Two sentencing matters on the docket in Judge Brian Cannell’s courtroom Tuesday morning are examples of the disparity between guidelines and state law that judges face after Utah’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative was approved by lawmakers in 2015.
Guadalupe Vega-Cervantez, 21, was sentenced to one year in the Cache County Jail for texting a 10-year-old girl in Missouri and persuading her to send him nude photographs.
Vega-Cervantez pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, a second-degree felony that by statute carries a potential sentence of 1 to 15 years in prison for each count.
“She was 10 years old and he knew that,” Cache County prosecuting attorney Jake Gordon said. “I believe he deserves prison … when we exploit children for our own gain, we go to prison.”
As an alternative, Gordon asked for at least a year in jail.
It was a fiery recommendation, contrary to the written report using JRI guidelines Cannell had before him that suggested a fraction of that time was adequate.
“This has been dumbed down to 210 days — I don’t even get one year out of this,” he said.
In the end, he went above the recommendation and sentenced Vega-Cervantez to a year in jail, with credit for 148 days already served.
Perhaps an hour later, another young man stood before Cannell for sentencing after pleading no contest in March to unlawful sexual activity with a minor, a third-degree felony that carries a potential punishment of zero to five years in prison.
According to defense attorney Kelly Ann Booth, 25-year-old Frederick Guadarrama was a stellar young man with a promising military career ahead of him. He reportedly has no recollection of having sex with the girl because he was under the influence of alcohol.
Even so, his actions may have cost him his career, he has created significant discord among the victim’s family, and the 14-year-old victim now has a child as a result of his actions.
Guadarrama was sentenced to 120 days in jail, as suggested by the JRI sentencing matrix.
“I am just stunned at some of these guidelines,” Cannell said.
He went on to say he has had some people appear in front of him on drug charges with a recommendation of six months in jail, while in Guadarrama’s case, the recommendation was 120 days for what he said amounts to the rape of a child.
According to the Utah Department of Corrections, Utah’s JRI was established in a joint effort by both the legislature and the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice and it is driven by evidence-based data.
“The expectation is that JRI will reduce our incarceration and recidivism rates, resulting in taxpayer savings. It will do that by allowing more low-risk offenders — particularly those with substance abuse and mental health problems — to be treated in the community while continuing to incarcerate those who pose a risk or threat to community,” the Board of Corrections states on its website.