
family searched the apartment complex and the surrounding
area for several hours. Sometime that evening, Victim's
father went to Met's apartment and asked Met's
roommates if they had seen Victim. The roommates responded
that they had not. The police were contacted, and soon police
officers and volunteers embarked on a large-scale search of
On the evening of April 1, four FBI agents knocked on the
door of Met's apartment. After the agents knocked for
approximately ten minutes, one of Met's roommates
answered. The agents identified themselves, indicated that
they were searching for Victim, and asked if they could enter
and search the apartment. One of the roommates indicated that
the agents could search for Victim. Met's four roommates
were in the apartment at the time, but Met was not.
Two agents began to search while two others stayed with the
roommates. One of the roommates explained that Met resided in
the apartment's basement. The roommate also volunteered
that Met was not at home and that the roommates had not seen
Met that day or the day before.
Agents first searched the three-level apartment's
upstairs and main floors. The agents then proceeded to the
basement, which could be accessed from the main floor by an
open stairway that led to the basement's living
room. The basement consisted of a main room and
three smaller rooms accessible from the main room: a
bathroom, a furnace room, and a bedroom. The first agent to
enter the basement testified,
I was the first one down the stairs. And I got to the bottom
of the stairs . . . and the wall there, as I recall, opens up
from the floor as it goes down, so I could start to see into
the room. But once I saw in the room, the first thing I
noticed were these two larger brown spots.
. . . .
So at first . . . I thought, well, that doesn't look
good. But I thought well, maybe it could be some spilled
substance or something, but it also, of course, struck me,
that looks like dried blood.
. . . [Did] you notice anything else?
Yes, I noticed a couple of things. I noticed the-the bed.
[The condition of the bed] didn't look normal to me. I
also noticed other less prevalent blood spatters on the floor
and blood drops. And then most significant to me, because it
looked like blood, . . . was over against [the] wall.
. . . .
[The spots on the wall appeared to be] blood traveling,
hitting the wall and then running straight down [the wall].
more agents confirmed what the first agent believed-that the
spots on the carpet and wall appeared to be dried blood.
One agent left the basement to contact the coordinating
police officer as two agents continued to search the
basement. After a search of the bedroom uncovered no
significant evidence, the agents made their way to the
bathroom. An agent testified, "The [bathroom] door was a
little bit ajar, not fully closed. So that's when I
pushed it open. And as soon as I opened the door, I saw some
blood splatter located immediately within the threshold
walking to the bathroom." In the bathroom, an agent also
discovered a plastic bag appearing "to be full of
blood" and a pair of pink and black shoes that
"[l]ooked like they belonged to a young girl." As
the agent approached the bathroom's shower stall, he saw
"the foot of a young person" and then, as he got
closer, "the full body of a young female." The body
was identified as Victim. She was wearing a pink jacket and
pink skirt and was not wearing any underwear. "Her left
wrist looked like it was broken in an awkward angle. And . .
. her legs were positioned at her sides to fit her in the
shower basin." The agent testified that she was cold to
the touch. An EMT later determined that she had been
"deceased for some time."
¶15 After discovering Victim, the agents talked to
Met's roommates. An agent testified that the roommates
"seemed very calm" and acted "[t]he same way
they had been during the entire time of the interview . . . .
Nobody was visibly nervous or concerned or overly interested
in what [the agents] were doing." When asked about Met,
one of Met's roommates told the agents that he believed
Met was at his cousin's house in Cottonwood Heights and
provided a phone number.
The record contains little evidence regarding Met's
whereabouts on March 31, 2008. Sometime that day, Met boarded
a bus to his aunt's house in Cottonwood Heights.
Met's uncle testified that he unexpectedly ran into Met
around 3:00 p.m. on March 31 when the uncle boarded a bus to
return to his house from work. The uncle invited Met to his
house. That evening, Met received a phone call
from one of Victim's neighbors asking whether he had
taken Victim with him. Met apparently responded, "I
didn't bring her with me" and "[S]he did not
come with me." Met stayed the night of March 31 at his
aunt's house. On April 1, the police arrested Met on
suspicion of Victim's murder.
Officers drove Met to a police station where police
interviewed him for more than two hours. The police engaged
the assistance of someone they believed to be an FBI
translator. However, the translator was neither from the FBI
nor trained as a translator. Rather, he was an acquaintance
of Victim's parents and Met's roommates. After seeing
police officers in the apartment complex, the translator had
asked the police if he could assist Victim's parents. An
officer apparently responded that he could help by going to
the police station and offering his assistance there.
