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State v. Hernandez

Court of Appeals of Utah

December 30, 2016

State of Utah, Appellee,
Jaime A. Hernandez, Appellant.

          Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Paul B. Parker No. 151901362

          Teresa L. Welch and Maren E. Larson, Attorneys for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and William M. Hains, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Kate A. Toomey authored this Memorandum Decision, in which Judges Michele M. Christiansen and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.


          TOOMEY, Judge

         ¶1 Defendant Jaime A. Hernandez pleaded guilty to four third-degree felonies, and the district court sentenced him to prison. Hernandez challenges this sentence, arguing that the court abused its discretion by sentencing him to prison rather than granting him probation. We affirm.

         ¶2 One morning in January 2015, police officers located a stolen vehicle in a gas station parking lot. The officers saw Hernandez enter the stolen vehicle and attempted to box him in using their police cars. Using the stolen car "as a weapon, " Hernandez repeatedly rammed it into four police cars and a private vehicle. Hernandez managed to break though the barricade and escape.

         ¶3 The officers pursued Hernandez as he fled the scene in the stolen car. Hernandez eluded the police, avoiding tire spikes and traveling at speeds up to one hundred miles per hour. During the chase, Hernandez struck another police vehicle, sending it off the road. Hernandez then left the stolen vehicle and continued his flight on foot, refusing to stop at an officer's command. Officers later found Hernandez hiding on a roof and apprehended him. They searched Hernandez and found marijuana and methamphetamine. At the time of the incident, Hernandez was on probation for another crime.

         ¶4 Hernandez was charged with eight felonies and two misdemeanors. He ultimately pleaded guilty to four third-degree felonies: attempted theft by receiving stolen property, possession of a controlled substance, aggravated assault, and failure to respond to an officer's signal to stop.

         ¶5 Adult Probation and Parole (AP&P) prepared a presentence investigation report (PSI) recommending that the court impose a prison sentence. The report considered Hernandez's prior criminal activity, his re-offense after completing a drug-treatment program, and his prior unsuccessful probations. The report also observed Hernandez's remorse, positive attitude, his family support, and his desire to complete a residential substance-abuse program. But because of the violent nature of Hernandez's past and present offenses and his continued drug use, AP&P concluded Hernandez was not an appropriate candidate for probation.

         ¶6 At the sentencing hearing, Hernandez reaffirmed his desire to be placed on probation, to participate in a residential substance-abuse program, and to reform his life. The court considered Hernandez's request but explained that Hernandez had already been granted probation and placement in a substance-abuse program just one year prior. Because Hernandez had been involved in so many offenses, particularly drug offenses, the court believed Hernandez had made choices sufficient to require the court to deny his request. It sentenced Hernandez to zero to five years imprisonment on each count. The sentences were to run concurrently with each other but consecutively to the sentence for which Hernandez was on probation. Hernandez appeals.

         ¶7 Hernandez contends the sentencing court abused its discretion because it failed to "adequately consider his character, attitude and rehabilitative needs before denying him the opportunity for a non-prison sentence." According to Hernandez, the court overlooked his rehabilitative needs, amenability to treatment, and readiness to complete probation, which he claims justify a reversal of his sentence. We disagree.

         ¶8 We review sentencing decisions for an abuse of discretion. State v. Valdovinos, 2003 UT App 432, ¶ 14, 82 P.3d 1167. "An abuse of discretion results when the judge fails to consider all legally relevant factors or if the sentence imposed is clearly excessive." Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). "An appellate court may only find abuse if it can be said that no reasonable [person] would take the view adopted by the trial court." Id. (alteration in original) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         ¶9 "The decision whether to grant probation is within the complete discretion of the trial court." State v. Rhodes, 818 P.2d 1048, 1049 (Utah Ct. App. 1991) (citing State v. Sibert, 310 P.2d 388, 393 (Utah 1957)). When determining whether to grant probation, the sentencing court considers the "intangibles of character, personality and attitude" "in connection with the prior record of the accused." Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). "A defendant is not entitled to probation, but rather the [trial] court is empowered to place the defendant on probation if it thinks that will best serve the ends of justice and is compatible with the public interest." Valdovinos, 2003 UT App 432, ΒΆ 23 (alteration in original) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). A sentence will be overturned only when it is ...

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