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New trial ordered over I-15 traffic stop in part because a retired UHP trooper was on the jury

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Court of Appeals has overturned a man’s conviction in part because a retired Utah Highway Patrol trooper served on the jury that convicted him.

In a ruling issued late Saturday night, a three judge panel of the state appeals court ordered a new trial for Abisai Martinez-Castellanos, largely on the issue of the retired trooper sitting on the jury and the perception that it violated his right to a fair trial. The court was also critical of a lack of recording of the juror questioning in the judge’s chambers, a motion to suppress evidence and the defense attorney’s failure to provide adequate counsel.

Martinez-Castellanos was stopped on I-15 near Nephi in 2010, where he was arrested after his vehicle was searched for drugs. At his trial, a retired UHP trooper was put on the jury, even after he disclosed that he knew the state’s lone witness, the trooper who arrested Martinez-Castellanos. The juror told the lawyers he could be impartial.

“We believe that such a breakdown in the adversarial process happened here. When we consider together trial counsel’s deficient performance during voir dire and his complete failure to offer any analytical support for the motion to suppress, the effective denial of counsel that occurred in post-trial proceedings, and the trial court’s own concerns regarding juror bias and the suppression motion, our confidence that a fair trial occurred here is significantly shaken,” Judge Stephen Roth wrote.

In his own opinion, Judge Gregory Orme identified the juror and discussed his record as a UHP trooper.

“To be clear, the formidable Sergeant (Paul) Mangelson was a very effective warrior on the Utah front of the war on drugs,” the judge wrote, adding that he had numerous drug cases and arrests, as well as traffic stops that never went to trial.

“But contrary to defense counsel’s expressed view, Sergeant Mangelson was not necessarily an expert on the Fourth Amendment or well versed in its requirements.”

Judge Orme blasted Martinez-Castellano’s defense attorney and the trial court judge for not objecting to Mangelson being selected as a juror.

“In a case like this one, Sergeant Mangelson’s impartiality could, to put it mildly, be reasonably questioned, and it was inexcusable for defense counsel not to have moved that Sergeant Mangelson be excused for cause, a motion that would have been granted without the trial judge batting an eye,” Judge Orme wrote.

“Indeed, extraordinary though it is, I would go so far as to say that the trial court plainly erred in not striking Sergeant Mangelson from the venire on its own motion, if it came to that, so obvious was his unsuitability to serve on the jury in this case.”

The ruling said Martinez-Castellano was sentenced to serve up to five years in prison.

Read the ruling here: