District Court, Kanab Department The Honorable Wallace A. Lee
W. Sessions, Attorney for Appellant
D. Reyes and Jonathan S. Bauer, Attorneys for Appellee
Michele M. Christiansen Forster authored this Opinion, in
which Judges David N. Mortensen and Ryan M. Harris concurred.
CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER, JUDGE:
Waylon Keith Riddle challenges the trial court's denial
of his motion to set aside and vacate his convictions on four
counts of distribution of a controlled substance. We affirm.
Three days after Riddle's jury trial was completed, his
trial counsel had lunch with the Kane County Attorney, Robert
Van Dyke. Van Dyke had not participated in Riddle's
trial, which was tried by a deputy county attorney. While
they were eating, a man approached Van Dyke to talk about
some paperwork. Riddle's counsel recognized the man as
one of the jurors in Riddle's trial. Van Dyke informed
counsel that the juror was his personal accountant and that
the paperwork referred to was Van Dyke's tax return.
Although the jurors had been asked during voir dire about
their acquaintance with the lawyers, parties, and witnesses
in the case, they were never asked about their relationship
to other individuals in the Kane County Attorney's
Based on the business relationship between Van Dyke and the
juror, Riddle moved the court to set aside the jury's
verdict, vacate his convictions, and order a new trial.
Riddle acknowledged that there was no evidence that the juror
was actually biased based on his professional relationship
with Van Dyke but nevertheless asserted that the juror's
relationship with Van Dyke violated his right to a fair and
impartial jury. The trial court denied Riddle's motion,
and Riddle now appeals.
AND STANDARD OF REVIEW
Riddle asserts that the court erred in denying his motion to
set aside the jury's verdict and grant him a new trial.
So long as the trial court has correctly applied the law, we
review its "ruling on a motion for a new trial under an
abuse of discretion standard." State v. De La
Rosa, 2019 UT App 110, ¶ 4, 445 P.3d 955 (quotation
Riddle urges us to hold that the very existence of an
undisclosed professional relationship between Van Dyke and
the juror created an appearance of impropriety that required
a new trial. While he asserts that this is a matter of first
impression, our case law is clear that a jury verdict need
not be reversed on grounds of juror partiality when there is
no evidence of bias on the part of the juror.
Rule 24 of the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure permits trial
courts to "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). "[T]he Fourteenth Amendment Due Process
Clause assures each defendant the fundamental right to a fair
trial." State v. Arguelles, 2003 UT 1, ¶
97, 63 P.3d 731. "One touchstone of a fair trial is an
impartial trier of fact-a jury capable and willing to decide
the case solely on the evidence before it."
McDonough Power Equip., Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S.
548, 554 (1984) (quotation simplified). Thus, one "error
or impropriety," see Utah R. Crim. P. 24(a),
that may justify granting a new trial to a defendant is the
existence of juror bias. Nevertheless, "due process does
not require a new trial every time a juror has been placed in
a potentially compromising situation." Smith v.
Phillips, 455 U.S. 209, 217 (1982). Likewise, a new
trial under rule 24 is appropriate only where the alleged
"error or impropriety . . . had a substantial ...