Douglas Stewart Carter v. State of Utah

2012 UT 69


Filed October 5, 2012

A man convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death was not eligible for post-conviction relief because he did not show that the outcome of his case was prejudiced by ineffective assistance of his criminal defense attorney.

Mr. Carter was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1985 murder of Eva Oleson. Subsequently, Mr. Carter appeared before the Provo district court, the U.S. District Court for the State of Utah, and the Utah Supreme Court on numerous occasions both on direct appeal and on motions for post-conviction relief. During that time he was represented by a variety of different criminal defense attorneys. Most recently Mr. Carter’s state- appointed criminal defense lawyer filed the petition for post-conviction relief that is the subject of this case in January 2006. This criminal defense attorney then withdrew and was replaced by two criminal defense lawyers from Arizona who were admitted pro hac vice to practice law in Utah.

At the hearing on the petition for post-conviction relief, Mr. Carter’s new criminal defense attorneys orally requested a six month stay to review and rebrief the petition. The district court did not explicitly reject this request but implicitly rejected it by saying that the ruling on the motion would be issued within “somewhere between 60 and 90 days.” Three months later the district court dismissed Mr. Carter’s petition for post-conviction relief. Mr. Carter and his criminal defense lawyers appealed the implied denial of their motion for a stay to the Utah Supreme Court. The Utah Supreme Court ruled that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the motion because Mr. Carter’s criminal defense attorneys never articulated, either at the district court or the supreme court level, what they could have accomplished during the requested six months.

Mr. Carter and his criminal defense lawyers also appealed the Utah district court’s dismissal of his petition for post-conviction relief. In his petition, Mr. Carter had requested relief on the grounds that his previous criminal defense attorney was ineffective. The Utah Post-Conviction Relief Act does not allow any claims that were raised or could have been raised at trial, on appeal, or any previous request for post-conviction relief. Mr. Carter and his criminal defense lawyers argued that Mr. Hurst’s case was subject to common law exceptions to these rules under the Utah Supreme Court case Hurst v. Cook, 777 P.2d 1029 (Utah 1989). Hurst has since been superseded by Utah statute, but is applicable to Mr. Hurst’s case because it was good law at the time Mr. Carter filed his petition. The Utah Supreme Court held that the Hurst exceptions did not apply to Mr. Carter’s case because Mr. Carter and his criminal defense attorneys did not make a threshold showing that the previously unaddressed claims were not withheld for tactical reasons. The only remaining claim in Mr. Carter’s petition for post-conviction relief was a claim for ineffective assistance of his post-conviction criminal defense

attorney. This claim was not subject to any of the procedural bars because by definition if could not have been raised before Mr. Carter’s most recent petition. If there had been other claims that could have been raised if not for ineffective assistance of counsel, those would not have been barred. Mr. Carter argued that his former post-conviction criminal defense lawyer was ineffective for failing to further investigate circumstances which could have mitigated his death sentence. The Utah Supreme Court ruled that while it might have been possible for the former post-conviction criminal defense lawyer to more thoroughly investigate mitigating circumstances, Mr. Carter did not show that but for this error the result in his case would have been different.

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