The Appellate Group

State v. Biel

State v. Biel, 2021 UT 8 (Pearce, J.)

Criminal Law

The State moved in limine to admit the unsworn statements of two codefendants who identified the defendant as the trigger puller. The codefendants later recanted, pointing fingers at another participant and claiming the original statements were made under duress. The district court excluded the unsworn statements under Utah Rules of Evidence 607 and 801(d)(1)(A) because it believed a party could not call a witness only to impeach the witness. The Utah Supreme Court granted the State’s interlocutory appeal and reversed, holding:

  • The district court improperly excluded admissible evidence under the plain meaning of Utah Evidence rules 607 and 801(d)(1)(A). Under rule 607, any party may attack a witness’s credibility—including the party calling the witness. And under rule 801(d)(1)(A), a statement is not hearsay if the declarant is available to testify, is subject to cross examination, and the statement is inconsistent with the declarant’s testimony.
  • The State did not invite the district court’s error, even though it admitted “it would be improper for the State to put a witness on the stand with the intent of impeaching them with their prior inconsistent statements.” Instead, the State “pushed back” by arguing that it did not expect the witnesses to testify contrary to their prior statements.

Read the full court opinion