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State v. Ricketts

Court of Appeals of Utah

March 23, 2017

State of Utah, Appellee,
v.
David Isaac Ricketts, Appellant.

         Eighth District Court, Duchesne Department The Honorable Samuel P. Chiara No. 001800104

          David C. Cundick, Attorney for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and Kris C. Leonard, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Kate A. Toomey authored this Opinion, in which Judges Michele M. Christiansen and David N. Mortensen concurred.

          OPINION

          TOOMEY, Judge

         ¶1 David Isaac Ricketts appeals the decision of the district court denying his motion to lower the degree of offense for his previous conviction. We affirm.

         ¶2 In 2001, Ricketts pleaded guilty to the operation of a clandestine laboratory, a first degree felony. He was sentenced in 2002 to an indeterminate prison term of five years to life, and he was released from prison in 2005.

         ¶3 In 2014, Ricketts filed a motion to lower the degree of offense for that conviction. He argued that section 76-3-402 of the Utah Code allows a court, in certain circumstances, to reduce the level of offense for a conviction by one degree. He further argued that the version of the code in effect at the time of his sentencing allowed a court, even after sentencing, to enter a judgment of conviction for the next lower degree of offense. The State agreed that the appropriate version of the code to consider was the version in effect at the time of sentencing in 2002. But the State argued that the applicable statute still did not allow the district court to enter Ricketts's conviction at a lower degree because its plain language allowed a reduction only before sentencing, not after.

         ¶4 The district court agreed with the State and determined the first subsection of section 402 "provide[d] the sentencing court with authority to reduce the level of the conviction and then sentence the defendant accordingly" but did not provide the "authority to reduce the level of conviction at a later date." See Utah Code Ann. § 76-3-402(1) (Lexis 1999). The court also determined that "the sections subsequent to section (1) provide[d] for reduction of the [level of offense] after sentencing has taken place" but "require[d] the stay of a prison sentence in order for a defendant to qualify for a reduction in [the level of offense]." See id. § 76-3-402(2). Because Ricketts's sentence was not stayed, the court concluded he did not qualify for a reduction under section 402 and denied his motion.

         ¶5 Ricketts appeals, contending the district court erred in determining it lacked the authority to reduce the level of his offense. "We review a trial court's denial of a motion to reduce the degree of a conviction for abuse of discretion." State v. Salt, 2015 UT App 72, ¶ 9, 347 P.3d 414. But we "review the district court's interpretation of a statute for correctness." State v. Kropf, 2015 UT App 223, ¶ 7, 360 P.3d 1.

         ¶6 When interpreting statutes, we first look to the plain language. State v. Barrett, 2005 UT 88, ¶ 29, 127 P.3d 682. Section 402(1) stated:

If the court, having regard to the nature and circumstances of the offense of which the defendant was found guilty and to the history and character of the defendant, concludes it would be unduly harsh to record the conviction as being for that degree of offense established by statute and to sentence the defendant to an alternative normally applicable to that offense, the court may unless otherwise specifically provided by law enter a judgment of conviction for the next lower degree of offense and impose sentence accordingly.

Utah Code Ann. § 76-3-402(1).

         ¶7 We agree with the district court that Ricketts was not eligible for a reduction under this subsection. Section 402(1) provided courts with authority to reduce a level of offense at the time of sentencing and did not give courts authority to reduce a level of offense at a later date. The 2002 statute stated that a court may "enter a judgment of conviction for the next lower degree of offense and impose sentence accordingly" if it "concludes it would be unduly harsh to record the conviction as being for that degree of offense established by statute." Id. (emphases added). This language contemplated that a court has authority to enter a judgment of conviction at a lower degree before a sentence is imposed-at the time the judgment is entered and the conviction is recorded. The statute did not authorize a court to reduce the degree of offense at any other time. Additionally, in interpreting this version of section 76-3-402, our supreme court has stated, "If a sentencing judge is convinced that the penalty applicable to the charged offense is unduly harsh under the circumstances, the judge can reduce the degree of the offense when recording the conviction." Barrett, 2005 UT 88, ΒΆ 31 (emphasis added). And once a court imposes a valid ...


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