Although no problems were noted during the interview, a later
review of the transcript revealed that there had been
significant translation errors. In the words of one of the
interviewing officers, "The translation was not correct.
The information I thought I was getting from the defendant
was not the same as was relayed to me. And the stuff I was
relaying to the defendant was not getting relayed to him as I
said it in any way." During that interrogation, Met
confessed to killing Victim accidentally, but denied that he
had sexually assaulted her.
Met was eventually charged with aggravated murder and child
kidnapping. The State did not seek the death penalty. Met
moved to suppress all evidence gathered in, or stemming from,
the search of his apartment. He argued that the warrantless
search of his apartment violated the Fourth Amendment. The
district court denied Met's motion, concluding that the
warrantless search of the apartment was reasonable because
Met's roommates consented to the search of the common
areas of the apartment, including the basement's main
room and bathroom. The court also concluded that once
officers discovered blood stains in the main room of the
basement, they were permitted to search the basement bathroom
due to the "exigencies of the situation."
Met also moved to suppress his interview with the police
because he was not informed of his rights under Miranda
v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), and because there were
"significant deficiencies in the interpretation
[provided] during the interview." The State conceded
that it could not use Met's interview testimony in its
case in chief because the translator had not adequately
advised Met of his Miranda rights. The court
concluded that the State could not use Met's testimony in
its case-in-chief but authorized the use of Met's
statements for impeachment purposes if Met chose to testify.
Met moved to exclude three photographs as gruesome and unduly
prejudicial. The district court denied the motion with
respect to two of the photographs. One photograph shows
Victim "lying face down in a shower stall." The
court determined that this photograph was "highly
probative" of the injuries Victim sustained, the
location and position of her body, including that she was not
wearing underwear and that her body had been washed, and the
"struggle" that took place surrounding her murder.
The second photograph is a "clean, close-up shot of
[Victim's] genitalia." The court determined that the
photograph was relevant to and probative of the question of
whether Met had sexually assaulted Victim.
At trial, the State presented the testimony of Dr. Todd Grey,
chief medical examiner for the State and a forensic
pathologist, who had performed Victim's autopsy. He
testified that "[t]he majority of the injuries . . .
were . . . blunt force injuries. So they would be things like
contusions or bruises, abrasions or scrapes, lacerations or
tears in the skin, as well as a fracture . . . of the
left-distal left arm." Victim suffered injuries to her
cheek, her chin, and her neck; an abrasion and bruising
around her left temple; a complete fracture of her "two
bones of the [left] forearm"; petechiae in her eyes-
hemorrhages "very commonly associated with
asphyxia"-likely in this instance due to "clothing
being twisted tightly across the front of her neck";
numerous injuries to her chest, which caused "the
tissues of th[e] central structure of her chest" to be
pulled away "or sheared off" of her spinal column;
and a fatal tear in the right atrium of her heart caused by
blunt force trauma to her body. Dr. Grey opined that
Victim's death was a homicide, "as a result of blunt
force injuries" to her "neck, her torso and her
The State also called Dr. Lori Frazier to the stand. Dr.
Frazier testified that Victim also suffered "some type
of penetrating injury that damaged the tissues in the upper
part of the hymen and the anterior vaginal wall."
The State presented DNA evidence collected from the denim
jacket Met was wearing when he was taken into custody. A
forensic scientist, Chad Grundy, found that the two blood
stains he tested "appeared to have originated from a
single female source." Grundy's testing also
established that the blood on Met's jacket matched
Victim's DNA. The State also collected and tested DNA
evidence found under Victim's fingernails. The tests
excluded Met's roommates as the DNA's source but
could not exclude Met or the men in Victim's family.
