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Utah Rule 23 - Mental Illness and Motions to Arrest Judgment

Can mental illness serve as the basis for a motion to arrest judgment in a criminal case?

Rule 23 of the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that a trial court can enter an order arresting judgment in a felony or misdemeanor case "if the facts proved or admitted do not constitute a public offense, or the defendant is mentally ill, or there is other good cause for arrest of judgment." Issues relating to mental illness in criminal cases are commonly raised in the context of a competency evaluation. But they can also serve as the basis for an order to arrest judgment.

What constitutes "mental illness" under Utah law?

The term "mental illness" has different meanings in different contexts under Utah law. Rule 23 of the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure does not give a definition for the term. However, Utah appellate court decisions suggest that not all mental illness will satisfy the requirements of Rule 23 or support a motion to arrest judgment.

In 1988, the Utah Supreme Court in the case of State v. Cantu, 750 P.2d 591, addressed the appellant's contention that the trial court had erred in denying the motion to arrest judgment following his conviction at jury trial. The Supreme Court observed that although the doctor examining the defendant had found him to be suffering from some kind of mental illness, the doctor nevertheless found that the defendant had a full appreciation of the nature and consequences of the sentencing process, and that the defendant had been able to comprehend the nature of the proceedings at trial and had been able to assist his attorney in preparing his defense. In other words, the doctor found that the defendant was competent to proceed to sentencing, and had been competent at the time of trial.

It logically flows from the Supreme Court's reasoning that a person must be found to have been incompetent at the time of trial (or at the time of a plea) in order for mental illness to serve as the basis for a motion to arrest judgment.

Who makes the motion to arrest judgment?

Most often, a motion to arrest judgment would be made by the defense. However, if there are facts or information that are readily apparent to the judge, the court may "upon its own initiative" (or "sua sponte") enter an order to arrest judgment.

When can a motion to arrest judgment be made?

A motion to arrest judgment must be made before sentence is imposed. If a motion to arrest judgment is not made prior to sentencing, then the trial court loses jurisdiction to hear the issue.

In some cases, the issues that would have been involved in a motion to arrest judgment may still be addressed on direct appeal. However, in other cases, filing a motion to arrest judgment prior to sentencing is necessary to create a record and preserve the issues for appellate review. The best practice is to file a motion to arrest judgment if there are facts or issues that support such a motion, and not to just rely on the direct appeal process.

What is the effect of an order arresting judgment in a Utah criminal case?

A trial court has several options in entering an order arresting judgment. The court may order that the defendant be taken into custody and held until a new trial is conducted. The court may also enter a judgment of acquittal (essentially dismissing the case). In some cases, jeopardy may have attached in a way that prevents retrial on the original charges. Rule 23 also provides the court with relatively broad discretion to enter "any other order as may be just and proper under the circumstances."

How do I find a Utah criminal defense attorney in Salt Lake City?

Utah Criminal Defense LawyerIf you are facing criminal charges in Utah, it is vital to have the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Based in Salt Lake City, criminal lawyer Stephen Howard has handled thousands of serious felony and misdemeanor cases during his career.

Contact us today to arrange for an initial confidential consultation.

Full Text of Rule 23, Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure

"At any time prior to the imposition of sentence, the court upon its own initiative may, or upon motion of a defendant shall, arrest judgment if the facts proved or admitted do not constitute a public offense, or the defendant is mentally ill, or there is other good cause for the arrest of judgment. Upon arresting judgment the court may, unless a judgment of acquittal of the offense charged is entered or jeopardy has attached, order a commitment until the defendant is charged anew or retried, or may enter any other order as may be just and proper under the circumstances."*

*Note that procedural rules are changed by the courts with some degree of frequency. The information provided on this website is believed to be accurate at the time of original publication. If you are facing criminal prosecution in Utah, consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney is strongly advised.


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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

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In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
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