Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

State v. De La Rosa

Court of Appeals of Utah

June 20, 2019

State of Utah, Appellant,
v.
Jose De La Rosa, Appellee.

          Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Katie Bernards-Goodman No. 161902721

          Sean D. Reyes and Jonathan S. Bauer, Attorneys for Appellant

          Teresa L. Welch, Attorney for Appellee

          Judge Gregory K. Orme authored this Opinion, in which Judges Michele M. Christiansen Forster and Ryan M. Harris concurred.

          OPINION

          ORME, JUDGE.

         ¶1 After a jury convicted him of one count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and one count of retail theft, defendant Jose De La Rosa, through post-conviction counsel, moved the court for a new trial pursuant to rule 24 of the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure. He claimed entitlement to a new trial on five grounds: (1) the jury instruction on constructive possession was inadequate; (2) his prior drug possession and distribution convictions should not have been admitted at trial; (3) there was juror misconduct;[1] (4) his retail theft charge should have been severed from his possession with intent to distribute charge at trial; and (5) his trial counsel failed to move to suppress the evidence obtained from the search of his vehicle.[2]

         ¶2 The trial court granted Defendant's motion but did not identify which of the five grounds raised by Defendant formed the basis for its decision. Its order was limited to the following:

The Court, having reviewed Defendant's Motion for a New Trial, the State's Opposition to Defendant's Motion for a New Trial and Defendant's Amended Motion for a New Trial, makes the following ruling: Defendant's Motion is granted.

         The State appeals, arguing, among other things, that we should remand to the trial court for it to identify the rationale for its ruling. We agree.

         ¶3 Rule 24 of the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that trial courts may "grant a new trial in the interest of justice if there is any error or impropriety which had a substantial adverse effect upon the rights of a party." Utah R. Crim. P. 24(a). Unlike its civil counterpart, rule 24 does not expressly require trial courts to provide reasons for granting a new trial in criminal cases. Compare Utah R. Civ. P. 59(d) ("The order granting a new trial must state the reasons for the new trial."), with Utah R. Crim. P. 24. But because appellate courts cannot meaningfully review a trial court's grant of a new trial without having the benefit of the trial court's reasons for its ruling- especially when some of the grounds argued warrant inquiry into the trial court's underlying legal conclusions-we agree with the State that it is necessary to remand with instructions that the trial court identify the basis for its decision to grant Defendant a new trial.

         ¶4 "We review a trial court's ruling on a motion for a new trial under an abuse of discretion standard." State v. Billingsley, 2013 UT 17, ¶ 9, 311 P.3d 995. Generally, this standard is highly deferential to the trial court's ruling in that "we assume that the district court exercised proper discretion unless the record clearly shows the contrary." State v. Serrano, 2019 UT App 32, ¶ 8, 440 P.3d 734 (quotation simplified). But "trial courts do not have discretion to misapply the law." State v. Petersen, 810 P.2d 421, 425 (Utah 1991). For this reason, "the abuse-of-discretion standard of review will at times necessarily include review to ensure that no mistakes of law affected a lower court's use of its discretion." State v. Barrett, 2005 UT 88, ¶ 17, 127 P.3d 682.

         ¶5 Defendant contends that the trial court's order is sufficient for purposes of appellate review because "the record indicates that the trial [court] took a thoughtful, careful approach to ensuring that [Defendant] received his constitutional right to a fair trial" and that should be enough to satisfy the abuse of discretion standard applied by appellate courts when reviewing a ruling on a motion for a new trial. This argument arises from the recognition that trial courts are in an advantaged position to that of appellate courts "to determine the impact of events occurring in the courtroom on the total proceedings." State v. Maestas, 2012 UT 46, ¶ 325, 299 P.3d 892 (quotation simplified). See also ASC Utah, Inc. v. Wolf Mountain Resorts, LC, 2013 UT 24, ¶ 22, 309 P.3d 201. And we might very well agree with Defendant's argument had he limited the arguments in his motion for a new trial to those that would not ordinarily require review of the trial court's underlying legal conclusions on appeal. For example, a determination of whether the jury misconduct in the present case merited a new trial would have been almost wholly dependent on the trial court's evaluation of the impact such misconduct had on the fairness of the proceedings-something that is inherently difficult for appellate courts to second guess. Had Defendant limited his motion to this and similar arguments, our review of the trial court's ruling would indeed be circumscribed by the assumption "that the district court exercised proper discretion," Serrano, 2019 UT App 32, ¶ 8 (quotation simplified), and we would reverse "only if there is no reasonable basis for the decision," ASC Utah, 2013 UT 24, ¶ 21 (quotation simplified).

         ¶6 On the other hand, a trial court "is not necessarily in a better position than an appellate court to identify its own errors of law." Id. ¶ 23. Thus, when a trial court determines that a legal error "had a substantial adverse effect upon the [defendant's] rights," Utah R. Crim. P. 24(a), it necessarily exceeds its discretion if there was no underlying error. Our Supreme Court's decision in State v. Billingsley, 2013 UT 17, 311 P.3d 995, is illustrative of this point. In Billingsley, the trial court had previously determined a teacher's testimony that a rape victim had made "inappropriate sexual advances" toward her to be inadmissible under rule 412 of the Utah Rules of Evidence. Id. ¶¶ 7, 10. The court eventually granted a new trial to the defendant after it determined the evidentiary ruling to be in error and concluded that the exclusion violated the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against her. Id. Our Supreme Court held that the trial court abused its discretion in granting a new trial because the court "correctly excluded the evidence" in the first place and the exclusion therefore "could not justify arresting the verdict." Id. ¶ 10. See id. ¶ 23. It further concluded that the exclusion did not violate the defendant's Sixth Amendment rights and that "[t]he trial court abused its discretion when it determined that [the defendant's] right to confront witnesses against her was violated." Id. ¶ 17.

         ¶7 Likewise, the trial court in the present case would have abused its discretion had it, for example, granted a new trial based on its belief that the jury instruction on constructive possession was inadequate and we later determined that this underlying legal conclusion was incorrect. Because there would be no underlying error that could possibly have "had a substantial adverse effect upon the rights of [Defendant]," see Utah R. Crim. P. 24(a), the trial court would not have been justified in granting a new trial ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.