Eyewitness Identification Reform
In 2019, the Utah Supreme Court approved a rule that allows judges to suppress eyewitness identifications where a fact-finder could not reasonably rely on the identification evidence. That finding may be based on estimator variables (external factors that influence eyewitness memory and its accuracy), or the failure of law enforcement to adhere to scientifically-supported best practices for identification procedures, including: blind/blinded administration, proper witness instructions, proper filler composition, and witness confidence statements. The rule also allows for the admission of expert testimony regarding eyewitness identification and allows for a jury instruction on eyewitness identification to be provided if requested. Effective: November 2019.
Recording of Interrogations
In 2008, the Utah Attorney General’s Office, in cooperation with statewide law enforcement agencies, drafted a Best Practices Statement for Law Enforcement that recommended electronic recording of custodial interrogations. Since then, most agencies have adopted the Statement or their own policies to record custodial interrogations.
In 2016, the Utah Supreme Court adopted Rule of Evidence 616, which was intended to bring statewide uniformity to the admissibility of statements made during custodial interrogations. Rule 616 provides that evidence of a statement made by a defendant accused of a felony during a custodial interrogation in a place of detention shall not be admissible unless an electronic recording of the statement was made and is available at trial. The court may admit a statement made under specified exceptional circumstances. However, if the prosecution intends to offer an unrecorded statement under a specified exception, the prosecution must give the defendant written notice no later than 30 days before trial. If the court admits an unrecorded statement it may, upon the request of the defendant, give a cautionary jury instruction concerning the unrecorded statement.
Deception in Juvenile Interrogations
State statute prohibits the use of deceptive tactics by law enforcement officers to elicit confessions from children during custodial interrogations. Specifically, officers conducting an interrogation of a child are prohibited from knowingly providing false information about evidence that is reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the child, and from making unauthorized statements about leniency for the offense. Effective: 2022.
Post Conviction DNA Testing
Any person convicted of a felony offense may petition the trial court that entered the judgment of conviction for DNA testing at any time. The law was amended in 2018 to remove the requirement that defendants prove a failure to request DNA testing earlier was not for "tactical reasons." Effective: 2001; Amended most recently: 2018.
State statute requires the automatic preservation of biological evidence related to all violent felony crimes. The evidence must be preserved for the length of time that person and any of their co-defendants remain imprisoned, civilly committed, on parole or probation, or required to register on a sex/kidnapping registry. In the case of an unsolved violent felony, the evidence must be preserved for the length of the statute of limitations. If biological evidence is not preserved in accordance with the statute, a convicted person can seek judicial relief. If a convicted person’s appeal has not concluded, or they receive a new trial, the court may impose any sanctions or remedies it deems fit if it finds that evidence that reasonably could have been found to be exculpatory. If a convicted person’s appeal has concluded or the time for appeal has expired, the person may seek relief under Utah’s Post Convictions Remedies Act, which allows the court to vacate or modify the conviction or sentence if the evidence was not previously tested or if the evidence was previously tested but there has been a material change in circumstance that could have produced a more favorable outcome. Effective: 2022.
Utah's statute meets the best practices standards outlined by the NIST Technical Working Group on Biological Evidence Preservation.
A wrongfully convicted individual found innocent by clear and convincing evidence is entitled to receive for each year or portion of a year he was incarcerated, up to a maximum of 15 years, the monetary equivalent of the average annual non-agricultural payroll wage in Utah. Effective: 2008; Amended most recently: 2021.
In State v. Charles (2011) the Utah Court of Appeals ruled that a jury instruction must be given when jailhouse informant witness testimony is going to be used at trial. The instruction directs jurors to assess the jailhouse informant’s testimony with greater scrutiny and details reliability factors that jurors should consider, including: benefits offered or expected in exchange for testimony, criminal history, other cases in which the jailhouse informant testified in exchange for benefits, and whether the jailhouse informant has recanted or changed his/her statements. Effective: 2011.