Grundy testified that he had also tested several stains found
in Met's apartment. He found human blood present in the
two stains on the carpet of the basement's main floor, in
the stain on the wall in the basement's main room, in the
stains in the basement's bathroom, and in two stains in
the stairwell leading to the basement. Grundy also found that
a stain in the living room on the apartment's main floor,
around the corner from the staircase leading to the basement,
tested positive as human blood. DNA obtained from four of
these stains matched Victim's. Additionally, Victim could
not be excluded as the DNA contributor to the main-floor
Met had various injuries on his body that were consistent
with scratching or the "scraping or . . . clawing of a
fingernail." One particular abrasion on the inside of
Met's thigh consisted of three streaks, twelve
millimeters in length, with each streak parallel to the
other. Many of these injuries were sustained in areas such as
Met's thigh, hip, and right calf that would ordinarily
have been covered by Met's underwear or pants. A nurse
testified that many of the injuries, because of their
location and severity, were likely made when Met was not
wearing either underwear or pants, although the nurse
conceded that it was possible to sustain similar abrasions
On the eighth day of trial, the State informed the district
court and Met's counsel that it had "just become
aware of" "potential[ly] exculpatory
testimony." The prosecutor indicated that it had
"been his understanding . . . that there was . . . no
blood of any sort upstairs." The prosecutor testified
that, contrary to his belief, the previous evening a crime
scene investigator "indicated that there was a spot of
blood that they found on the carpet" of the top floor of
the apartment. The prosecutor learned that the investigator
had performed a preliminary test on the spot, which indicated
that the spot was likely blood. The investigator and his team
apparently did no further testing and declined to preserve
that evidence because they believed the upstairs "was
not relevant to the crime scene." The prosecutor stated
that this was the first time he had learned of the potential
blood spot and that he believed, prior to the discussion,
that the spot was betel-nut residue.
Met's trial counsel indicated that he was disappointed
that the spot had not been preserved and tested because it
"could have changed the case dramatically, " but
stated that he would "explore the [decision not to test
the spot] the best we can on cross [examination] with this
late notice." In the midst of counsel's
cross-examination of the crime scene investigator, counsel
asked the court to grant a mistrial based on the State's
failure to identify and preserve the potential blood spot.
Later in the day and before the court had an opportunity to
rule, Met's trial counsel withdrew the mistrial motion,
explaining to the court that he did not believe he could
establish prosecutorial misconduct under Brady v.
Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). Met's trial counsel
stated that he "spent the lion's share of today on the
computer. I've done actually three separate analyses
under three separate lines of cases . . . ." Met's
counsel testified that his research indicated that he could
not meet his burden of demonstrating the need for a mistrial
and so he did not think the motion was "well
The jury found Met guilty of aggravated murder and child
kidnapping. The jury found three aggravating circumstances
that classified Victim's killing as aggravated murder.
First, the "homicide was committed incident to one act,
scheme, course of conduct, or criminal episode during which
the defendant committed or attempted to commit sexual abuse
of a child." Second, the "homicide was committed
incident to one act, scheme, course of conduct, or criminal
episode during which the defendant committed or attempted to
commit child abuse." And third, Victim was younger than
fourteen years of age. The jury also found that in the course
of the child kidnapping, Met caused "serious bodily
injury" to another, an aggravating sentencing factor for
Met moved to merge his child kidnapping conviction with his
aggravated murder conviction. Met argued that "there was
simply no evidence adduced at trial of any detention or
confinement independent from the detention inherent in the
commission of the aggravated homicide." The district
court denied Met's motion to merge the two convictions.
It concluded "that the jury had sufficient evidence to
support a separate conviction on the child kidnapping count
in addition to the aggravated murder count."
Met also asked the court to declare Utah's noncapital
aggravated murder sentencing statute unconstitutional.
See Utah Code § 76-3-207.7 (2007). He contended
that the statute violated, among other constitutional
provisions, the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process
Clause by granting the sentencing court unfettered discretion
in its sentencing decision, which could lead to arbitrary
sentencing. The district court denied Met's motion.
The court pronounced two sentences of life in prison without
parole for Met's aggravated murder and child kidnapping
convictions. The court ordered the sentences to run
concurrently. At the sentencing hearing, the court opined
that there was a presumptive life sentence for both Met's
aggravated murder conviction and the child kidnapping
conviction aggravated by the serious-bodily-injury finding.
Met appeals. We have jurisdiction under Utah Code section
ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW
Met's various constitutional and statutory arguments
attacking his sentence under Utah Code section 76-3-207.7 and
Utah's sentencing structure for those convicted of
aggravated murder are questions of law that we review for
correctness. See State v. Reece, 2015 UT 45, ¶
18, 349 P.3d 712; State v. Perea, 2013 UT 68, ¶
34, 322 P.3d 624. We afford no deference to the district
court's legal conclusions. Perea, 2013 UT 68,
The district court's denial of Met's motion to
suppress the transcript of the police interrogation is a
mixed question of law and fact, where our review is
"sometimes deferential and sometimes not."
