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Sandoval v. State

Supreme Court of Utah

April 3, 2019

Brandon Lee Sandoval, Appellant,
State of Utah, Appellee.

          On Direct Appeal Third District, Salt Lake The Honorable Randall N. Skanchy No. 130907469


          Troy L. Booher, Freyja R. Johnson, Andrew G. Deiss, Jensie L. Anderson, Salt Lake City, for appellant

          Sean D. Reyes, Att'y Gen., Andrew F. Peterson, Aaron G. Murphy, Assts. Solic. Gen., Salt Lake City, for appellee

          Justice Himonas authored the opinion of the Court in which Chief Justice Durrant, Justice Pearce, and Justice Petersen joined.


          Himonas, Justice


         ¶1 Brandon Sandoval appeals the district court's summary judgment decision denying his petition for relief under Utah Code section 78B-9-101, et seq., the Post-Conviction Remedies Act (PCRA). Having failed below to offer a viable theory of relief under the language of the PCRA, Sandoval attempts to launch an as-applied challenge to the PCRA and rule 4-206 of the Utah Code of Judicial Administration, arguing that the destruction of evidence in accordance with rule 4-206 violated his due process rights under the Utah Constitution. Because Sandoval did not properly present this standalone due process argument to the district court and, irrespective of that procedural defect, failed to satisfy his burden of persuasion on appeal, we affirm the grant of summary judgment.


         ¶2 Sandoval was arrested and charged with aggravated burglary, theft, and criminal mischief in 2006. A jury convicted him on all counts in 2008. The court of appeals affirmed his conviction in 2010, and this court denied his petition for writ of certiorari on June 11, 2011. No physical evidence linked Sandoval to the scene of the burglary. But a beanie, a bandana, and a duffle bag filled with stolen property were collected from a yard near the scene of the burglary. A bullet shell casing was also found at the scene. None of these items were ever tested for DNA.[1]

         ¶3 Rule 4-206(4)(B) of the Utah Code of Judicial Administration directs court personnel to dispose of valueless property from exhibits in evidence "[a]fter three months have expired from final disposition of the case." Nearly two years after Sandoval's conviction was upheld, on May 9, 2012, court personnel disposed of all physical evidence from his case, including a "black knit beanie cap, [a] blue and white bandana, and [a bullet] shell casing, all of which were likely touched by the perpetrators of the burglary."[2] The Rocky Mountain Innocence Center (RMIC) began investigating Sandoval's case in the fall of 2012. On October 24, 2012, RMIC was informed that the evidence used as trial exhibits had not been returned by the court. RMIC was notified by the court regarding the disposal of evidence when it received the actual certificate of destruction on November 2, 2012.

         ¶4 One year later, on October 30, 2013, Sandoval filed a petition for post-conviction relief under rule 65C of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. Sandoval made a number of arguments in the district court. Sandoval primarily argued that he is entitled to relief under Utah Code section 78B-9-104.[3] He argued that his conviction had been obtained in violation of the United States Constitution and Utah Constitution because of: (1) the State's failure to perform DNA testing on the evidence; (2) the failure to preserve the evidence such that Sandoval could avail himself of post-conviction DNA testing; and (3) the State's failure to investigate another suspect. He also argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial and on his direct appeal. Additionally, Sandoval argued that he is entitled to relief-independent of section 104-because the State violated his due process rights under the Utah Constitution when it disposed of the evidence and deprived him of the ability to seek post-conviction DNA testing, as provided in Utah Code section 78B-9-301. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The district court granted the State's motion and Sandoval appealed to this court.

         ¶5 On appeal, Sandoval has abandoned his claims seeking relief under section 104 of the PCRA. Instead, Sandoval focuses his appeal solely on whether his due process rights under the Utah Constitution were violated when the evidence was destroyed and he became unable to seek post-conviction DNA testing under section 301 of the PCRA.

         ¶6 We exercise jurisdiction under Utah Code section 78A-3-102(3)(j).


         ¶7 We review for correctness constitutional and statutory interpretation issues, granting no deference to the district court. Schroeder v. Utah Attorney Gen.'s Office, 2015 UT 77, ¶ 16, 358 P.3d 1075; Harvey v. Cedar Hills City, 2010 UT 12, ¶ 10, 227 P.3d 256. Similarly, we review the district "court's 'legal conclusions and ultimate grant or denial of summary judgment' for correctness and view[] 'the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.'" Orvis v. Johnson, 2008 UT 2, ¶ 6, 177 P.3d 600 (citations omitted).


         ¶8 Sandoval has failed to articulate any relevant section of the PCRA under which he can seek relief. While his original petition alleged the potential for relief under section 104, he has dropped these claims on appeal. He does not present us with any constitutional or statutory violations of his rights that occurred at trial and he has dropped his claim for ineffective assistance of counsel. Accordingly, the PCRA itself offers him no relief.

         ¶9 Finding no relief in the PCRA, Sandoval presents a standalone state due process argument claiming that, by following rule 4-206(4) of the Utah Rules of Judicial Administration and disposing of the evidence two years after the final disposition of his case, the State violated his state due process rights by stripping him of the ability to exercise the right to post-conviction DNA testing created by section 301 of the PCRA. He additionally asserts that the lack of direct notice of the pending destruction of the evidence violated his due process rights. We do not pass on these due process claims for a number of reasons. First, these claims are improperly before us, having been shoehorned into Sandoval's rule 65C petition. Second, even if these claims were procedurally proper, Sandoval has not carried his ...

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