A 5th District judge on Tuesday will hear defense attorneys for polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs argue to derail – or narrow – the criminal cases against him.
Judge James L. Shumate will hear three motions, including a request that Jeffs’ trial be moved to Salt Lake County where they think potential jurors are more likely to give him a fair hearing.
The judge has set a second hearing in April for Jeffs’ attorneys to argue that prosecutors should be barred from using religious documents found and statements the sect leader made at the time of his arrest.
Jeffs is charged with two felony counts of rape as an accomplice for allegedly conducting a marriage in 2001 between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. The girl, identified as “Jane Doe,” testified in earlier court hearings that she protested the arranged marriage but Jeffs instructed her to proceed with it because her salvation was at stake.
On Tuesday, Jeffs’ lawyers will challenge Shumate’s decision to set the case for trial. They claim he relied on speculation to find that Jeffs should have known that Jane Doe and her first husband would engage in nonconsensual intercourse.
Jane Doe has since remarried; her former husband has not been charged with any crime.
The third defense motion argues that the “enticement” clause in Utah’s rape statute is unconstitutionally vague, making it impossible to determine what actions might later be characterized as criminal.
In Jeffs’ case, his attorneys assert he merely gave common religious counseling in urging the couple to marry, stay together and have children.
Jeffs, 51, is being represented by attorneys Wally Bugden and Tara Isaacson of Salt Lake City and Richard A. Wright of Las Vegas. His trial was to begin April 23, but has been postponed.
Instead, on that day the judge will consider a fourth defense motion that claims the traffic stop that led to Jeffs’ arrest was illegal. Jeffs’ attorneys want prosecutors barred from using his statements and religious documents found in an Escalade in the criminal trial.
Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was arrested Aug. 28 after the Escalade was pulled over on I-15 north of Las Vegas. Isaac Jeffs, a brother who was driving the vehicle, and Naomi Jessop Jeffs, one of the sect leader’s plural wives, were with him at the time.
In his written report on the traffic stop, Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Eddie Dutchover said he pulled over the Escalade because it had “no visible registration or license plates.” Another deputy’s report described the vehicle as being “unregistered.”
But Jeffs’ attorneys say a temporary registration permit tag was clearly visible on the rear of the vehicle. The permit can be seen on the vehicle in photos taken that night by the Nevada Highway Patrol.
Officers had no valid reason to stop the vehicle, the defense argues, and thus illegally detained Jeffs.
“Upon observing the validity of the tag, the justification for stopping the vehicle was satisfied and the occupants should have been free to go,” the motion states.
The trooper’s claim that the occupants appeared nervous did not justify detaining them, the defense argues.
A search of the vehicle turned up cash, computer equipment, disguises, documents and other items authorities alleged Jeffs used to avoid capture after being named a federal fugitive.
If the judge agrees to suppress the evidence, it would not impact other testimony in the accomplice to rape case against Jeffs. But it could have implications for a federal charge of flight to avoid prosecution.
A federal judge in Colorado upheld a similar traffic stop that led to the arrest of Seth Jeffs, a brother of the sect leader, in October 2005. Seth Jeffs and Nathan Allred, who was driving the vehicle, were pulled over by a Pueblo County Sheriff’s deputy who had received a report of a possible drunk driver. Seth Jeffs later pled guilty to harboring a fugitive.
The deputy said the men seemed nervous, which led him to further question them and then to search their vehicle. The deputy found more than $140,000, prepaid credit cards and hundreds of envelopes addressed to “The Prophet” or “Warren Jeffs” – including a letter written by Colorado City Town Marshal Fred Barlow that is being used to argue for his decertification.