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Utah Criminal Defense - Flight

A jury in a Utah criminal trial can be instructed that they may consider evidence of a defendant's flight (fleeing the scene) as an indicator that the defendant was aware or conscious of his own guilt. However fleeing a crime scene is not conclusive proof of guilt and should not be presented that way. If you are facing criminal prosecution in Utah, an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help ensure that your right to a fair trial is protected. Contact us to see what the right attorney can do for you.

Flight as Evidence of Guilt

Utah courts often give a flight instruction in two separate but related contexts. One involves a defendant who flees the scene of a crime directly following the commission of a crime. The other involves a defendant who flees upon learning that he has been accused of a crime. Flight from the scene of a crime can involve relatively short distances and time periods, such as exiting a building, running down the block, or getting in a car and driving away. Flight after being accused of a crime can also involve longer distances and extended periods of time, such as a defendant who "hides out" at a friends house and refuses to return home to his regular residence, or purchasing a one-way ticket and flying to a foreign country that does not have an extradition agreement with the United States.

Criminal Defense Salt Lake - Davis - OgdenThe Model Utah Jury Instructions (MUJI 2d) includes two separate stock instructions that address flight as evidence of a defendant's consciousness of his own guilt. But both of these jury instructions include language that informs the jury that there may also be reasons to flee that are consistent with innocence. Flight, by itself, should never be treated as conclusive proof of guilt.

Rule 404 of the Utah Rules of Evidence deals generally with evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts committed by a defendant or other witness. While evidence of flight could be considered to be an act separate from the commission of the crime itself, Utah courts have generally not determined the admissibility of flight evidence under a Rule 404 analysis. Instead, the admissibility of evidence of flight has its roots in common law. Historically, flight was considered to be such strong evidence of guilt that it was treated sometimes as being the equivalent of a confession. More modern court analysis recognizes that there may be innocent explanations for flight.

In analyzing the admissibility of evidence of flight, it may be necessary to first determine whether the alleged facts properly support the prosecutor's claim of flight. Not all travel or movement away from the scene of an alleged crime should necessarily be considered. Assume a hypothetical scenario involving a person accused of committing a burglary in Salt Lake City. Assume that one week after the burglary is alleged to have occurred, the defendant learns that he has been accused of the crime. Consider next the following four alternative scenarios in which the defendant later the same day: (1) drives from Salt Lake City to Sandy where he visits his parents; (2) drives from Salt Lake City to St. George where he visits a friend from college; (3) begins driving to California, but is stopped and arrested by police in Mesquite, Nevada; or (4) drives to the local post office and begins the process of obtaining a passport.

Each of the scenarios listed above contain elements that could be viewed as consistent with "flight." But each of the scenarios also contain elements that are completely consistent with ordinary life activities. Distinguishing between ordinary travel or movements and evasive flight can be critical to defending against a prosecutor's "flight" argument.

Utah Rule of Evidence 403 may also provide a basis to argue for the exclusion of evidence of flight. Rule 403 provides in relevant part that a court "may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, [etc.]."

Finding a Criminal Defense Attorney in Utah

Salt Lake Criminal Defense AttorneyWhether you intend to take your case all the way to jury trial or hope to work out a negotiated resolution, having the right criminal defense attorney can make all the difference. With a track record that includes real results in some of the most serious charges on the books in Utah, we have the experience, knowledge, and determination to help you achieve the results you need. Contact us today to see how the right attorney can help you.


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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

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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