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Met v. State

Supreme Court of Utah

November 21, 2016

Esar Met, Appellant,
State of Utah, Appellee.

          On Direct Appeal Third District, Salt Lake The Honorable Judith S. H. Atherton No. 081902720

          Herschel Bullen, Salt Lake City, for appellant

          Sean 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 opinion.


          Pearce, Justice

         ¶1 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 certain evidence.

         ¶3 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.

         ¶4 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.


         ¶5 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 sexually assaulted.

         ¶6 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.[1] In 2007, Victim and her family were relocated from Thailand to the Salt Lake City apartment where they were living when Victim was killed.

         ¶7 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.

         ¶8 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 with Met.

         ¶9 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.

         ¶10 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 the area.

         ¶11 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.

         ¶12 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.

         ¶13 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.[2] 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].

         Two more agents confirmed what the first agent believed-that the spots on the carpet and wall appeared to be dried blood.

         ¶14 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.

         ¶16 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.[3] 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.

         ¶17 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.[4]

         ¶18 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."

         ¶19 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.

         ¶20 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.

         ¶21 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 left wrist."

         ¶22 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."

         ¶23 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.[5] 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.

         ¶24 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 blood stain.

         ¶25 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 when clothed.

         ¶26 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.[6]

         ¶27 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[7] 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 taken."

         ¶28 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 child kidnapping.

         ¶29 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."

         ¶30 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.

         ¶31 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.

         ¶32 Met appeals. We have jurisdiction under Utah Code section 78A-3-102(3)(i).


         ¶33 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, ¶ 34.

         ¶34 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.

         ¶35 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." Id.

         ¶36 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.").

         ¶37 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.

         ¶38 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 omitted).


         I. Utah Code Section 76-3-207.7 Is Not Constitutionally Deficient

         ¶39 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.

         ¶40 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. § 76-5-202(3)(b).

         ¶41 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).[8] 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).

         ¶42 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).

         ¶43 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.[9] 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.[10]

         ¶44 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.

         ¶45 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).

         ¶46 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).

         ¶47 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 information").[11]

          ¶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).

         ¶49 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, ΒΆ 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 ...

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