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A criminal sexual assault case against a Salt Lake dentist has been dismissed for lack of evidence.

Salt Lake County deputy attorney Glenn K. Iwasaki filed the motion, and 3rd Circuit Court Judge Edward Watson granted it Tuesday just before a preliminary hearing was to be held for Bret Jon Tucker.Tucker, 31, had been charged with first-degree forcible sodomy and two counts of second-degree forcible sexual abuse. The charges stemmed from allegations that he sexually assaulted a female patient while she was under the influence of nitrous oxide.

Tuesday's dismissal was the third criminal sex case against health-care professionals that has been dropped for insufficient evidence in less than a month. One case involving sexual assault charges against physical therapist Kent Allsop was dismissed by a judge in the middle of the jury trial, and the other, a rape charge against West Jordan physician Dr. Robert C. Davis, was dismissed on the county attorney's request.

"What happens when the witnesses fall apart and don't become credible is you have to cut your losses," said Budd Ellet, chief deputy of the justice division for the county attorney's office.

Ellet explained that prosecutors don't always have all the evidence when they file a case, and as the investigation by both sides progresses, a more realistic picture of how the case will survive a jury trial emerges. Without referring to any of the dismissed cases, Ellet said the background of a witness, particularly if it's not clean, can pose big problems for prosecutors before a jury.

The filing of charges, despite a dismissal, can cause damage to the practice of a health-care professional. But Ellet said the recent rash of dismissed cases won't prompt a reassessment of how the county treats allegations against professionals. He said his office will continue to pursue the cases.

"Investigators sometimes think we are too demanding, but maybe this (the dismissals) will convince them differently," he said.

Although criminal charges have been dropped, a petition accusing Tucker of unprofessional conduct remains pending at the state Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.

Division director David Robinson said criminal court dismissals don't have any bearing on cases handled by licensing regulators.

"There are many things that are unprofessional conduct, which may not meet a prosecutor's standard for unlawful conduct," Robinson said, stressing that he was not referring specifically to the Tucker case or any others.

Ellet agreed, saying the criminal justice standard of proving a crime beyond a reasonable doubt before a jury is the toughest standard of any court or administrative justice system.

In a licensing case, professionals are not judged by a lay jury, but by their peers who have been appointed to a licensing board to enforce standards governing conduct in a specific profession. A licensed professional is held to those standards, Robinson said.