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State v. Van Huizen

Supreme Court of Utah

January 7, 2019

State of Utah, Petitioner,
v.
Cooper John Anthony Van Huizen, Respondent.

          On Certiorari to the Utah Court of Appeals Second Judicial District, Weber The Honorable Ernie W. Jones No. 131902542

          Sean 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.

          Having recused himself, Justice Pearce does not participate herein; District Judge Brian G. Cannell sat.

          OPINION

          PETERSEN, JUSTICE

         INTRODUCTION

         ¶1 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.

         ¶2 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.

         ¶3 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 prejudice.

         ¶4 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.

         ¶5 We reverse the decision of the court of appeals and reinstate Van Huizen's conviction.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶6 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.

         ¶7 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.

         A. Bindover from Juvenile Court

         ¶8 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).[1] 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. § 78A-6-702(1).

         ¶9 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. ¶ 8.

         B. District Court Plea, Sentencing, and Post-Conviction Motions

         ¶10 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.

         ¶11 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 motions.

         C. Court of ...


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