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State v. Cochran

Court of Appeals of Utah

May 23, 2019

State of Utah, Appellee,
v.
Brett Clark Cochran, Appellant.

          Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Royal I. Hansen No. 121908371

          Linda M. Jones, John J. Hurst, and Freyja R. Johnson, Attorneys for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and Jeffrey D. Mann, Attorneys for Appellee

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

          AMENDED OPINION [1]

          HARRIS, JUDGE

         ¶1 Brett Clark Cochran pled guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), which in his case amounted to a third-degree felony because he had two other similar recent convictions. He was sentenced to a short jail term and three years on probation. After completing his sentence, including compliance with the terms and conditions of probation, he asked the district court to reduce his conviction from a felony to a misdemeanor, pursuant to Utah Code section 76-3-402(2). The district court declined to do so, and Cochran now appeals that decision. We affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 On July 8, 2012, a police officer stopped Cochran for traffic violations, and soon learned that Cochran's blood alcohol level was 0.181, over twice the then-effective legal limit. Cochran had been convicted of DUI on two other occasions within the previous three years, and Utah law treats the third DUI charge within any ten-year period as a third-degree felony, see Utah Code Ann. § 41-6a-503(2)(b) (LexisNexis 2018).[2] The State charged Cochran with felony DUI, a charge to which he eventually pled guilty, and Cochran was sentenced to a suspended prison term, 62.5 days in jail, and a three-year term of probation.

         ¶3 During the term of Cochran's probation, which he was allowed to complete from his home state of Montana, Cochran had two issues with compliance. The first issue occurred right at the beginning, when Cochran refused to sign the probation agreement. Following his refusal, the State filed a motion seeking an order commanding Cochran to appear and show cause why he should not be sanctioned for his noncompliance, but the district court declined to sign the State's proposed order because Cochran had been incarcerated at the time of the event. The second issue occurred later in the probationary term, when Adult Probation and Parole (AP&P) alleged that Cochran had failed to undergo a substance abuse evaluation and complete treatment as directed. In connection with these allegations, AP&P reported that Cochran had a poor attitude, was "very difficult to work with," and did not take his "probation seriously." Ultimately, however, AP&P recommended that Cochran be granted an "alternative event" for these violations and that he "be allowed to remain on probation." Cochran eventually completed probation, including all recommended treatment, without any further mishaps, and the court-without objection from AP&P or the State- terminated Cochran's probation successfully in May 2016, and closed his case.

         ¶4 In December 2016, seven months after completing probation, Cochran filed a motion (402 Motion) asking the district court to reduce his conviction from a third-degree felony to a class A misdemeanor, pursuant to Utah Code section 76-3-402(2). In support of the requested reduction, Cochran claimed that his status as a convicted felon was "impeding his ability to engage in" his profession as an electrician because it was limiting "the number and type of jobs" for which he was eligible to apply. He also asserted that nothing in the nature of the offense should preclude a reduction in his case, and maintained that there was no evidence of "aggravating factors" such as an "aggravated blood alcohol level" or "any collision, injury, or restitution." Furthermore, other than the two previous DUI offenses, there was "no indication of anything else on [Cochran's] criminal history." And finally, Cochran noted that he had completed probation successfully. In sum, Cochran argued that the court should grant his 402 Motion because a reduction would allow him to "resume the trajectory of his life," and because "[i]t is in the interest[] of justice to reward a Defendant for his successful completion of probation." The State, however, filed an objection to Cochran's 402 Motion, asking the district court to deny the motion based on "the nature of the offense, [Cochran's] criminal history, and issues with [Cochran's] compliance with the conditions of his probation."

         ¶5 At the hearing on Cochran's 402 Motion, the court stated that it had reviewed the motion and accompanying paperwork, and asked if there was "anything else" that it "should know on behalf of the defendant." The parties stipulated that the only crime Cochran had ever committed in Utah was the felony DUI that is the subject of this case. Cochran's counsel argued that a reduction was warranted in the interest of justice for the reasons articulated in the 402 Motion, specifically mentioning Cochran's successful completion of probation and related treatment, as well as the employment limitations Cochran was experiencing based upon his status as a convicted felon. In response, the State noted that Cochran's argument about his employment limitations "sound[ed] reasonable," that Cochran's Utah DUI conviction would still be a lifetime enhanceable offense even if it were reduced to a misdemeanor, and told the court that it would "simply submit it."

         ¶6 After listening to both sides, the court agreed that there were "lots of reasons" to grant Cochran's motion. However, the court ultimately denied Cochran's 402 Motion without prejudice to it being refiled later. The court stated its reasoning as follows:

[W]hat I'd generally do, counsel, with felony DUIs is I have parties wait the 10-year period with successful completion and so I'm certainly willing to hear this again but I want to see that [Cochran] goes that period of time without picking up new charges. It sounds like he's done some good things and that he's gainfully employed. So I can see lots of reasons to grant that. But I find in the interest of justice and under these circumstances that we're better served as a community to do that and so what I would do is deny the motion without prejudice with the understanding that at a point in time where we have a 10-year period without any new DUIs that have come up, then I [will be] inclined to hear that and, and proceed on that basis.

         The court also explained that, because it had denied the 402 Motion without prejudice, it anticipated that at "a point in time" when Cochran had completed "a 10-year period without any new DUIs" Cochran could bring a 402 Motion again. Following additional comments by Cochran's counsel, the court reiterated its reasons for denying the motion, and noted that, although Cochran should be commended for his hard work, "at this juncture" "the ...


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