S. Salt Lake City v. Maese

Citation450 P.3d 1092
Decision Date20 September 2019
Docket NumberNo. 20160646,20160646
Parties SOUTH SALT LAKE CITY, Appellee, v. Santiago Steven MAESE, Appellant.
CourtSupreme Court of Utah
INTRODUCTION

¶1 Santiago Steven Maese has been charged with two violations of the traffic code and wants a jury to decide his case. Both the justice court and the district court rejected Maese’s jury demand. Maese argues that the Utah Constitution guarantees the right to a jury trial in all cases, even minor traffic infractions. He therefore contends that Utah Code section 77-1-6(2)(e) and Utah Rule of Criminal Procedure 17(d), which provide that a jury is not available in a trial for an infraction, are unconstitutional.

¶2 Article I, section 12 of the Utah Constitution provides the right to a jury trial in "criminal prosecutions." But when the people of Utah adopted our constitution, there existed a category of criminal trials that were tried to a judge. Although it is difficult to peer back more than one hundred years and know with great certainty the parameters of what did and did not trigger a jury trial in 1895, we know that shortly after statehood, juries were not available for some minor offenses that carried penalties of incarceration for fewer than thirty days and/or a small fine. While we leave open the possibility that future cases and additional historical evidence might provide us the opportunity to refine our understanding of the scope and limitations of the right to a jury trial, we conclude that the Utah Constitution does not guarantee Maese a jury trial for his traffic violations. We affirm the district court.

BACKGROUND

¶3 A Utah Highway Patrol Trooper observed Maese cross the double white lines of the HOV lane on I-15 and cross several lanes of traffic while failing to signal for at least two seconds. South Salt Lake City (City) subsequently charged Maese in justice court with failure to signal for two seconds and failure to obey traffic control devices. UTAH CODE §§ 41-6a-304, –804(1)(b) (2013). At that time, the Utah Code classified these offenses as class C misdemeanors.1

¶4 At the arraignment hearing the City amended both charges to infractions, thereby depriving him of a jury trial. Maese moved to dismiss the information charging him with infractions. He argued that the prosecutor did not have the authority to amend the charges from misdemeanors to infractions, and that Utah’s Constitution ensured a right to a jury trial in all criminal prosecutions, including those for infractions.

¶5 The justice court denied Maese’s motion to dismiss and request for a jury trial. The justice court convicted Maese of both charges and imposed a $240 fine.

¶6 Maese appealed his conviction. In the trial de novo in the district court, Maese once again moved for a jury trial. And again Maese argued that the Utah Constitution guarantees defendants, including those charged with infractions, a jury. The district court denied his motion and convicted him on both charges.

¶7 Maese appeals.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶8 Maese raises two meaty issues. First, Maese argues that the Utah Constitution’s Separation of Powers Clause prevented the City from amending the charges against him from misdemeanors to infractions because the Utah Code designated them as misdemeanors. This presents a question of law that we review for correctness. See State v. Hernandez , 2011 UT 70, ¶ 3, 268 P.3d 822. When addressing a challenge to the constitutionality of a statute, "we presume the statute to be constitutional, resolving any reasonable doubts in favor of constitutionality." Univ. of Utah v. Shurtleff , 2006 UT 51, ¶ 30, 144 P.3d 1109 (citation omitted).

¶9 Before we reach that question, however, we need to address the City’s contention that we lack jurisdiction to hear Maese’s argument. The City argues we cannot address the question because Utah Code section 78A-7-118(8) limits appeals from justice court to a trial de novo in district court unless the district court rules on the constitutionality of a statute or ordinance. Questions concerning our jurisdiction are questions of law that we review for correctness. Ameritemps, Inc. v. Utah Labor Comm’n , 2007 UT 8, ¶ 6, 152 P.3d 298.

¶10 Second, Maese posits that Utah Code section 77-1-6(2)(e) and Utah Rule of Criminal Procedure 17(d) are unconstitutional because they deny him the jury trial promised by article I, sections 10 and 12 of the Utah Constitution. "We presume the statute is constitutional, and we ‘resolve any reasonable doubts in favor of constitutionality.’ " Brown v. Cox , 2017 UT 3, ¶ 11, 387 P.3d 1040 (citation omitted). "Whether a statute is constitutional presents a question of law," id. , that we review for correctness, see Hernandez , 2011 UT 70, ¶ 3, 268 P.3d 822.

ANALYSIS
I. We Lack Jurisdiction to Hear Maese’s Challenge to the Prosecutorial Practice of Amending Misdemeanor Charges to Infractions

¶11 Maese first argues that prosecutors violate the Utah Constitution when they charge as an infraction a crime the Legislature designates as a misdemeanor.2 Maese avers that because "only the legislature can define crimes and their penalties," prosecutors act outside their constitutional authority when they assign a lesser penalty to charged conduct. Maese contends that "no statement of law or legal principle" permits prosecutors to exercise the legislative power of "designat[ing] an offense’s penalty."3

¶12 Maese raises an intriguing question that we do not have jurisdiction to address. The City rightly points to the jurisdictional limits Utah Code section 78A-7-118(8) imposes on us. That section allows a defendant to appeal the decision of a district court’s review of a justice court matter only when the district court rules on the constitutionality of a statute or ordinance. UTAH CODE § 78A-7-118(8) ("The decision of the district court [on appeal from the justice court] is final and may not be appealed unless the district court rules on the constitutionality of a statute or ordinance.").

¶13 Maese does not challenge a statute that permits prosecutors to do what the City did here: amend charges to lower the level of the charged crime. Indeed, it does not appear that this practice enjoys any statutory authorization whatsoever. So Maese is left challenging a practice that is apparently justified by notions of prosecutorial discretion.4 Because Maese does not challenge the constitutionality of a statute or ordinance, we do not have jurisdiction over this issue on direct appeal.

