The Appellate Group

State v. Richins

State v. Richins, 2021 UT 50 (Pearce, J.)


The State alleged that the defendant masturbated in public. At trial, the district court admitted into evidence four other instances of the defendant’s public indecency under Utah Rule of Evidence 404(b) and the doctrine of chances. The jury convicted the defendant, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Utah Supreme Court reversed, holding:

  • Although rebutting a claim of fabrication is a proper noncharacter purpose to admit evidence under rule 404(b), the district court failed to establish the relevant baseline frequency for which a typical person would be accused of public masturbation. Thus, the court improperly admitted the four other instances under rule 404(b) and the doctrine of chances.
  • Under Utah Rule of Evidence 403, the four other instances of conduct were also inadmissible as more prejudicial than probative, because the risk of the jury resorting to an impermissible inference (because the defendant did something like this before, he likely did it again) overwhelmed the possibility that the jury would confine itself to focusing on the probability of fabrication.

Read the full court opinion