Sometimes a jury trial in a Utah Justice Court can be wild and the evidence rules may not be applied like they should be. Often you have non-lawyer judges who don’t understand cross-examination and have certainly never been a lawyer, trying a lawsuit to a jury. They just don’t understand.
Thus the reason for the “Trial De Novo” to the District Court.
Think of a “Trial De Novo” appeal to the district court as a “Do Over.” If you lose your jury trial or bench trial in the Justice Court, you can file your appeal and “do it all over again” in the District Court.
Preview the Government’s Case.
The hug benefit of appealing De Novo your justice court case to the district court is that you get a preview of the prosecutor’s case. You can even get a transcript of the sworn testimony. You will better understand where to hire expert witnesses and what motions in limine to bring next time.
Double Jeopardy Attaches to Not Guilty Verdicts.
Another huge benefit is if you were found not guilty on one charge and guilty on another charge. The charge you were found not guilty on is not appealed. Double Jeopardy under the Utah and Federal Constitutions attach and that charge cannot be retried. But you can still retry the other charge you were found guilty on. Being guilty on one verdict and not guilty on the other verdict is called a “split verdict.” Often a result of the jury compromising.
Double Jeopardy has several components, but one big benefit is when the jury votes to acquit—that’s it. It is final. The government can’t re-file those charges against you.
When you appeal your Utah justice court case to district court you get a real, law trained, sitting judge. Many, too many, local justice court judges are not law trained judges and don’t understand trial, evidence and being the trenches as a practicing lawyer.
When you lose or have an adverse jury trial verdict or bench trial judgment, you can appeal De Novo to the district by filing your appeal within 28 days of sentencing. You can equally appeal a jury verdict, or a bench trial judgment where the judge alone determines your guilt or innocence. You can appeal a plea based conviction also.
(2). Hearings De Novo.
If you have an adverse ruling from the Justice Court Judge you can appeal that decision to the District Court Judge.
Defendants can Appeal These Types of Adverse Rulings in Hearings De Novo:
(1) an order revoking probation;
(2) imposition of a sentence, following a determination that a defendant failed to fulfill the terms of a plea in abeyance agreement;
(3) an order denying a motion to withdraw a plea, if the plea is being held in abeyance and the motion to withdraw the plea is filed within 28 days of the entry of the plea;
(4) a post sentence order fixing total or court ordered restitution; or
(5) an order denying expungement.
The prosecuting attorney is entitled to a hearing de novo in the district court on the following adverse rulings from a justice court:
(1) a final judgment of dismissal;
(2) an order arresting judgment;
(3) an order terminating the prosecution because of a finding of double jeopardy or denial of a speedy trial;
(4) a judgment holding invalid any part of a statute or ordinance;
(5) a pretrial order excluding evidence, when the prosecutor certifies that exclusion of that evidence prevents continued prosecution of an infraction or class C misdemeanor;
pretrial order excluding evidence, when the prosecutor certifies that exclusion of that evidence impairs continued prosecution of a class B misdemeanor;
(6) an order granting a motion to withdraw a plea of guilty or no contest;
(7) an order fixing total restitution at an amount less than requested by a crime victim; or
(8) an order granting an expungement, if the expungement was opposed by the prosecution or a victim before the order was entered.
Appeals from a justice court to a district court is a “do over.” Meaning you conduct the entire jury trial all over again. When you appeal from a Utah District Court that appeal is an error finding mechanism. You don’t do the trial all over again. The District Court appeal to the Utah Court of Appeals is on the dry record only. You don’t present witnesses again, you don’t offer evidence. You argue about what happened in the trial court, the District Court.
You can still appeal a justice court case to the district court and then to the Utah Court of Appeals. But your appeal rights are limited to challenging constitutional issues and statutory interpretation. The part of the justice court case appealed from the district court to the Utah Court of Appeals is not a “do over.” This time round the appeal is on the dry record only.
You can plead guilty and still appeal it to the district court. You may prefer the judge at the district court for sentencing purposes, or you may need to appeal the motion to suppress the evidence ruling that went against you.
If you plead guilty and are immediately sentenced, your 28 day appeal deadline starts.
Utah Rule of Criminal Procedure 38 specifically states that you can ask the court to reinstate your appeal period for good cause.
Upon a showing that a defendant was deprived of their right to appeal, the justice court must reinstate the 28-day period for filing an appeal. A defendant seeking reinstatement must file a written motion in the justice court. If your motion to reinstate your appeal right is denied—appeal that to the district court. Generally you have a six month deadline to reinstate your appeal right.
Part-Time. Full-Time. Non-Lawyers. Law trained, but unlicensed.
It is hard enough defending people, but adding a non-law trained judge in the mix on complicated legal issues doesn’t help.
Here are the common types of Utah justice court judges you will encounter.
(1). Part-Timer Law Trained. It is a small city and the local justice court judge sits every Tuesday once a month. The rest of the time he has a private practice of law. He is prohibited from prosecuting or defending criminal cases on the side.
(2). Part-Timer Non Law Trained. Smaller, southern Utah cities. Often the local probation officer, or the former court clerk takes the bench. Former sheriffs, or police chiefs also can take the bench. Law trained unlicensed attorneys are also in the mix.
(3). Full-Time Law Trained. The bigger cities always have law trained full-time justice court judges. There are some exceptions, like the Orem City Justice Court Judge.
Under Article VIII, Section 1, Utah Constitution, Utah justice courts are “not of record” even though they are often now recorded proceedings. “Courts of Record” are the Utah district courts and Utah juvenile courts.
Utah justice courts shall be divided into the following classes based on court filings.
(a) Class I: 501 or more case filings per month;
(b) Class II: 201-500 case filings per month;
(c) Class III: 61-200 case filings per month; and
(d) Class IV: 60 or fewer case filings per month.