Often time in complex Utah sex crime cases there are multiple alleged victims claiming that the defendant raped or sexually assaulted them. The prosecution loves to combine all of the alleged victims into one case because if there are multiple individuals claiming that the defendant sexually assaulted them then he must be guilty, right? The State knows that this is a common line of thought and that juries can be persuaded to believe such a logical fallacy.
Defense attorneys have an uphill battle getting such cases tried separately. Utah law only allows offenses to be charged in the same information as separate counts if they are “(a) based on the same conduct or are otherwise connected together in their commission” or if they are “(b) alleged to have been part of a common scheme or plan.” Utah Code Ann. § 77-8A-1(1). Even if the court determines the counts can be properly joined under section 77-8a-1(1), the counts must be severed under section 77-8a-1(4) if a defendant “is prejudiced by a joinder of offenses.”
A court will look to Utah Rules of Evidence 404(b) to determine whether evidence of other crimes should be admissible in a separate trial. “Evidence of other crimes, wrongs or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident…” Evidence is only admissible under Rule 404(b) if it is (1) offered for a “proper, noncharacter purpose”; (2) if it is “relevant to the offense being prosecuted”; and (3) the probative value is not “substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury” under Utah Rule of Evidence 403. State v. Balfour, 2008 UT App 410, ¶ 21.
The problem with trying to sever the claims of multiple alleged victims of sex crimes by one defendant is that the court nearly always finds that evidence from other alleged victims is relevant to establish purposes other than to malign the character of the defendant.
If you’re facing a sex crime in Utah, call our criminal defense attorneys at 801.618.1334 for a free consultation.