The Appellate Group

Pleasant Grove v. Terry

Pleasant Grove v. Terry, 2020 UT 69 (Himonas, J.) (Petersen, J., dissenting)

Criminal Procedure

Keith Terry and his ex-wife argued over whose turn it was to pick up the children from school in front of their son. When ex-wife went to the passenger side door of his Jeep, Terry put his arms around his son. Ex-wife claimed he hit her in the face; Terry claimed he never did but that ex-wife started hitting him on his hands and arms. She backed away from the vehicle and began shouting “He hit me!” repeatedly. As Terry drove away, he was chased down by ex-wife’s boyfriend, who hung onto the side of Terry’s Jeep as Terry called the police and drove to a police station. After an initial deadlock, the jury convicted Terry of domestic violence in the presence of a child but acquitted him of its predicate offense, domestic violence assault. The trial court noted the oddity of the conviction and was shocked to find no precedent supporting his intuition to intervene in the verdict. Terry filed a motion to arrest judgment and strike the inconsistent verdict. The trial court denied his motion. He appealed. The Utah Court of Appeals certified the case to the Utah Supreme Court. The Utah Supreme Court reversed Terry’s conviction, holding:

  1. The standard of review for legally impossible verdicts is a question of law, which an appellate court reviews for correctness. A court’s deference to the jury does not extend to jury verdicts that are legally impossible. Precedent concerning factually inconsistent verdicts does not extend to legally impossible verdicts.
  2. An acquittal on the predicate offense is fatal to a jury’s ability to convict on the compound offense. Legally impossible verdicts are repugnant to justice. This court will not conclude that the same elements of each crime both exist and do not exist.
  3. The Utah Supreme Court uses its supervisory authority to create a new procedural rule, bypassing its advisory committee: Upon an allegation of a legally impossible verdict by a jury, in which a defendant is acquitted on the predicate offense but convicted on the compound offense, the reviewing court (whether it be the trial court or on appeal) should look into the elements of the crime, the jury verdicts, and the case’s instructions. If the court finds that the conviction of the compound offense is impossible in the face of an acquittal of a predicate offense, then the verdict is legally impossible and should be overturned.
  4. Dissent: The majority’s holding requires Utah courts to assess the validity of one count based on the jury’s verdict on another count. Deriving meaning from an internal contradiction in a jury verdict is guesswork. To open the door to this practice is to replace the jury’s collective judgment with a speculative judicial presumption and diminish the finality of jury verdicts. We should follow United States Supreme Court precedent refusing to disturb the jury’s verdict here as we have done with factually inconsistent verdicts.

Read the full court opinion