Judge, attorneys want more time to consider whether accused serial voyeur is competent

Judge, attorneys want more time to consider whether accused serial voyeur is competent

A judge and attorneys are taking additional time to determine whether a man accused of lewdness involving a child and child pornography is competent to stand trial after multiple previous cases against him were dismissed and he was released. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

PROVO — A man with a history of voyeurism and child pornography cases is seeking to have current criminal charges against him dropped by asking a Utah judge to find he is not competent.

It’s an action that has successfully worked for him in multiple other cases.

This time, however, 4th District Judge Sean Petersen and other attorneys seem to be more methodical and are taking more time to address the issue of competency.

Jonathan Jareth Soberanis, 27, has been arrested multiple times in Utah and Salt Lake counties and accused of crimes against children, including voyeurism, lewdness, exploitation and abuse. In most cases, the criminal charges were dismissed, including charges of exposing himself to children in public bathrooms.

Police say Soberanis has shown a pattern of committing the same or similar crimes each time the cases against him have been dismissed and he returns to a different community. The mother of a 7-year-old boy — who thought Soberanis planned to kidnap him when he allegedly tapped on the boy’s window while shirtless and wearing a robe — believes the alleged actions of Soberanis before and after that incident, captured on video show, that he knew what he was doing was wrong and that he would get in trouble if he were caught.

Currently, he is facing 21 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, a second-degree felony; aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony; assault by a prisoner, a third-degree felony; lewdness involving a child and two counts of assaulting a peace officer, class A misdemeanors; and two counts of voyeurism, one a class A misdemeanor and the other a class B misdemeanor.

Soberanis is also facing federal child pornography charges filed earlier this month.

Special agent Sarah Lundquist with the Utah Attorney General’s Office testified Thursday that she investigated Soberanis and observed him multiple times working in a gem shop. She said she interacted with him directly and he was able to help her and do his job.

Appearing in court virtually from the jail, however, Soberanis did not visually appear to be acting like a typical defendant. He sat with his head laying on his hands and the table, put four of his fingers in his mouth multiple times, tilted his head back and stared at the ceiling, and did not appear to be concentrating on the proceedings.

After hearing testimony in two court hearings from Lundquist and psychologists who performed competency evaluations, the attorneys and Petersen decided to give the matter some more time and prepare written arguments about whether Soberanis is competent before coming back to court on Nov. 8.

According to Utah law, for a person to be competent to stand trial in court, that defendant must be able to understand the charges or allegations against him or her, be able to communicate with their attorney, be able to assist in their defense and legal strategies, and understand the possible penalties.

History of competency

In two felony cases filed in June 2021, a competency hearing was scheduled in July and the cases were dismissed soon after on Aug. 5, 2021, by Judge Christine Johnson.

Three misdemeanor cases filed in 2019 were also dismissed after Soberanis was found not competent to stand trial by different judges; two of the cases had hearings considering the same competency evaluation and a third dismissed charges after a ruling in the previous case.

This time, when asked his preference, Petersen said he would rather have the matter briefed, giving him more time to consider written arguments and case law concerning competency, after first asking the attorneys their preference.

Whether he was competent was discussed at Soberanis’ first hearing in one of these cases in April 2022 and the court immediately began steps to have a competency hearing. This month, two hearings were held to consider whether he is competent to stand trial since there wasn’t enough time scheduled in the first hearing to hear from all of the witnesses.

The prosecutor and Soberanis’ attorney called in evaluators and an officer. They questioned all three witnesses thoroughly, taking enough time that on Sept. 13 they scheduled a second hearing after hearing from one witness.

The competency hearings

At the first half of the hearing, forensic psychologist Lindsey North, who completed an evaluation of Soberanis, said she has concerns about his ability to go through a trial.

“I have very little data to suggest he could be restored (to competency),” North said.

When questioned by assistant attorney general Carl Hollan, she confirmed in Utah about 70% of defendants who undergo evaluations are found to be not competent, compared to 20% nationwide. She said she was working to improve these statistics before she left for a job in another state.

When asked Thursday whether the complex nature of the charges makes it less likely for Soberanis to be able to face trial, forensic psychologist Brian Bitting — who has done two evaluations on Soberanis — said understanding a technical case would take a higher ability, but with Soberanis he did not need to consider the complexity of the charges in order to see a lack of competency.

“I don’t think (Soberanis) demonstrated a level of ability that actually got me to the point of considering the more complex aspects of more serious charges,” Bitting said.

He completed an evaluation on Soberanis for a 2021 criminal case, and another for the current charges he faces. He testified that Soberanis, when asked about what sort of punishment he might receive in 2021, said, “Maybe they’ll kill me.” And during a more recent interview, he said Soberanis correctly identified the possible punishment as long-term incarceration.

Bitting said, however, that Soberanis’ understanding of how things work did not seem to be very different from the previous year.

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Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com as a reporter in 2021. She covers courts and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.

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