Professor Paul Cassell wins second Utah Supreme Court case in favor of crime victim’s rights

Jun 09, 2023 | Faculty

Professor Paul CassellThe Utah Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of the argument Professor Paul Cassell advanced in the case F.L. v. Utah Court of Appeals, representing the petitioner F.L. After hearing from the victim, the Supreme Court rejected a defendant’s efforts to gain access to confidential sexual assault counseling records.

The case involves efforts by a defendant who was convicted of sexually abusing F.L. when she was a child. In preparation for his defense, the defendant sought to have the trial court release to him F.L.’s confidential mental health counseling records. The court provided the defendant with limited access to portions of a few of the records, but generally held that the vast bulk of the records should be kept under seal and confidential. The defendant then appealed to the Utah Court of Appeals, which released the records to the defendant and his defense counsel without notice or opportunity for F.L. to be heard.

Along with the Utah Crime Victims’ Legal Clinic and through the Utah Appellate Project at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, Cassell filed a motion to intervene to be heard in opposition to release of the records, and to have the records be retained under seal.  But the Court of Appeals concluded that F.L. was not entitled to intervene in a criminal case, and she was instead remitted to mere amicus (“friend of the court”) participation in the proceedings regarding the sealing of her records.

In summer 2021, Cassell filed a petition for extraordinary relief in the Utah Supreme Court for F.L., and in April 2022 he argued the case before the court. The Supreme Court granted Cassell’s petition on July 7, 2022, agreeing with F.L. that the Court of Appeals erred in restricting her “merely to kibitz from the sidelines about what is happening to her records.” Instead, the Supreme Court argued, F.L. was entitled to be heard in court proceedings regarding her confidential records. The court held that, as a general matter, “if the law gives crime victims the ability to proactively assert a right or seek a remedy, then they may enforce those specific rights as limited-purpose parties in criminal proceedings.”

Read more about the 2022 Utah Supreme Court ruling in this Salt Lake Tribune article: