The Appellate Group

State v. Leech

State v. Leech, 2020 UT App 116 (Hagen, J.)


The defendant kidnapped two men in a drug deal gone wrong; he forced one man to shoot another and then directed the others to cover up the crimes. The defendant was convicted on two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of aggravated robbery, one count of aggravated murder, and one count of obstruction of justice. At trial, preliminary hearing testimony was admitted to corroborate evidence of the obstruction of justice count. The defendant appealed, contesting admission of the preliminary hearing testimony under Utah Rule of Evidence rule 804(b)(1). The Utah Court of Appeals reversed the obstruction of justice conviction, holding:

  • The trial court erred when it admitted preliminary hearing testimony at trial under rule 804(b)(1). In admitting the testimony, the district court relied on State v. Brooks, 638 P.2d 537. But under State v. Goins, 2017 UT 61, Brooks’ per se statement that a defendant has a similar opportunity and motive to cross examine a witness at a preliminary hearing as he has at trial is no longer necessarily true after the amendment to article I, section 12 of the Utah Constitution limiting the scope of a preliminary hearing. 
  • Here, the defense did not have a similar motive and opportunity to develop the witness’s testimony at the preliminary hearing as it would have had the witness testified at trial. The witness was a critical eyewitness and an accomplice to the crimes. This was an aggravated murder case where credibility mattered because there was little physical evidence. Defense counsel did not impeach the witness at the preliminary hearing with prior inconsistent statements because his credibility was not relevant to a probable cause determination. Defense counsel also did not have access to new interviews with the witness prior to the preliminary hearing. The other State witness admitted he had lied so many times he could not keep his stories straight. Without any other corroborating evidence of obstruction of justice, there is a reasonable likelihood of a different result as to that charge. 
  • Three additional witnesses supported evidence of the elements of the remaining charges; admission of the 804(b)(1) evidence did not harm the defendant as to those charges.

Read the full court opinion