The Utah Supreme Court has overturned the 1984 drug racketeering conviction of an Ogden man and vacated an earlier order requiring him to forfeit his convenience store to the state.
The high court ruled that Steven A. Bell was not given a sufficiently detailed notice of the charges against him to enable him to prepare a proper defense.Justices also questioned why Weber County attorneys were so "uncooperative" about providing Bell a bill of particulars outlining specific charges against him.
Donald Hughes was county attorney at the time.
The opinion noted the county refused to provide the specifics until ordered to do so by the court. Even then, the bill of particulars still was vague and inadequate to ensure Bell could properly defend himself, the justices ruled.
The phrasing of the bill of particulars and the state's behavior throughout the pretrial proceedings reflected a degree of belligerence that "is plainly inappropriate prosecutorial conduct," the high court said.
Bell's conviction in 1984 had marked the first successful prosecution under Utah's racketeering law, which was modeled after the federal Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act. The law provides for seizure of property used in connection with criminal activity.
Second District Judge Douglas L Cornaby sentenced Bell to a one-to-15-year prison term, but Bell appealed and received a stay of sentence.
He was allowed to post a bond and continue as owner and operator of Bell's Mini Merc in Ogden.
Chief Deputy Weber County Attorney William Daines said Wednesday he has heard the case had been remanded for a new trial, but said he had not read the court's ruling.
"We'll have to take a look at it when it comes back and see why it was remanded," he said. "The case will be reset for trial, but we will still have to look at where the evidence is and where the witnesses are. Then we'll decide if it can be tried a second time."
The case was tried by Hughes and no one on the current prosecutorial staff worked directly on the case, Daines said.
Bell was one of 18 people indicted by a Weber County grand jury after police seized a large amount of cocaine from the Ogden home of Molly Kingston.
Kingston and seven others pleaded guilty to drug trafficking while Bell and most of the remaining defendants were tried and convicted on various charges.