The Appellate Group

State v. Jok

State v. Jok, 2021 UT 35 (Himonas, J.)

Criminal Law; Evidence

Defendant was convicted of two counts of sexual battery based on the testimony of the complainant. He appealed, arguing that her testimony was so inherently improbable it could not support a finding of guilt. The court of appeals affirmed, and the Utah Supreme Court granted certiorari and affirmed, holding:

  • Because Defendant was tried in a bench trial, his claim that the evidence was insufficient was adequately preserved without the need to specifically raise the claim to the district court. And here, the complainant’s testimony was not inherently improbable because her confusion about some details did not qualify as patently false statements or approach the level of inconsistency necessary to cause the court to disregard her testimony.
  • Note: The Utah Supreme Court held that in contrast to a jury trial, under rule 52(a) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, a defendant being tried in a bench trial is not required to raise a sufficiency of the evidence claim with the district court to preserve the issue for appeal. The nature of a bench trial effectively preserves the claim.
  • Note: The Utah Supreme Court clarified that prior cases pointing to three factors applicable to analyzing an inherent improbability claim (material inconsistencies, patent falsehoods, and lack of corroborating evidence) should be read as beneficial examples rather than a controlling, strict factor test. The proper test is whether reasonable minds must have entertained a reasonable doubt.

Read the full court opinion