On an early September morning in 2012, Carl Holm was speeding to work.
He swerved his blue minivan in and out of lanes, a witness later reported to police, hitting speeds of up to 100 mph as he zoomed along Bangerter Highway. Holm then sped through an intersection and smashed head-on into a brown Honda Accord.
Francisco Ramirez was in the front passenger seat of the Accord. He died on the roadway that morning.
Salt Lake County prosecutors believed Holm’s actions were criminal, and they charged him with class A misdemeanor negligent homicide. A jury agreed in 2015 and found Holm guilty.
He spent a year behind bars — the maximum penalty allowed — before the Utah Court of Appeals reversed his conviction, finding problems with how the jury was selected.
Prosecutors are again gearing up for a trial, despite the fact that Holm, if again convicted, can’t face any more jail time. A four-day trial, which will include testimony from expert witnesses, is expected to begin Monday.
Holm’s defense attorney, Amy Powers, said she questions why prosecutors would spend the time and money to try to get a conviction in a case where no further punishment can be sought.
“This case concerns me,” she said, “in that this is already a tragedy, where a young man lost his life. However, my client also spent a year in jail as a result of this tragedy.”
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said this case isn’t just about the number of days Holm can spend in jail. It’s about accountability.
“I have a victim who died and lost his life,” Gill said. “Whether he serves three days in jail or 365 days or whatever, that’s not going to return [Ramirez] or address the harm that he’s caused.”
Because Holm won’t plead guilty to the crime, Gill said, prosecutors have little choice other than to take the case to trial once more, forcing him to take ownership of his actions.
“Somebody might say that’s a waste of resources,” Gill said. “It is not a waste of resources for that family.”
If Holm is found guilty again, he’ll have a misdemeanor conviction entered on his record. Nothing else will happen.
Because of this, Powers said she’s puzzled why the district attorney’s office would put so much effort into a second trial, where they are expected to call nearly a dozen witnesses.
“I don’t understand the motivation to use the resources of the district attorney’s office on a four-day trial wherein there cannot be any punishment,” she said. “With the vast number of cases seen in the court, and the resources needed for those, I cannot comprehend why this case, without any repercussions, has taken such a priority for taxpayers’ dollars.”
Holm’s conviction was reversed in 2017, after the appeals court found that the judge at trial should have allowed follow-up questioning of potential jurors on specific questions.
During questioning of a pool of about 30 prospective jurors, 3rd District Judge Katie Bernards-Goodman had asked if any of them had personally been involved in a serious car crash and a third said they had, court documents say. When asked if anyone close to them has been involved in a serious car accident, again approximately a third responded they had.
Holm’s trial attorney wanted to individually question all prospective jurors who had answered yes to either question, but Bernards-Goodman limited that questioning only to those who said the experience might affect their ability to be fair and impartial. Four indicated they might feel bias, according to court documents.
None of the four ended up on the jury, but a majority of the jurors selected had been involved or knew someone who had been involved in a serious accident, the court documents say.
The appeals court ruled that the judge erred. Without the ability to ask those follow-up questions, the court ruled, it left Holm’s attorney without the necessary information to ferret out which jurors might be biased.