SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court sided with a man who spent 17 days in the Box Elder County Jail without being brought before a judge, and has reinstated the man’s civil lawsuit against the county.
The man, Robert Kuchcinski, brought a civil suit claiming the county violated his rights to due process and bail. A year later, a district judge dismissed his suit, claiming that Kuchcinski has not suffered a “flagrant violation of his constitutional rights” and he did not identify a specific county employee who violated his rights.
This week, the state’s supreme court ruled that the district court erred when they tossed the civil case.
The supreme court said that the district court “incorrectly applied” a standard for determining when a county employee is liable for damages for violating constitutional laws. The court also said that the district court was correct to dismiss Kuchcinski’s claims of bail clause claims, saying that he “failed to demonstrate that the bail clause is self-executing,” the decision says.
In June 2012, Kuchcinski was driving his tractor-trailer when he was pulled over by a trooper with the Utah Highway Patrol for failing to stay in a lane. The trooper conducted field sobriety tests, of which Kuchcinski failed the balance-related tests. Kuchcinski also passed a breathalyzer test administered by the trooper. He would later take a blood test that would come back negative for any “intoxicating substances.”
Despite Kuchcinski saying the balance issues were due to an ear infection, he was arrested for driving under the influence.
He was booked into the Box Elder County Jail on June 16, 2012. Kuchcinski was charged in the county’s justice court and assigned a bail amount in jail, but he reportedly was never told he could post bail.
For 17 days, Kuchcinski was not arraigned nor did he appear in front of a judge to read the charges against him, which was one count of driving under the influence.
The supreme court decision explains that typically, those in jail are taken to justice court on Wednesdays. For some reason, Kuchcinski was not taken with other people in jail to appear in court on Wednesday, June 20, 2012. The next week, on June 27, the justice court judge was on vacation, so Kuchcinski did not appear in court. The following week, Wednesday happened to be on July 4, and court is not held on national holidays, so Kuchcinski continued to sit in jail.
Kuchcinski was eventually released from jail on July 3, after another person in jail mentioned Kuchcinski’s case to his own attorney a day prior. He was officially charged on July 18, 2012, over two weeks after his release from jail. The charge was dismissed a little over a month later.
With the court’s decision to reverse the prior ruling, the case will be remanded back to a district court for further hearings.