State v. Smith, 2014 UT 33 (Aug. 26, 2014)
Aug 26, 2014
The Utah Supreme Court held that while it is error for a district court to accept a guilty plea without holding a preliminary hearing or obtaining an express waiver from the defendant of the right to a preliminary hearing, that error does not deprive the court of subject matter jurisdiction. The defendant, who entered a guilty plea without a preliminary hearing or having waived a preliminary hearing, argued that the failure of a district court to bind over a defendant following a preliminary hearing or express waiver of the right to a preliminary hearing is jurisdictional. The court rejected this argument for two reasons. First, the case on which the defendant relied was decided under a prior jurisdictional framework, and intervening large-scale structural changes to Utah’s district court system rendered it inapplicable. In July 1996, the legislature merged the former circuit court into the district court and gave the district court jurisdiction over all matters previously filed in the circuit court. Under the current framework, in criminal cases, the information is now always filed directly with the district court. Second, district courts have broad subject matter jurisdiction over criminal cases, and neither the Utah Constitution nor the Utah Code makes that jurisdiction contingent upon a preliminary hearing, its waiver, or a bindover order.