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South Salt Lake City v. Maese

Supreme Court of Utah

September 20, 2019

South Salt Lake City, Appellee,
Santiago Steven Maese, Appellant.

          Third District, Salt Lake The Honorable Judge Randall N. Skanchy No. 155900019.

         On Certification from the Court of Appeals

          Attorneys: Marcus Gilson, David Lassetter, South Salt Lake City, for appellee.

          Santiago Steven Maese, pro se

          Justice Pearce authored the opinion of the Court in which Justice Himonas and Justice Petersen joined. Associate Chief Justice Lee authored a concurring opinion in which Chief Justice Durrant joined. Justice Pearce, opinion of the Court:


          Pearce, Justice.


         ¶1 Santiago Steven Maese has been charged with two violations of the traffic code and wants a jury to decide his case. Both the justice court and the district court rejected Maese's jury demand. Maese argues that the Utah Constitution guarantees the right to a jury trial in all cases, even minor traffic infractions. He therefore contends that Utah Code section 77-1-6(2)(e) and Utah Rule of Criminal Procedure 17(d), which provide that a jury is not available in a trial for an infraction, are unconstitutional.

         ¶2 Article I, section 12 of the Utah Constitution provides the right to a jury trial in "criminal prosecutions." But when the people of Utah adopted our constitution, there existed a category of criminal trials that were tried to a judge. Although it is difficult to peer back more than one hundred years and know with great certainty the parameters of what did and did not trigger a jury trial in 1895, we know that shortly after statehood, juries were not available for some minor offenses that carried penalties of incarceration for fewer than thirty days and/or a small fine. While we leave open the possibility that future cases and additional historical evidence might provide us the opportunity to refine our understanding of the scope and limitations of the right to a jury trial, we conclude that the Utah Constitution does not guarantee Maese a jury trial for his traffic violations. We affirm the district court.


         ¶3 A Utah Highway Patrol Trooper observed Maese cross the double white lines of the HOV lane on I-15 and cross several lanes of traffic while failing to signal for at least two seconds. South Salt Lake City (City) subsequently charged Maese in justice court with failure to signal for two seconds and failure to obey traffic control devices. Utah Code §§ 41-6a-304, –804(1)(b) (2013). At that time, the Utah Code classified these offenses as class C misdemeanors.[1]

         ¶4 At the arraignment hearing the City amended both charges to infractions, thereby depriving him of a jury trial. Maese moved to dismiss the information charging him with infractions. He argued that the prosecutor did not have the authority to amend the charges from misdemeanors to infractions, and that Utah's Constitution ensured a right to a jury trial in all criminal prosecutions, including those for infractions.

         ¶5 The justice court denied Maese's motion to dismiss and request for a jury trial. The justice court convicted Maese of both charges and imposed a $240 fine.

         ¶6 Maese appealed his conviction. In the trial de novo in the district court, Maese once again moved for a jury trial. And again Maese argued that the Utah Constitution guarantees defendants, including those charged with infractions, a jury. The district court denied his motion and convicted him on both charges.

         ¶7 Maese appeals.


         ¶8 Maese raises two meaty issues. First, Maese argues that the Utah Constitution's Separation of Powers Clause prevented the City from amending the charges against him from misdemeanors to infractions because the Utah Code designated them as misdemeanors. This presents a question of law that we review for correctness. See State v. Hernandez, 2011 UT 70, ¶ 3, 268 P.3d 822. When addressing a challenge to the constitutionality of a statute, "we presume the statute to be constitutional, resolving any reasonable doubts in favor of constitutionality." Univ. of Utah v. Shurtleff, 2006 UT 51, ¶ 30, 144 P.3d 1109 (citation omitted).

         ¶9 Before we reach that question, however, we need to address the City's contention that we lack jurisdiction to hear Maese's argument. The City argues we cannot address the question because Utah Code section 78A-7-118(8) limits appeals from justice court to a trial de novo in district court unless the district court rules on the constitutionality of a statute or ordinance. Questions concerning our jurisdiction are questions of law that we review for correctness. Ameritemps, Inc. v. Utah Labor Comm'n, 2007 UT 8, ¶ 6, 152 P.3d 298.

         ¶10 Second, Maese posits that Utah Code section 77-1-6(2)(e) and Utah Rule of Criminal Procedure 17(d) are unconstitutional because they deny him the jury trial promised by article I, sections 10 and 12 of the Utah Constitution. "We presume the statute is constitutional, and we 'resolve any reasonable doubts in favor of constitutionality.'" Brown v. Cox, 2017 UT 3, ¶ 11, 387 P.3d 1040 (citation omitted). "Whether a statute is constitutional presents a question of law, " id., that we review for correctness, see Hernandez, 2011 UT 70, ¶ 3.


