State of Utah v. Victor Hernandez

2011 UT 16
Filed March 29, 2011

Hernandez was charged by information with four Class A misdemeanors. Hernandez filed a request for a preliminary hearing. The district court denied his request. The Utah Supreme Court reversed and held that a defendant charged with a Class A misdemeanor is entitled to a preliminary hearing.

In reaching its holding, the Supreme Court analyzed article I, section 13 of the Utah Constitution, which reads:
[o]ffenses heretofore required to be prosecuted by indictment, shall be prosecuted by information after examination and commitment by a magistrate, unless the examination be waived by the accused with the consent of the State, or by indictment, with or without such examination and commitment.” UTAH CONST. art. I, § 13 (emphases
added).

The Supreme Court reasoned:

  • The plain meaning of the phrase “offenses heretofore” is any crime, whether a felony or misdemeanor, that up until the time of the adoption of the Utah Constitution was require to be prosecuted by indictment.
  • Before the adoption of the Utah Constitution, Utah was governed by territorial law, which extended the right to prosecution by indictment for felonies to misdemeanors punishable by more than six months in jail.
  • “Indictable Offenses” includes Class A misdemeanors because under territorial law any offense punishable by six months or more in jail was prosecuted by indictment. This protection was extended to all who were facing imprisonment of more than six months, regardless of the specific crime.
  • “Examination and commitment” means a preliminary hearing because:
    • “Examination” means the questioning of a witness under oath, which is inconsistent with a probable cause determination for an arrest warrant made by a magistrate reviewing an affidavit.
    • A defendant is not involved in a magistrate’s review, thus there would be no opportunity for the defendant to waive the examination.
    • The probable cause determination made during a pretrial is distinct from and more in depth than what is required for issuing an arrest warrant
    • A preliminary hearing is comparable to the examination required under territorial law because both contemplate examination of witnesses and presentation of evidence.

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