The Appellate Group

State v. Drommond

State v. Drommond, 2020 UT 50 (Himonas, J.)


Defendant pleaded guilty to the aggravated murder of his ex-wife and after a penalty phase trial, he was sentenced by a jury to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He appealed, claiming that the penalty phase had errors and that he received ineffective assistance. The Utah Supreme Court affirmed, holding:

  • Defendant was not prejudiced by counsel’s failure to present evidence concerning the effects of his medication for bipolar disorder because the omitted evidence would not have affected the entire evidentiary picture or mitigated Defendant’s moral culpability; thus, there was no reasonable probability it would have swayed the jury to give Defendant a more lenient sentence.
  • Counsel’s performance was not deficient in failing to call all four psychologists that had evaluated Defendant because if counsel had done so, there was a risk that the jury would have believed Defendant had a personality order that was harder to treat instead of bipolar disorder, which could have made the jury less likely to impose a sentence that allowed for the possibility of parole. 
  • Although the Utah Supreme Court had in past opinions applied both the state and federal right to confrontation at a sentencing proceeding, as well as evaluated the right to confront witnesses as a due process right, the Court determined that the “the arc the arc of both our case law and federal case law seems to bend away from applying the right to confrontation at sentencing.” But the question need not be resolved in this case because the claims were either unpreserved or the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. 
  • Much of the evidence that Defendant challenged as victim impact evidence was evidence concerning the circumstances of the crime. And the victim impact evidence that the children of the victim missed their mother was not prejudicial because it was minimal, moderate, and did not express an opinion about Defendant’s character or the appropriate sentence.
  • A Lafferty instruction informing the jury that it must not consider evidence of other criminal activity unless the jury found the crimes had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt was not warranted because the evidence the State presented had to do with the circumstances of the crime to which Defendant pleaded guilty, not other criminal activity. 
  • Defendant’s cumulative error argument was inadequately briefed because he did not provide a reasoned analysis of whether the errors had a cumulative effect, and if so, why it should undermine the court’s confidence in the outcome.

Read the full court opinion