The Utah Supreme Court has remanded a child-abuse case for trial, overturning a lower-court ruling that the charges filed were not specific enough for the plaintiff to adequately defend himself.
State prosecutors had appealed the dismissal by 4th District Judge Boyd Park in the case involving the alleged abuse of a girl born in 1984 over a 32-month period between January 1985 and September 1987 by her maternal grandfather.The state had charged Ray Wilcox with one count of sodomy on a child and one count of sexual abuse of a child. Both charges were dismissed by the trial court.
The decision to dismiss the charges was made, the Supreme Court's opinion stated, "not on the ground that the state had failed to provide the best information it had, but that the filed information denied him his right to adequate notice of the charges against him, as guaranteed by the Utah Constitution."
The trial court found that 32 months "is too broad a time period to allow a defendant an opportunity to determine if he has an adequate defense such as an alibi."
But in an opinion released Monday, four of the Supreme Court justices agreed the decision should be reversed and the case sent back to district court for trial.
The opinion written for the majority by Justice Michael Zimmerman stated, "it is doubtful that an alibi defense is a realistic possibility because Wilcox had continual contact with the child half of the time over the 32-month period."
The majority opinion concluded that the defendant "received constitutionally adequate notice of the charged offense. His ability to prepare a defense was not unduly impaired, and the lack of specificity does not place him in danger of multiple prosecutions for the same crime."
Justice I. Daniel Stewart wrote in his dissenting opinion that "it is unconscionable to allow the state to place a defendant in such a position as Wilcox finds himself."
Stewart said the majority opinion "focuses solely on the difficulties presented to the prosecution in dealing with a very young child and gives no real weight to the constitutional right of fair notice."
According to the opinion, the victim split her time during the 32 months in question between her maternal and paternal grandparents after her own mother and father separated.
The opinion stated her paternal grandparents took her to the Intermountain Sexual Abuse Treatment Center in the fall of 1987, where she allegedly mentioned incidents of sexual abuse.
Referring to testimony from a therapist and psychologist at the preliminary hearing in the case, the opinion stated the victim was "very reluctant to discuss the abuse and that she had named `Grandpa Wilcox' as the abuser."