Utah law allows some defendant’s to ask for a reduction in the degree of their offense upon successfully completing probation. See Utah Code § 76-3-402. This law was in effect in 2005 when Mr. Howard Price Johnson pled guilty to unlawful sexual activity with a minor, a third degree felony, and enticing a minor, a class A misdemeanor. At the time of his plea, the prosecution agreed to not oppose a reduction in offense after Mr. Johnson completed probation.
While Mr. Johnson was on probation, the Utah Legislature amended the Utah reduction law to preclude reductions if the conviction “requires the person to register as a sex offender until the registration requirements . . . have expired.” The change in the law occurred in 2006 and Mr. Johnson asked for a reduction of his offense in 2008.
The issue in the case was what version of the law to apply to Mr. Johnson’s convictions–that is, could the court reduce the offense after completion of probation or would the court have to wait until Mr. Johnson completed his time as a registered sex offender. The Utah Supreme Court found that “the substantive right to seek a reduction in conviction vests at the time of initial sentencing.” State v. Johnson, 2012 UT 68. Effectively, the right to ask for a reduction is substantive, not procedural, so the law controlling the case was the law in place at the time of sentencing.
The court remanded the case to the district court to apply the reduction statute in place in 2005 when Mr. Johnson plead guilty.
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