State v. Arriaga-Luna, 2013 UT 56, ¶ 7, 311
P.3d 1028 (citation omitted). We recently explained that the
deference we afford the district court's resolution of a
mixed question depends upon
(1) the degree of variety and complexity in the facts to
which the legal rule is to be applied; (2) the degree to
which a trial court's application of the legal rule
relies on "facts" observed by the trial judge, such
as a witness's appearance and demeanor, relevant to the
application of the law that cannot be adequately reflected in
the record available to appellate courts; and (3) other
policy reasons that weigh for or against granting [deference]
to trial courts.
Murray v. Utah Labor Comm'n, 2013 UT 38, ¶
36, 308 P.3d 461 (alteration in original) (citation omitted).
A question is more law-like if it "lend[s] itself to a
consistent resolution by a uniform body of appellate
precedent." Id. ¶ 37 (citation omitted). A
question is more fact-like if "the trial court is in a
superior position to decide it." Id. (citation
omitted). Here, for example, where the district court's
decision is "based entirely on its review of the
interrogation transcripts and the court's interpretation
of the law, " the question is more law-like than
fact-like. Arriaga-Luna, 2013 UT 56, ¶ 8.
"[W]e owe the district court no deference" when
"we are in as good a position as the district court to
examine the transcripts and determine what the law is."
Id. We thus owe the district court no deference in
considering the denial of Met's motion to suppress the
transcript of the police interrogation. We review the
court's decision for correctness. See Murray,
2013 UT 38, ¶¶ 36-40.
Met's contention that the district court erred in denying
his motion to suppress evidence gathered in alleged violation
of his Fourth Amendment rights also presents "a mixed
question of law and fact." State v. Fuller,
2014 UT 29, ¶ 17, 332 P.3d 937. "While the
court's factual findings are reviewed for clear error,
its legal conclusions are reviewed for correctness, including
its application of law to the facts of the case."
We review Met's challenge to the admission of allegedly
gruesome photographs for an abuse of the district court's
discretion. State v. Bluff, 2002 UT 66, ¶ 47,
52 P.3d 1210; see also State v. Cuttler, 2015 UT 95,
¶ 12, 367 P.3d 981; State v. Gulbransen, 2005
UT 7, ¶ 35, 106 P.3d 734 ("The trial court's
ultimate ruling under rule 403 of the Utah Rules of Evidence
is reviewed for an abuse of discretion.").
The district court's refusal to merge Met's child
kidnapping conviction into his aggravated murder conviction
is a mixed question of law and fact that is more law-like
than fact-like. In reviewing whether the district court erred
in merging or refusing to merge the convictions, the facts
this court relies upon are of the sort that are
"adequately reflected in the record, " not the sort
"observed by the trial judge." Murray,
2013 UT 38, ¶ 36 (citation omitted). We thus review the
district court's merger ruling for correctness. See
State v. Lee, 2006 UT 5, ¶ 26, 128 P.3d 1179.
Last, "[a] claim of ineffective assistance of counsel
raised for the first time on appeal presents a question of
law" that we review for correctness. State v.
Lucero, 2014 UT 15, ¶ 11, 328 P.3d 841 (citation
Code Section 76-3-207.7 Is Not Constitutionally Deficient
Met argues that Utah Code section 76-3-207.7 violates the
federal and Utah Due Process Clauses, the federal Equal
Protection Clause, Utah's uniform operation of laws
clause, the federal and state Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Clauses, and his right to a trial by jury under the federal
and state constitutions.
The Utah Code provides a dual-track structure for those
charged with aggravated murder. Under Utah Code section
76-5-202(3)(a), if the prosecutor files a notice of intent to
seek the death penalty, the aggravated murder is charged as a
"capital felony." Alternatively, if the prosecutor
does not file a notice of intent to seek the death penalty,
then the aggravated murder is charged as a "noncapital
first degree felony." Id. §
Defendants who are convicted of aggravated murder as a
capital felony-who are facing the possibility of death-are
sentenced by a jury, or, if the defendant requests and the
State consents, by a court. See Utah Code §
76-3-207(1)(c) (2007). The sentence may be death only if a
unanimous jury agrees. Id. § 76-3-207(5)(a). If
jurors do not unanimously agree to impose the death sentence,
the statute provides for a sentence "of either an
indeterminate prison term of not less than 20 years and which
may be for life" or for "life in prison without
parole." See id. Life in prison without parole,
however, may be imposed under section 76-3-207 only if ten or
more jurors agree. See id. § 76-3-207(5)(c).
