Certiorari to the Utah Court of Appeals Second Judicial
District, Weber The Honorable Ernie W. Jones No. 131902542
D. Reyes, Att'y Gen., Christopher D. Ballard, Asst.
Solic. Gen., Salt Lake City, for petitioner
Elizabeth Hunt, Salt Lake City, for respondent
Justice Petersen authored the opinion of the Court, in which
Chief Justice Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice
Himonas and Judge Cannell joined.
recused himself, Justice Pearce does not participate herein;
District Judge Brian G. Cannell sat.
Cooper Van Huizen participated in an armed robbery when he
was sixteen years old. The State charged him with three
first-degree felonies in juvenile court. After a preliminary
hearing, the juvenile judge bound over Van Huizen to the
district court to be tried as an adult. There, Van Huizen
pled guilty to lesser charges and the district court judge
sentenced him to prison.
While he was serving his prison sentence, Van Huizen
discovered that the juvenile judge who presided over his
preliminary hearing was married to the Chief Criminal Deputy
for the Weber County Attorney's Office-the office that
prosecuted him on behalf of the State. Van Huizen moved to
reinstate the time to appeal his bindover order, which the
district court granted. He argued on appeal that the juvenile
judge should have recused herself from his case because of
her spouse's position.
The court of appeals agreed and vacated the juvenile
judge's bindover order. In its ruling, the court made two
holdings that are the subject of this petition. First, the
court did not require Van Huizen to show either that he had
preserved his judicial bias claim in the trial court or that
an exception to preservation applied. The court reasoned that
Van Huizen did not need to preserve his claim because he was
not aware of the judge's conflict and was therefore
unable to raise it. Second, the court held that Van Huizen
was entitled to have the bindover decision vacated, even
without showing that the judge's conflict caused him
We must first determine whether it was error to excuse Van
Huizen from preserving his claim of judicial bias. Because we
conclude it was, we do not reach whether such a claim can be
successful without a showing of prejudice.
We reverse the decision of the court of appeals and reinstate
Van Huizen's conviction.
At sixteen years old, Cooper Van Huizen participated in an
armed robbery with four other individuals: a 17-year-old
friend and three men he did not know who were all 18.
Together, they took two revolvers and one airsoft gun from
Van Huizen's house and threatened their way into the home
of an acquaintance. They stole a small amount of marijuana, a
wallet, and a phone.
Though the victim and a co-defendant variously claim that Van
Huizen brandished one of the guns, carried a knife, or was
the one who stole the wallet and phone, the record is not
conclusive as to any of these facts. Van Huizen denies
carrying a gun or knife. Though Van Huizen did not plan the
robbery, the record shows that he participated in a text
conversation about the robbery before it occurred,
participated in the robbery, and obtained his father's
guns for the group to use.
Bindover from Juvenile Court
The Weber County Attorney's Office charged Van Huizen in
juvenile court with two counts of aggravated robbery and one
count of aggravated burglary-crimes that qualified as serious
felonies under the Serious Youth Offender Act. See
Utah Code § 78A-6-702 (2013). Because Van Huizen was
sixteen or older and accused of offenses listed in the Act,
the statute required the State to charge Van Huizen in a
criminal information rather than a petition. Id.
At a preliminary hearing, the juvenile judge found the State
had met its burden of proving there was probable cause to
believe Van Huizen committed the offenses charged. See
id. § 78A-6-702(3)(a). Under the Serious Youth
Offender Act, the judge then had to determine whether Van
Huizen could establish by clear and convincing evidence that
"it would be contrary to the best interest of the minor
and the best interests of the public" to bind Van Huizen
over to the district court to be tried as an adult. State
v. Van Huizen, 2017 UT App 30, ¶ 4, 392 P.3d 933
(citing Utah Code § 78A-6-702(3)(d), (e))(internal
quotation marks omitted). The judge ultimately concluded Van
Huizen should be bound over to district court. And Van Huizen
did not move to quash the bindover order. Id. ¶
District Court Plea, Sentencing, and Post-Conviction
In the district court, represented by new counsel, Van Huizen
pled guilty to two counts of robbery as second degree
felonies. Van Huizen, 2017 UT App 30, ¶ 9. The
other charges were dismissed. The district court sentenced
Van Huizen to two concurrent sentences of one to fifteen
years in prison. Id.
Van Huizen filed several post-trial motions in the district
court, including a motion to reinstate his time to appeal the
bindover order and a motion to quash the bindover order. The
district court denied most of Van Huizen's motions, but
did reinstate his opportunity to appeal the bindover order
with the agreement of the State. Van Huizen appealed the
district court's decisions on all his post-conviction
Court of ...