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State v. Valdez

Court of Appeals of Utah

October 5, 2017

State of Utah, Appellee,
Joseph Miguel Valdez, Appellant.

         Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Elizabeth A. Hruby-Mills No. 121909797

          Debra M. Nelson, Attorney for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and Jennifer Paisner Williams, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge David N. Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Ryan M. Harris and Diana Hagen concurred.


          MORTENSEN, Judge

         ¶1 Only four months after being released from his most recent prison commitment, Defendant Joseph Miguel Valdez engaged in conduct that resulted in guilty pleas to separate felonies in three unrelated cases. The district court imposed indeterminate prison sentences in each case and ordered that the sentences run consecutively. Defendant appeals these sentences, arguing that the district court (1) erroneously considered the reduction and dismissal of charges against Defendant, (2) failed to consider the gravity and circumstances and number of victims of two of the crimes, and (3) failed to consider Defendant's history, character, and rehabilitative needs. We are unpersuaded and conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Defendant. Accordingly, we affirm.

          ¶2 Defendant's cases, arising from separate criminal episodes, have been consolidated on appeal. In Case One, Defendant pled guilty to possession or use of a controlled substance, a third degree felony. See Utah Code Ann. § 58-37-8(2) (LexisNexis 2016). In Case Two, he pled guilty to theft by receiving or transferring a stolen vehicle, a second degree felony. See id. § 41-1a-1316 (2014). And in Case Three, he pled guilty to aggravated assault, a third degree felony. See id. § 76-5-103 (2012). Before sentencing, the district court ordered Adult Probation and Parole (AP&P) to prepare a presentence report (the Report). The Report contained AP&P's recommendation that Defendant "be sentenced to the Utah State Prison to the terms prescribed by law."

         ¶3 The Report highlighted Defendant's lengthy criminal history and documented that Defendant had been incarcerated for seventeen of the last nineteen years. The criminal history involved both state and federal felonies, a prior assault adjudication, multiple convictions for possessing controlled substances or possessing controlled substances with intent to distribute, and multiple weapons charges. The Report further outlined a dismal probation and parole history with multiple violations. According to the Report, while being held on the pending charges, Defendant had been written up on five disciplinary issues in jail. The Report also noted multiple aggravating factors and discussed potentially mitigating factors. Finally, the Report revealed that Defendant had been out of prison for only four months before he committed the string of crimes for which he was to be sentenced.

         ¶4 The court held a single sentencing hearing on all three cases. At the hearing, defense counsel argued that the district court should disregard AP&P's recommendation and instead place Defendant on zero-tolerance probation, including orders to help address Defendant's mental health and substance abuse issues.[1] Counsel further argued that these issues precipitated the crimes Defendant committed. Defendant spoke at the hearing, reiterating his attorney's request that he receive treatment and work toward rehabilitation.

         ¶5 A representative for the victim in Case Three spoke to the court and related that, as a result of Defendant severely beating the victim and strangling her to unconsciousness, the victim now suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, severe depression, and double vision.

         ¶6 The State urged the district court to impose consecutive sentences, given "the violent nature of one offense and the separate criminal episodes, " arguing that the sentencing was for separate cases and that each should have separate accountability. The district court inquired whether the defense wanted to respond further, and the defense declined.

         ¶7 The district court followed the recommendation of the State, sentencing Defendant to two indeterminate zero-to-five-year prison terms and one indeterminate one-to-fifteen-year prison term, all to run consecutively. In doing so, the district court acknowledged Defendant's "concerning" history; "the horrendousness of what occurred" in the aggravated assault case, saying "it's appalling"; and the "substantial reductions" in charges that had taken place through plea negotiations "to even get where we are today."

         ¶8 Defense counsel urged the district court to reconsider its imposition of consecutive sentences, arguing "something that wasn't mentioned, but from what I recall, part of this plea deal was that the recommendation would be that they'd run concurrent to each other."[2] The district court asked which plea form indicated the agreement to recommend concurrent sentences, and defense counsel answered, "It's not on the plea form, so." The district court replied, "So no, I've made my order, and I'm not making any modifications to that."

         ¶9 Defendant now asks us to reverse the district court's sentencing determinations and remand for resentencing, arguing that the district court abused its discretion by imposing consecutive sentences. "A court abuses its discretion in imposing consecutive sentences only if 'no reasonable [person] would take the view [adopted] by the [sentencing] court.'" State v. Thorkelson, 2004 UT App 9, ¶ 12, 84 P.3d 854 (first and third alterations in original) (quoting State v. Gerrard, 584 P.2d 885, 887 (Utah 1978)). This standard includes a requirement that sentencing courts "consider all legally relevant factors" and not impose sentences that are "clearly excessive." See State v. Lingmann, 2014 UT App 45, ¶ 34, 320 P.3d 1063 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Sentencing courts ...

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