Prosecutors Must Prove that the Defendant had the Specific Intent Required
In the recent Carrera case the Utah Supreme Court addressed what prosecutors must prove when the elements of a crime require a specific intent. Salt Lake City Police Officer Jonathan Dew conducted a search of a house where Ricardo Enrique Carrera was renting a room. This search was in response to a call reporting a potential crime. Mr. Carrera took an aggressive stance against Officer Dew, so the officer ordered Mr. Carrera to sit down. Mr. Carrera was noncompliant and even resisted arrest. Eventually, he listened to the officer’s orders and was handcuffed. Officer Dew then conducted a search incident to that arrest, and he uncovered the contents of Mr. Carrera’s wallet where he found an unsigned Social Security card with the name of Ms. Alvin. Mr. Carrera said that he did not know her.
One of his charges from this incident was unlawful possession of another’s identification documents of which a jury found him guilty. Under Utah law, a person is guilty of unlawful possession of another’s identification document if he obtains or possesses an identifying document with knowledge that he is not entitled to obtain or possess the identifying document. Utah Code § 76-6-1105(2)(a). Mr. Carrera does not dispute that he possessed the Social Security card. But he argues that the City did not present sufficient evidence to establish the required mens rea—that he knew he was not entitled to possess the Social Security card.
The Supreme Court of Utah agreed and reversed the court of appeals. The mens rea element requires the City to prove that Mr. Carrera had knowledge that he was not entitled to obtain or possess the identifying document. Mr. Carrera knew he did not have permission from Ms. Alvin to possess the Social Security card, but the Court explains that his lack of permission does not equate to knowledge on his part that he was not entitled to have the card. In addition, placing the card in his wallet cannot be the basis for a reasonable inference that he had a nefarious intent because it does not show culpability any more than it shows innocence. The City based its argument on Mr. Carrera’s possession without permission. It made no effort to show that Mr. Carrera had any nefarious intent required by Utah law, and thus the evidence in this case is insufficient.