Does Claim Preclusion Apply When a Prosecutor Is Not Involved?

Police Initiated Charges Without Prosecutorial Involvement Does Not Implicate Claim Preclusion

Criminal claim preclusion can prevent further charges.
In order for criminal claim preclusion to apply, the charges must be brought by a prosecutor rather than just a police citation.

In November of 2011, Ririe was pulled over on a police officer’s suspicion of drunk driving. The officer saw an open beer can in the car and performed an intoxilyzer test on Ririe. Her blood-alcohol level at the time was .216, and the officer issued her a citation for an open container. The officer then initiated a criminal case against Ririe by filing the citation in justice court. Ririe failed to appear or forfeit bail on her open container charge and she failed to appear at her arraignment a few weeks later, thus a warrant was issued for her arrest. The next day, Ririe paid her justice court fine, forfeiting bail and accepting a conviction on the open container offense.

In this case the Supreme Court of Utah interpreted the terms of Utah Code section 76-1-403, which adopts criminal claim preclusion for certain offenses arising out of a single criminal episode. Preclusion is invoked where a “defendant has been prosecuted for one or more offenses arising out of a single criminal episode,” “the subsequent prosecution is for an offense that was or should have been tried under Subsection 76-1-402(2),” and the “former prosecution” resulted in an acquittal or conviction or was otherwise terminated in circumstances identified by statute. Utah Code § 76-1-403(1)(a)-(b). Subsection 402(2), states that “a defendant shall not be subject to separate trials for multiple offenses when: (a) The offenses are within the jurisdiction of a single court; and (b) The offenses are known to the prosecuting attorney at the time the defendant is arraigned on the first information or indictment.”

The Court discussed that the mere fact of a prior prosecution of some nature is insufficient to trigger the claim-preclusion principles of sections 403 and 402. In this case, the preclusion principle is limited to prosecutions involving a prosecuting attorney and an arraignment on an information or indictment. The Court concluded that neither element was present here, and therefore the statutes’ preclusive effect was not implicated. No prosecuting attorney was involved in the process leading to the conviction; the open container charge was initiated by the issuance of a citation by a police officer. Additionally, the justice court charge did not involve an arraignment on an information or indictment. Instead the charge against Ririe was initiated only by filing a citation and was resolved by a conviction upon a forfeiture of bail.

In sum, this was not the type of prosecution implicating the claim preclusion standards set forth in sections 402 and 403, and the district court’s denial of Ririe’s motion to dismiss was affirmed. The Court did not want to extend the statute’s principle of claim preclusion beyond its text. It appears the legislature’s enactment of this statute is aimed at balancing the competing positions of advancing interests of judicial economy as well as preserving discretion for the prosecution to advance separate charges where law enforcement has informally pursued minor charges.

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