Section 207 contains a non-exhaustive list of aggravating and
mitigating circumstances for the jury or judge to consider to
decide whether to impose a death sentence. See id.
§ 76-3-207(3)-(5). The statute also provides a
non-exhaustive list of evidence that may be presented at
sentencing. See id. § 76-3-207(2).
Defendants who, like Met, are convicted of aggravated murder
as a noncapital first degree felony-and who are not facing
the possibility of death-are sentenced under Utah Code
section 76-3-207.7. See id. § 76-3-207.7
(2007). Under that section, the sentencing court may impose
one of two sentences: life in prison without parole or an
indeterminate prison term of twenty years to life.
Id. § 76-3-207.7(2). The statute does not
provide any additional direction to guide the court, i.e., it
does not require ten jurors to agree to a sentence of life in
prison without the possibility of parole. We have stated,
however, that the statute should "be read in the context
of other provisions mandating that the criminal code
'shall be construed . . . [to p]revent arbitrary and
oppressive treatment' and to impose 'penalties which
are proportionate to the seriousness of offenses.'"
State v. Reece, 2015 UT 45, ¶ 78, 349 P.3d 712
(alterations in original) (citation omitted).
In short, the statutory protections for those who face a
potential death sentence differ from those who do not. The
bulk of Met's constitutional challenges center on the
different level of protections afforded to those sentenced
under the noncapital aggravated murder sentencing
statute-Utah Code section 76-3-207.7. Met contends that his
sentencing under Utah Code section 76-3-207.7 violates
various constitutional provisions. Many of Met's
arguments, although repackaged in various ways, have been
resolved by this court. And Met has not sustained the heavy
burden required to convince us to abandon our precedent.
See State v. Menzies, 889 P.2d 393, 398 (Utah 1994)
("Those asking us to overturn prior precedent have a
substantial burden of persuasion."). We therefore
reject, on stare decisis grounds, Met's argument that
section 76-3-207.7 is unconstitutional under the Utah
Constitution's uniform operation of laws provision.
See Reece, 2015 UT 45, ¶¶ 77-80; State
v. Perea, 2013 UT 68, ¶¶ 121-23, 322 P.3d 624.
We similarly reject his challenge that section 76-3-207.7
violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and
unusual punishment. See Reece, 2015 UT 45, ¶
80; Perea, 2013 UT 68, ¶¶ 125-27. We also
reject his argument that section 76-3-207.7 violates the
right to a trial by jury under the Fifth and Sixth
Amendments. See State v. Houston, 2015 UT 40,
¶¶ 30-32, 353 P.3d 55.
We have not previously addressed whether section 76-3-207.7
violates the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment
found in article I, section 9 of the Utah Constitution or
whether it violates a defendant's state constitutional
right to a jury trial under article I, section 10 of the Utah
Constitution. Although Met invokes these state constitutional
provisions, he does not develop an argument based upon them,
preferring to append them to arguments based upon their
federal counterparts. As we have explained, "cursory
references to the state constitution within arguments
otherwise dedicated to a federal constitutional claim are
inadequate." State v. Worwood, 2007 UT 47,
¶ 18, 164 P.3d 397. "When parties fail to direct
their argument to the state constitutional issue, our ability
to formulate an independent body of state constitutional law
is compromised. Inadequate briefing denies our fledgling
state constitutional analysis the full benefit of the
interested parties' thoughts on these important
issues." Id. While Met has stated that section
76-3-207.7 violates two Utah constitutional provisions, he
offers us no "distinct legal argument or analysis"
to support his assertion. Id. ¶ 19. We
therefore leave those arguments for a matter in which they
are thoroughly briefed.
Met also argues that Utah Code section 76-3-207.7 violates
the state and federal Due Process Clauses by delegating
legislative power without "minimum guidelines" to
govern sentencing. Article V, section 1 of the Utah
Constitution prohibits the Legislature from "delegating
'core' or 'essential' legislative power or
functions, " including the "definition of a crime
and the precise punishment therefor." State v.
Briggs, 2008 UT 83, ¶ 14, 199 P.3d 935 (citations
omitted). Furthermore, a law may violate federal due process
by failing to "establish minimal guidelines" to
guide the enforcement of the statute. See Kolender v.