¶14 This does not mean, however, that Maese—or someone in his position—is without a mechanism to press that argument. As the court of appeals has recognized, a petition for extraordinary relief under Utah Rule of Civil Procedure 65B can be the procedurally correct avenue to challenge an alleged violation that occurred in justice court that does not involve the constitutionality of a statute or ordinance. See Smith v. Hruby-Mills , 2016 UT App 159, ¶¶ 5–6, 380 P.3d 349 ; Vorher v. Henriod , 2011 UT App 199, ¶¶ 7–8, 262 P.3d 42 ; see also UTAH R. CIV. P. 65B. Because Maese has not petitioned for a writ for extraordinary relief, we cannot address his argument without running afoul of the statute limiting our jurisdiction over justice court appeals.

II. The Utah Constitution Does Not Guarantee a Jury Trial for Maese’s Traffic Violations

¶15 Maese next argues that "any Utah statute or procedural rule denying the right of a jury trial in prosecutions for infractions is unconstitutional." Specifically, he argues that Utah Code section 77-1-6(2)(e) and Utah Rule of Criminal Procedure 17(d) are unconstitutional because they exclude infractions from the right to a jury trial.

¶16 Utah Code section 77-1-6 lists the rights of defendants and includes among them that "[n]o person shall be convicted unless by verdict of a jury, or upon a plea of guilty or no contest, or upon a judgment of a court when trial by jury has been waived or, in case of an infraction, upon a judgment by a magistrate." UTAH CODE § 77-1-6(2)(e). Utah Rule of Criminal Procedure 17(d) states "No jury shall be allowed in the trial of an infraction." Maese contends that this statute and rule do not comply with the requirements set forth in article I, section 12 of the Utah Constitution.

¶17 Article I, section 12 of the Utah Constitution provides that "[i]n criminal prosecutions the accused shall have the right ... to have a speedy public trial by an impartial jury." Maese argues that the meaning of this section is plain in that it "guarantees the right to jury trials in all criminal cases, including prosecutions for infractions."5

¶18 When we interpret constitutional language, we start with the meaning of the text as understood when it was adopted. See Zimmerman v. Univ. of Utah , 2018 UT 1, ¶ 25, 417 P.3d 78 ; Neese v. Utah Bd. of Pardons & Parole , 2017 UT 89, ¶¶ 67, 96, 416 P.3d 663 ; Am. Bush v. City of South Salt Lake , 2006 UT 40, ¶¶ 10, 16, 140 P.3d 1235. "[I]n interpreting the Utah Constitution, prior case law guides us to analyze its text, historical evidence of the state of the law when it was drafted, and Utah’s particular traditions at the time of drafting." Am. Bush , 2006 UT 40, ¶ 12, 140 P.3d 1235.

¶19 There is no magic formula for this analysis—different sources will be more or less persuasive depending on the constitutional question and the content of those sources. See State v. Tiedemann , 2007 UT 49, ¶ 37, 162 P.3d 1106. ("[W]e reject the State’s suggestion in its brief that there is a formula of some kind for adequate framing and briefing of state constitutional issues."). We use these sources to discern the original public meaning of the text. Neese , 2017 UT 89, ¶ 67, 416 P.3d 663 ("[T]his court should look to the original meaning of the Utah Constitution when properly confronted with constitutional issues."); Am. Bush , 2006 UT 40, ¶ 12, 140 P.3d 1235 ("The goal of this analysis is to discern the intent and purpose of both the drafters of our constitution and, more importantly,...

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12 cases
  • Patterson v. State
    • United States
    • Utah Supreme Court
    • August 26, 2021
    ...the text and "start with the meaning of the text as understood when it was adopted." S. Salt Lake City v. Maese , 2019 UT 58, ¶¶ 18, 23, 450 P.3d 1092. And "our focus is on the objective original public meaning of the text, not the intent of those who wrote it." Id. ¶ 19 n.6. We have noted ......
  • State v. Soto
    • United States
    • Utah Supreme Court
    • June 24, 2022
    ...provisions control the meaning of identical provisions in the Utah Constitution.’ " S. Salt Lake City v. Maese , 2019 UT 58, ¶ 27, 450 P.3d 1092 (citation omitted). Indeed, this court has "not hesitated to interpret the provisions of the Utah Constitution to provide more expansive protectio......
  • State v. Soto
    • United States
    • Utah Supreme Court
    • February 17, 2022
    ...provisions control the meaning of identical provisions in the Utah Constitution.'" S. Salt Lake City v. Maese, 2019 UT 58, ¶ 27, 450 P.3d 1092 (citation omitted). Indeed, this court has hesitated to interpret the provisions of the Utah Constitution to provide more expansive protections than......
  • Patterson v. State
    • United States
    • Utah Supreme Court
    • August 26, 2021
    ...the text and "start with the meaning of the text as understood when it was adopted." S. Salt Lake City v. Maese, 2019 UT 58, ¶¶ 18, 23, 450 P.3d 1092. And "our is on the objective original public meaning of the text, not the intent of those who wrote it." Id. ¶ 19 n.6. We have noted that th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Article, Use of Historical Evidence in the Utah Courts
    • United States
    • Utah State Bar Utah Bar Journal No. 33-6, December 2020
    • Invalid date
    ...flow from that single fact is not a recipe for sound constitutional interpretation. S. Salt Lake City v. Maese, 2019 UT 58, ¶¶ 18–20, 450 P.3d 1092 (emphasis added) (internal quotation, alteration, and citations omitted). A recent case, Mitchell v. Roberts, 2020 UT 34, 469 P.3d 901, involve......

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