Thursday, January 12, 2006

Inaccuracy in PSI irrelevant if conviction carries mandatory prison term

State v. Johnson, 2006 UT App 3

The court of appeals affirmed Johnson’s sentence over his claims that the trial court failed to resolve a factual dispute in his presentence report (“PSI”).

Johnson pleaded guilty to two attempted child sex offenses. One of them carried a mandatory prison term. At sentencing, he contested the accuracy of a 1978 lewdness charge in his PSI. Johnson claimed the charge was for public urination and that it was dropped. But his rap sheet stated that he had served 30 days in jail and was on probation for six months. The lewdness conviction and the subsequent probation, if accurate, raised Johnson from a category I to a category two on the sex offender sentencing matrix, resulting in a recommended sentence of sixty-two months rather than forty-two months. Neither Johnson nor the Adult Probation & Parole officer who compiled the PSI had any other evidence of the 1978 charge. So, the trial court declined to amend the PSI. It also decided that the seriousness of Johnson’s convictions and the mandatory prison term made the alleged inaccuracy in the PSI and the resulting increase on the matrix irrelevant.

In the court of appeals, Johnson claimed that the trial court failed to comply with Utah Code Ann. § 76-18-1(6)(a). That section states that if the parties cannot resolve disputes over the accuracy of the PSI, the court “shall make a determination of relevance and accuracy on the record.” The court of appeals held that “by further addressing Johnson’s argument and requesting additional testimony from the probation officer regarding the past supervision, the trial court recognized on the record the relevance of the contested information at sentencing.”

The important part of the court’s opinion, however, is in footnote two. There the court of appeals noted, “[T]he role of the judge at sentencing is to determine whether to impose prison terms or probation using the guidelines.” It concluded, “Thus, although the court below recognized the importance of determining whether the information contained in the PSI was relevant and accurate, it was correct in stating that the one point was irrelevant to its own sentencing determination.”

In other words, for sentencing purposes, a bump in the matrix is irrelevant if one of the convictions carries a mandatory prison term. The bump only affects defendant’s recommended parole date, which the sentencing court has no control over.


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