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State v. Rogers

State v. Rogers, 2020 UT App 78 (Appleby, J.)

Criminal

After a string of burglaries in Salt Lake County, the police traced a stolen iPad to a McDonald’s parking lot. One theft victim provided a description of the defendant. Based upon the description and the iPad tracking, the defendant was identified as a suspect and arrested in the parking lot standing next to a car that contained a large amount of stolen property. Police took photographs of the property spread out over the hood of the car, but that property was destroyed prior to trial as a result of “administrative oversight.” Police had also failed to make a complete written inventory of the evidence. The State charged the defendant with multiple counts of burglary, theft, and possession of another’s identification documents. At trial, the defendant moved to dismiss the case, arguing that the evidence had been destroyed in bad faith. The trial court denied the motion. Then, at the close of trial, the defendant moved for directed verdicts on all charges. The trial court denied that motion as well, and the jury convicted defendant on all counts but one. The defendant appealed, arguing that the district court erred when it refused to dismiss his charges under the due process clause of the Utah Constitution and also that the trial court erred when it denied his motion for a directed verdict because the evidence was insufficient to sustain his convictions. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions, holding:

  • The district court did not err when it concluded that dismissal of the defendant’s charges was not warranted under the due process clauses of both the federal and state constitutions. The district court did not address whether the defendant’s argument met the threshold requirement—that the lost evidence had a reasonable probability of being exculpatory to each charge. And the defendant did not explain on appeal why the evidence was significant to each of the crimes the defendant was convicted of. Even assuming the evidence would have pointed to an inference that some of the property was found in a codefendant’s backpack, because the defendant was charged as a party in some instances, that evidence does not undermine confidence in the outcome. Further, the officer’s trial court testimony that he had already ransacked the car before laying the evidence out to document it suggests that the body camera footage would not have disclosed the original location of the property in the first instance. The defendant also failed to explain why the missing evidence would have made a material difference in light of the all the evidence at trial suggesting that the defendant was a perpetrator in the burglaries. **The appellate court did not address a separate federal due process analysis.
  • The district court did not err when it denied the defendant’s motion for a directed verdict on the theft charge. Value of the property stolen is an element of theft. The State was required to show that the value of the property stolen exceeded $5,000—not what the value of the property was. The jury is not required to determine the fair market value of the property stolen. The victim of the theft at issue testified that two of the stolen items were previously appraised at over $12,500 and had them insured for that amount. While the jury was instructed that the insurance policy did not represent an accurate value of the jewelry, the jury was not required to determine the accurate value of the jewelry, only that its value met or exceeded $5,000. The testimony admitted, including the insurance policy, was sufficient for establishing that element. 
  • The defendant’s contention on appeal that the evidence was insufficient to support his identification possession conviction is unpreserved. At trial, his counsel argued that the evidence was insufficient to show that he acted as a principal. But on appeal, he argued that the evidence was insufficient to show he acted as an accomplice. Because that argument requires analysis distinct from the analysis the district court engaged in, the defendant’s directed verdict motion did not preserve the claim he raised on appeal. The evidence at trial also supports a conclusion that counsel was not ineffective for failing to raise the above argument under the lens of accomplice liability. Among other things, the defendant was wearing some of the property that was stolen along with the identification documents. The jury could have inferred that the defendant possessed criminal intent that the underlying offense be committed as well as an intent to aid a codefendant. There is no reasonable probability that the outcome would have been different had counsel included both arguments in his directed verdict motion. 

Read the full court opinion

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