Lawson, 461 U.S. 352, 358 (1983).
Section 76-3-207.7 does not unconstitutionally delegate
legislative power or violate the federal Due Process Clause
by failing to establish minimum guidelines. As we have
explained, section 76-3-207.7, while relatively terse,
"must be read in the context of other provisions
mandating that the criminal code 'shall be construed . .
. [to p]revent arbitrary and oppressive treatment' and to
impose 'penalties which are proportionate to the
seriousness of the offenses.'" Reece, 2015
UT 45, ¶ 78 (alterations in original) (citation
omitted). Before a sentencing court imposes a sentence under
section 76-3-207.7, it must "consider all the evidence
before it-the totality of the circumstances- [and impose] a
sentence that is proportionate to the crime and the
culpability of the defendant." Id. (alteration
in original) (citation omitted).
Section 76-3-207.7 outlines the precise punishments available
and requires the sentencing court to consider all applicable
circumstances and evidence prior to its imposition of a
sentence. Met's contention that section 76-3-207.7 grants
unfettered discretion to the sentencing court runs contrary
to our established precedent requiring the sentencing court
to consider all relevant evidence. See Reece, 2015
UT 45, ¶¶ 78-79; Perea, 2013 UT 68,
¶¶ 110-19; cf. Williams v. New York, 337
U.S. 241, 247, 251 (1949) (concluding that a sentencing
judge's "broad discretionary power" in
reviewing information in making a sentencing decision,
including reviewing out-of-court information, does not
violate the federal Due Process Clause and reasoning that
"modern concepts individualizing punishment have made it
all the more necessary that a sentencing judge not be denied
an opportunity to obtain [all] pertinent
¶48 Met's final constitutional argument questions
whether the dual-track sentencing structure violates equal
protection principles. "The Equal Protection Clause of
the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
provides that no state shall 'deny to any person within
its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.'"
State v. Lafferty, 2001 UT 19, ¶ 70, 20 P.3d
342 (quoting U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1). "Thus,
state laws must 'treat similarly situated people alike
unless a reasonable basis exists for treating them
differently.'" Id. (citation omitted). Put
another way, "[b]oth the federal and state constitutions
require that similarly situated individuals be treated alike
under the law unless there is a reasonable basis for treating
them differently." State v. Herrera, 895 P.2d
359, 368 (Utah 1995). Met does not argue that the statute
violates any "fundamental right or makes determinations
based on any suspect classification." See
Lafferty, 2001 UT 19, ¶ 71. Thus, to survive
constitutional scrutiny, the sentencing statute "need be
only rationally related to a valid public purpose."
See id.; see also Chapman v. United States, 500 U.S.
453, 465 (1991) (reviewing an equal protection challenge to a
sentencing statute for "a rational basis");
United States v. Titley, 770 F.3d 1357, 1359 n.3
(10th Cir. 2014) ("Our cases also support rational basis
review of equal protection challenges in the sentencing
context."); McQueary v. Blodgett, 924 F.2d 829,
834 (9th Cir. 1991) (concluding that in the face of an equal
protection challenge, a review of a sentencing system where
two sets of prisoners were sentenced under two separate
statutes was reviewed for "a rational relation to [a]
governmental purpose"); Jones-El v. Grady, 54
F.App'x 856, 857 (7th Cir. 2002).
Met contends that section 76-3-207.7 treats a class of
similarly situated individuals-those convicted of aggravated
murder-differently by allowing some to be sentenced to life
in prison without parole while allowing others to be
sentenced to "the lighter sentence of twenty years to
life." We have recognized that criminal defendants
convicted of the same crime are not necessarily similarly
situated. Perea,2013 UT 68, ¶ 123 ("Not
all those found guilty of aggravated murder are similarly
situated."). Our sentencing scheme requires the district
court to consider and weigh all relevant evidence when
sentencing a defendant. See Reece,2015 UT 45,
¶¶ 79, 84. This individualized inquiry means that a
court, prior to sentencing, will have recognized that
"each case and each defendant presents a different set
of facts and a different combination of aggravating and
mitigating factors" and that therefore not all persons
convicted of murder are similarly situated to one another.
Perea, 2013 UT 68, ¶ 123. Offering a sentencing
judge a range of options serves a valid public purpose by
acknowledging that, while defendants may be charged with
similar or even identical crimes, not every defendant arrives
at the steps of the courthouse via the same path. The
Legislature promotes ...