         I. We Lack Jurisdiction to Hear Maese's Challenge to the Prosecutorial Practice of Amending Misdemeanor Charges to Infractions

         ¶11 Maese first argues that prosecutors violate the Utah Constitution when they charge as an infraction a crime the Legislature designates as a misdemeanor.[2] Maese avers that because "only the legislature can define crimes and their penalties, " prosecutors act outside their constitutional authority when they assign a lesser penalty to charged conduct. Maese contends that "no statement of law or legal principle" permits prosecutors to exercise the legislative power of "designat[ing] an offense's penalty."[3]

         ¶12 Maese raises an intriguing question that we do not have jurisdiction to address. The City rightly points to the jurisdictional limits Utah Code section 78A-7-118(8) imposes on us. That section allows a defendant to appeal the decision of a district court's review of a justice court matter only when the district court rules on the constitutionality of a statute or ordinance. Utah Code § 78A-7-118(8) ("The decision of the district court [on appeal from the justice court] is final and may not be appealed unless the district court rules on the constitutionality of a statute or ordinance.").

         ¶13 Maese does not challenge a statute that permits prosecutors to do what the City did here: amend charges to lower the level of the charged crime. Indeed, it does not appear that this practice enjoys any statutory authorization whatsoever. So Maese is left challenging a practice that is apparently justified by notions of prosecutorial discretion.[4] Because Maese does not challenge the constitutionality of a statute or ordinance, we do not have jurisdiction over this issue on direct appeal.

         ¶14 This does not mean, however, that Maese-or someone in his position-is without a mechanism to press that argument. As the court of appeals has recognized, a petition for extraordinary relief under Utah Rule of Civil Procedure 65B can be the procedurally correct avenue to challenge an alleged violation that occurred in justice court that does not involve the constitutionality of a statute or ordinance. See Smith v. Hruby-Mills, 2016 UT App. 159, ¶¶ 5–6, 380 P.3d 349; Vorher v. Henriod, 2011 UT App. 199, ¶¶ 7–8, 262 P.3d 42; see also Utah R. Civ. P. 65B. Because Maese has not petitioned for a writ for extraordinary relief, we cannot address his argument without running afoul of the statute limiting our jurisdiction over justice court appeals.

         II. The Utah Constitution Does Not Guarantee a Jury Trial for Maese's Traffic Violations

         ¶15 Maese next argues that "any Utah statute or procedural rule denying the right of a jury trial in prosecutions for infractions is unconstitutional." Specifically, he argues that Utah Code section 77-1-6(2)(e) and Utah Rule of Criminal Procedure 17(d) are unconstitutional because they exclude infractions from the right to a jury trial.

         ¶16 Utah Code section 77-1-6 lists the rights of defendants and includes among them that "[n]o person shall be convicted unless by verdict of a jury, or upon a plea of guilty or no contest, or upon a judgment of a court when trial by jury has been waived or, in case of an infraction, upon a judgment by a magistrate." Utah Code § 77-1-6(2)(e). Utah Rule of Criminal Procedure 17(d) states "No jury shall be allowed in the trial of an infraction." Maese contends that this statute and rule do not comply with the requirements set forth in article I, section 12 of the Utah Constitution.

         ¶17 Article I, section 12 of the Utah Constitution provides that "[i]n criminal prosecutions the accused shall have the right . . . to have a speedy public trial by an impartial jury." Maese argues that the meaning of this section is plain in that it "guarantees the right to jury trials in all criminal cases, including prosecutions for infractions."[5]

         ¶18 When we interpret constitutional language, we start with the meaning of the text as understood when it was adopted. See Zimmerman v. Univ. of Utah, 2018 UT 1, ¶ 25, 417 P.3d 78; Neese v. Utah Bd. of Pardons & Parole, 2017 UT 89, ¶¶ 67, 96, 416 P.3d 663; Am. Bush v. City of South Salt Lake, 2006 UT 40, ¶¶ 10, 16, 140 P.3d 1235. "[I]n interpreting the Utah Constitution, prior case law guides us to analyze its text, historical evidence of the state of the law when it was drafted, and Utah's particular traditions at the time of drafting." Am. Bush, 2006 UT 40, ¶ 12.

         ¶19 There is no magic formula for this analysis-different sources will be more or less persuasive depending on the constitutional question and the content of those sources. See State v. Tiedemann, 2007 UT 49, ¶ 37, 162 P.3d 1106. ("[W]e reject the State's suggestion in its brief that there is a formula of some kind for adequate framing and briefing of state constitutional issues."). We use these sources to discern the original public meaning of the text. Neese, 2017 UT 89, ¶ 67 ("[T]his court should look to the original meaning of the Utah Constitution when properly confronted with constitutional issues."); Am. Bush, 2006 UT 40, ¶ 12 ("The goal of this analysis is to discern the intent and purpose of both the drafters of our constitution and, more importantly, the citizens who voted it into effect.").[6]

         ¶20 When we examine the historical record to help us understand the original public meaning of the text, we must resist the temptation to place "undue reliance on arguments based primarily upon the zeitgeist." State v. Tulley, 2018 UT 35, ¶ 82, 428 P.3d 1005 (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). Otherwise, we risk "converting the historical record into a type of Rorschach test where we only see what we are already inclined to see." Id. (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). Merely "asserting one, likely true, fact about Utah history and letting the historical analysis flow from that single fact" is not a recipe for sound constitutional interpretation. Id. (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         A. The Text of Article I, Section 12 Does Not Directly Speak to Whether There is a Right to a Jury Trial for a Traffic Infraction

         ¶21 Our task is to understand what "criminal prosecutions" meant to those who voted to approve the Utah Constitution[7] and whether those voters would have understood that they were guaranteeing a jury trial to every person in every circumstance under which they would be hauled into court.[8]

         ¶22 Maese uses Salt Lake City v. Ohms, to assert that "if [a] constitutional provision is clear, then extraneous or contemporaneous construction may not be resorted to." 881 P.2d 844, 850 n.14 (Utah 1994) (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). At the same time, Maese also refers to our language in American Bush that courts should analyze "text, historical evidence of the state of the law when [the constitution] was drafted, and Utah's particular traditions at the time of drafting." 2006 UT 40, ¶ 12. And this reflects the sometimes contradictory manner in which we have spoken about constitutional analysis.

         ¶23 We attempted to clarify some of this confusion in In re Young, 1999 UT 6, 976 P.2d 581. There we stated:

[Appellant argues] that we should limit ourselves to the plain language of the constitution and that we should therefore not consider the history of [the relevant constitutional provision]. But the plain language is of marginal help on this question. And in such circumstances, we have rejected any such rigid rule of constitutional interpretation. In Society of Separationists v. Whitehead, 870 P.2d 916 (Utah 1993), we made it plain that in interpreting the constitution, we consider all relevant factors, including the language, other provisions in the constitution that may bear on the matter, historical materials, and policy. See id. at 920–21, 921 n. 6. Our primary search is for intent and purpose. Consistent with this view, this court has a very long history of interpreting constitutional provisions in light of their historical background and the then-contemporary understanding of what they were to accomplish. This case, like many others, proves the wisdom of the axiom that "[a] page of history is worth a volume of logic." Society of Separationists, 870 P.2d at 921.

Id. ¶ 15. (footnote omitted). Thus, although the text is generally the best place to look for understanding, historical sources can be essential to our effort to discern and confirm the original public meaning of the language. Although the text's plain language may begin and end the analysis, unlike contract interpretation, constitutional inquiry does not require us to find a textual ambiguity before we turn to those other sources. Where doubt exists about the constitution's meaning, we can and should consider all relevant materials. Often that will require a "deep immersion in the shared linguistic, political, and legal presuppositions and understandings of the ratification era." Neese, 2017 UT 89, ¶ 98.

         ¶24 Maese nevertheless argues that the constitutional inquiry is simple because the constitutional language alone answers the question. Maese quotes article I, section 12 of the Utah Constitution, "In criminal prosecutions the accused shall have the right . . . to have a speedy public trial by an impartial jury." Maese then paraphrases this language as "guarantee[ing] the right of a jury trial in all criminal prosecutions."

         ¶25 In response, the City analogizes to the United States Constitution to argue that despite plain language suggesting otherwise, the Utah Constitution excludes some class of petty offenses from the right to a jury trial. The City focuses on the parallel language of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury . . . ." U.S. Const. amend. VI. The City argues that the "language of the Sixth Amendment . . . is as broad, if not broader, than the analogous provisions of the Utah Constitution." And the City notes that "[d]espite [the] plain language that may suggest that any accused is guaranteed the right to a trial by jury under the [federal] Constitution in every circumstance, modern Sixth Amendment case law limits that right to offenses carrying at least six months of possible incarceration." This inspires the City to argue the phrase "criminal prosecutions" in the Utah Constitution implicitly excludes at least some petty offenses, [9] because the federal constitution does so.

