Is the System Broken? Salt Lake Sexual Assault Victim’s Trial Rescheduled 5 Times
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Cheryl Stout thought she did everything right after reporting her sexual assault in 2011. It wasn’t until 2017 that charges were filed in Salt Lake County’s 3rd District Court.
Since then her trial date has been rescheduled five times. Now she is left with the question ‘was it even worth reporting?’
“At this point, I am regretting my decision,” Stout said. “I am so sick of being just a number on a list.”
Stout says lately, time with her daughter has been interrupted by the stresses of the delays in her case.
“It has been hard because I feel like a bad mom,” she said. “I’m not doing what I should be doing as a mother.”
She said those inadequate feelings stem from dealing with a sexual assault that happened eight years ago.
“The person was a stranger. It was one of those things that people were there and saw,” she said.
The night it happened she went to the hospital to get a rape kit done. She reported it to police, but years went by and nothing happened. No arrests. No charges filed. So she gave police a call.
“I called about two years after it happened saying ‘where is my case at’ and they were like ‘well it’s not tested yet’,” she said.
Stout was one of hundreds of victims in Utah whose rape kits were shelved and never tested. That changed in 2017 when lawmakers passed a bill that funded testing the kits, including Cheryl’s.
“I got the call that they had arrested the guy that had sexually assaulted me and that they were going to move forward with the case,” Stout said.
Soon after charges were filed and a trial date was set for January 2018, but that is when things got complicated.
The state filed a motion saying they were not ready to go to trial and a new date was set for May 2018.
The defense then filed a motion saying they also needed more time and pushed the trial to November 2018.
The state filed another motion because witnesses were not available.
A fourth trial date was set for March 2019, but it was rescheduled to April because it was bumped by a higher priority case.
A last-minute motion from the state has now set the trial for the end of July.
Stout said the delays have taken a toll on her.
“I have been putting things on hold. I have not been doing the things that I want to be doing because this is just weighing on my mind,” she said.
She’s not alone
Stephany Murguia with the Rape Recovery Center said Stout was not alone.
“Delays are pretty standard,” Murguia said. “Every time that a survivor receives a summons or court date that is going to bring up those feelings those flashbacks of those emotions.”
Murguia said it is her role to prepare victims for the long road ahead.
“What we are seeing is that as courts have more and more cases, those delays just grow and grow.”
There are nearly 75 unresolved rape cases in Salt Lake County with charges going back to 2014. Some of the incidents happened years before that. Many cases have warrants out for the defendant’s arrest and cannot move forward until they are caught.
District Attorney Sim Gill said the reason has to do with if the defendant is incarcerated at the time of the trial.
“The breakdown generally happens when those who have felonies and are incarcerated, and being that their liberty interest is being impacted, that they take a higher priority than somebody who is not incarcerated,” Gill said.
Gill said since the defendant in Stout’s case was out on bail, it was bumped by another one where its defendant was behind bars. He said this practice could be avoided by having more judges to take the cases.
“I think the court has to certainly recognize that the choices that it’s making and the ways that it is trying to manage this is really having collateral disproportionate impact,” he said. “Maybe we have to figure out a better way.”
KSL reached out to the Utah State Courts to see if they stand by the way the manage cases and got this response:
The number of cases force judges to stack cases on the same trial date with the expectation that some will resolve before they go to trial.
In the Third District, we see over 10,000 felony cases filed each year. We have 26 trial court judges in Third District. Setting each case for one trial date would result in empty trial days, which is wasted time.”
So, we don’t disagree with Sim Gill’s assertion that we don’t have enough judges. Our statewide caseload analysis shows that we need 7.5 more judges.
State lawmakers are in charge of getting funding for more judges.
Sen. Todd Weiler says just this past session he got a bill passed to add two more judges to the nearly 130 in the state.
“It’s expensive because it’s not just adding judges is adding staff and sometimes a court room,” he said. “It’s a juggle because every dollar we spend on an additional judge is a dollar we can’t spend on school teachers, or roads and so we are constantly juggling that. I think we don’t always get it right but we can always come back the next year.”
He hopes to do add more judges during the next legislative session to fill the 5.5 more spots.
KSL will be following how lawmakers prioritize this issue in the upcoming legislative session.
Stout is looking forward to her trial set for the end of July.