SALT LAKE CITY — Stepan Badikiyan said he was failed by his first Armenian interpreter and did not fully understand the “critical elements” of the attempted-murder charge he pleaded guilty to five years ago in the stabbing of his estranged wife.
But the Utah Supreme Court, in a ruling Thursday, refused to overturn the conviction of the 55-year-old, who sought to withdraw his guilty plea, which resulted from a plea bargain with Davis County prosecutors.
Badikyan’s wife told him May 29, 2014, in their Centerville apartment that she wanted a divorce, according to police and prosecutors at the time.
He punched her and stabbed her with a box cutter, then told her he would take her to the hospital, court records said. But while driving to the hospital he told her they were “both going to die” that day, according to the documents.
She jumped out near a convenience store in Bountiful and he tried to run her down with the car, prosecutors said.
Witnesses told officers Badikyan got out of the car, tackled the woman and stabbed her in the neck and side, again with the box cutter. Bystanders stopped Badikyan and held him down until police arrived.
At a hearing where he pleaded guilty, Badikyan was assisted by an Armenian interpreter because he could not read English or speak it well.
Before sentencing, a handwritten note Badikyan sent to the court earned him another hearing. At that evidentiary hearing, Badikyan said his former interpreter “mistranslated” the plea agreement.
But 2nd District Judge David Connors refused to allow a new plea, saying “there were no specific instances given or particular inaccuracies of translation” that influenced the guilty plea. Connors also ruled Badikyan’s public defender did not oversell the plea bargain and clearly communicated its potential immigration consequences to the Armenia native.
Badikyan next appealed to the Utah Court of Appeals, which upheld the decisions by Connors.
In that appeal, Badikyan argued for the first time “that he did not understand the critical elements of attempted murder.”
The court of appeals ruled that, under Utah’s Plea Withdrawal Statute, it lacked jurisdiction to consider Badikyan’s critical-elements challenge, because that challenge was not first “preserved” by it being appealed to the district court.
“So we take this opportunity to clarify that the Plea Withdrawal Statute’s preservation rule applies to all plea challenges made after sentencing, even where a defendant has made an otherwise timely plea-withdrawal request,” the Supreme Court opinion said.
Badikyan, it said, should have presented his critical-elements challenge to the district court in order to give that court an opportunity to rule on it prior to appeal.
“The plain language of the Plea Withdrawal Statute prohibits appellate courts from hearing any claim raised for the first time on appeal of the denial of a plea-withdrawal request — even if the defendant made the request before sentencing,” the high court said.
In November 2017, Connors sentenced Badikyan to three years to life in prison. According to the Utah Department of Corrections, Badikyan remained incarcerated as of Tuesday.