         ¶26 The City dangles a tempting argument. If the language of our constitution resembles that of its federal counterpart, and if the federal counterpart does not provide a jury trial for petty offenses, then it stands to reason that our state constitution would similarly not permit a jury trial in all cases.

         ¶27 But we cannot accept the City's invitation to interpret our constitution in lockstep with the federal and skip an analysis of our own state constitution. We have recognized that even when the text of our constitution is identical to its federal counterpart, "we do not presume that federal court interpretations of federal constitutional provisions control the meaning of identical provisions in the Utah Constitution." State v. Briggs, 2008 UT 83, ¶ 24, 199 P.3d 935. "In fact, we have not hesitated to interpret the provisions of the Utah Constitution to provide more expansive protections than similar federal provisions where appropriate." Id.; see also Tiedemann, 2007 UT 49, ¶ 37 ("There is no presumption that federal construction of similar language is correct.").[10]

         ¶28 We start by acknowledging that the plain language of the Utah Constitution does not answer the question. The text does not tell us what the people of Utah would have understood to be a "criminal prosecution" that would trigger the right to a jury trial. We therefore examine the historical record for evidence of what the people of Utah would have understood to be a "criminal prosecution" that would trigger the right to a jury trial.

         ¶29 When we look to the historical record, we hope that it resembles a Norman Rockwell painting-a poignant, straightforward, and easy to interpret representation. But frequently it does not. In some cases, like this one, the historical record is more like a Jackson Pollock. And we find ourselves staring at the canvas in hopes of finding some unifying theme. After studying the colors and lines of the historical record, we find evidence that suggests a narrative.

         B. Delegates to the Utah Constitutional Convention Appeared to Hold Jury Trials in High Regard, but Did Not Discuss the Specific Scope of the Right to a Jury Trial in Criminal Cases

         ¶30 The delegates to the 1895 Constitutional Convention never specifically discussed the breadth of the jury trial right.[11] The closest comment comes from Delegate David Evans Jr., who stated, "[W]e are maintaining the right of trial by jury for any person charged with a crime." 1 Official Report of the Proceedings and Debates of the Convention 258 (Salt Lake City, Star Printing Co. 1898) [hereinafter Proceedings]. This quote still leaves us questioning what the original understanding of a "crime" was, however. And the delegates to the convention did not discuss the meaning of a "crime, " a "criminal prosecution, " or otherwise discuss the parameters of the right to trial by jury they sought to maintain.

         ¶31 The delegates did, however, speak loftily about the importance of juries in our legal system. Delegate Varian commented, "I want the trial by jury to remain inviolate[, ] . . . but when you come to a trial jury, that last safeguard, that last barrier, that has always stood and always will, I believe, between the people and oppression, . . . we should act slowly, and wait, I think, long before we invade in the slightest degree or particular." Id. at 261. Delegate Bowdle opined:

I claim that a man's liberty is not in jeopardy only when the doors of the penitentiary may stand before him, or when his life is at stake. His reputation might be just as sacred, or more sacred than his life. I believe that when a man is on trial for any crime he should have a fair and impartial trial by a jury . . . .

Id. at 291–92.

         ¶32 Most of the debate focused on the appropriate size of juries in different courts and whether unanimity would be required. See, e.g., id. at 258–62, 286–97, 306–12, 492–95. For example, the delegates engaged in the following discussion:

Mr. Evans (Weber): Then, there is another class of jurors in courts of inferior jurisdiction. A jury shall consist of three men in both civil and criminal cases.
Mr. Eldredge: What courts are those?
Mr. Evans (Weber): Justices of the peace. All three of these men must concur and give a unanimous verdict, in criminal cases, but in civil cases two of them can render a verdict.

Id. at 493.

         ¶33 The debates therefore fail to speak directly to the question of the meaning of "criminal prosecutions" and accordingly when a jury would be available. Nor did the framers reference the federal counterpart or express any intent that the state standard should track the federal. But the discussions make plain that the framers highly valued the right to a jury trial and anticipated that it would play a crucial role in preserving the liberty interests of the people of Utah.

         C. The Framers Drafted Our Constitution Against a Legal Backdrop Where the Federal, and Some State, Constitutions Did Not Guarantee a Jury Trial for All Offenses

         ¶34 Although the framers did not debate the scope of the jury trial during the Constitutional Convention, they toiled in a legal environment where it was largely understood that a jury would not be available for all offenses. Significantly, when the framers met in the Salt Lake City and County Building to draft our constitution, the federal ...

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