Idaho Law Expert Explains Why Some Charges Against Vallow, Daybell May Have Been Dismissed
REXBURG, Idaho — Prosecutors have dropped some lesser charges against Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell in the deaths of Tylee Ryan and JJ Vallow.
The move to dismiss the charges surprised many, but without hearing from prosecutors, it’s hard to know why they did it. But a distinguished law expert from Idaho told KSL-TV that it could be for a number of reasons, adding that most commonly, the strategy has to do with any of three things — simplification, evidence or part of the negotiation process with the defense.
In June 2020, Chad Daybell was arrested after the children’s bodies were found in his backyard.
He was charged with four felony counts — including two felony counts of destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence and two counts of conspiracy to commit concealment, alteration of destruction of evidence.
Each count carries a punishment of up to five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
Lori Vallow-Daybell was already behind bars at the time.
She was arrested in Hawaii in Feb. 2020 under suspicion of several charges, including two felony counts of desertion and nonsupport of her two children.
Prosecutors later charged her with two felony counts of conspiracy to commit concealment, alteration of destruction of evidence.
While prosecutors dropped the June 2020 charges, they’re sticking with the recent charges related to the murders of Tylee Ryan and JJ Vallow, as well as Tammy Daybell.
In Lori Vallow’s case, her charges from Feb. 2020 also remain.
During Chad Daybell’s initial appearance on May 26th, Judge Faren Eddins said the punishment for some of those charges carries a potential penalty of death or life imprisonment.
“It’s a confusing case. It’s easy for juries to get distracted. Remember, you’ve always got the issue of jury unanimity,” said Richard Seamon, a Margaret Schimke Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Idaho’s College of Law. “Any confusion or distraction — not being able to follow the prosecutor’s case — works to the defense’s advantage.”
Seamon said the move may be an effort by prosecutors to streamline the process for an already complicated case, adding that they may be trying to simplify the case by making the case in the murder charges more compelling.
Additionally, Seamon said the simplification process may be part of the prosecution’s strategy to keep the jury focused on what could be the capital punishment.
In some capital trials, Seamon said, the jury may opt to find a defendant not guilty on a murder charge in an effort to spare their life, but find them guilty on another charge or a compromise verdict.
“There are cases where the prosecutor doesn’t want to give the jury an out,” he said. “By taking the lesser charges off the table and only presenting that one charge to the jury, the prosecutor boxes the jury in a little bit.”
Seamon said it’s also common for prosecutors to drop charges when some of the evidence comes into question. This could include questions about how the evidence was collected, including defects in the search warrants.
“If the prosecutor has some doubt about the admissibility of the evidence or the credibility of some witness she plans to put on in support of a charge, then she may end up dropping the charge,” said Seamon.
Lastly, Seamon said prosecutors often drop charges while negotiating with the defense, often in exchange for a concession on the defendant’s part. This could materialize itself in any variety of ways.
“The defendant may for example say, ‘I won’t contest the evidence that you have of this particular charge if you drop this other charge,’ and that may well be a wise move for the prosecution to make,” said Seamon.
There is currently a stay in Lori Vallow-Daybell’s case, pending psychological treatment. But in Chad Daybell’s case, prosecutors have until August 9th to decide if they will pursue the death penalty.
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