A defense attorney on Monday asked the Utah Supreme Court to allow him to question a 15-year-old girl at a preliminary hearing in the case of a man accused of sexually abusing the teen.
Joshua Baron, the attorney for the defendant, wants the court to overturn a 4th District judge’s ruling that the girl did not have to testify at a July 2016 preliminary hearing. Baron argued he had the right to elicit information from the alleged victim at that hearing, not just at a trial, which has been on hold while the appeal has been pending.
But Utah Assistant Solicitor General Tera Peterson noted the judge ruled at the conclusion of the preliminary hearing that there was enough evidence to bind the case over for trial. And because that bindover ruling was not appealed, she said, the appeal before the Utah Supreme Court is moot.
Peterson also said that under the state’s Victims’ Right Amendment, victims have the right not to be called to the stand in a preliminary hearing unless their testimony is needed. There was enough probable cause without the testimony, she said, for the case to advance to trial.
Justice Deno Himonas questioned whether the girl’s testimony would have affected the bindover decision and pointed out that the judge had as evidence a videotaped interview of the girl about the alleged abuse conducted by a child psychologist at the Children’s Justice Center.
But Baron said the defense should have the opportunity to question the girl at a preliminary hearing.
The justices took the case under advisement.
Baron previously has said he has issues with the way the video interview was conducted. He also has said he needs to ask the girl questions to assess her credibility — which is the entire basis of the prosecution because there is no physical evidence — and will try to be “sensitive and nonconfrontational.”
The man accused of molesting the girl was arrested and charged in January 2016 with 10 counts of first-degree felony aggravated sexual abuse of a child. That summer, seven of the counts were dismissed at the preliminary hearing.
Several victims’ rights organization have filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the appeal in support of the girl. The brief says Utah voters approved the Victims’ Rights Amendment in 1994 to protect child victims, among other reasons.
The alleged victim, identified in a previous Tribune story by the pseudonym Rose, said she is scared to testify, and that sitting in front of her abuser would be traumatic.
“It’s plain wrong and cruel,” she said. “I don’t want to relive that.”
The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify victims of sexual assault, and is not identifying the defendant in the case so as to not unintentionally identify the girl.