66 P.3d 1241 (Ariz. 2003), CR-02-0233, State v. Christian

Docket Nº:CR-02-0233-PR.
Citation:66 P.3d 1241, 205 Ariz. 64
Opinion Judge:[9] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ryan, Justice
Party Name:STATE of Arizona, Appellant, v. James Earl CHRISTIAN, Appellee.
Attorney:[7] Richard M. Romley, Maricopa County Attorney By Diane Gunnels Rowley, Deputy County Attorney; Phoenix. Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellant [8] James J. Haas, Maricopa County Public Defender By M. Daniel Evans, Deputy Public Defender; Phoenix. Attorneys for Defendant-Appellee
Case Date:April 18, 2003
Court:Supreme Court of Arizona
 
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Page 1241

66 P.3d 1241 (Ariz. 2003)

205 Ariz. 64

STATE of Arizona, Appellant,

v.

James Earl CHRISTIAN, Appellee.

No. CR-02-0233-PR.

Supreme Court of Arizona

April 18, 2003.

Page 1242

[205 Ariz. 65] Richard M. Romley, Maricopa County Attorney by Diane Gunnels Rowley, Deputy County Attorney, Phoenix, Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellant.

James J. Haas, Maricopa County Public Defender by M. Daniel Evans, Deputy Public Defender, Phoenix, Attorneys for Defendant-Appellee.

OPINION

RYAN, Justice.

¶ 1 The narrow issue we must decide in this matter is whether a defendant's prior felony conviction for possession of narcotic drugs below the statutory threshold amount can be used as a historical prior felony conviction to enhance the sentence of a subsequent felony offense. The trial court ruled that it could not. The court of appeals, in a split decision, reversed the trial court. Agreeing with the majority of the court of appeals, we hold that a prior conviction for possession of narcotic drugs in an amount below the statutory threshold can be used to enhance the sentence for a subsequent conviction.

Background

¶ 2 In June 2000, James Earl Christian was convicted of theft of a means of transportation, a class three felony. Christian admitted at trial that he had two prior felony convictions. He had been convicted of felony theft committed in June 1995, and of possession of a narcotic drug, a class four felony, committed in March 1999. 1 At Christian's sentencing, the State argued that Christian should be sentenced as a defendant with two historical prior felony convictions under Arizona Revised Statutes ("A.R.S.") section 13-604(D) (Supp.1999). Christian argued the drug possession conviction could not be used as a historical prior felony conviction for two reasons. First, the sentence for that offense had been imposed under A.R.S. section 13-901.01 (Supp.1998), which requires probation for possession of narcotic drugs for personal use. He contended that the intent of A.R.S. section 13-901.01--the codification of Proposition 200--was to prohibit the use of the first two convictions for possession of narcotic drugs to enhance the sentence of a subsequent offense. 2 Second, he argued that his drug conviction was a Chapter 34 3 offense involving less than the statutory threshold amount of drugs and as such could not be alleged as a historical prior under A.R.S. section 13-604(V)(1)(a)(i). The trial court, finding that "it would be contrary to the intent of the law to treat the prior Proposition 200 felony as a felony for purposes of enhancing this sentence," sentenced Christian as an offender with one historical prior felony conviction.

¶ 3 On appeal, the State argued that the trial court erred as a matter of law in determining

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[205 Ariz. 66] that a Proposition 200 prior conviction was not a historical prior felony conviction for sentence enhancement purposes. State v. Christian, 202 Ariz. 462, 463, ¶ 1, 47 P.3d 666, 667 (App.2002). The State also contended that such a prior conviction was a historical prior felony conviction as defined in A.R.S. section 13-604(V)(1).

¶ 4 The court of appeals unanimously agreed that "nothing in the language of A.R.S. § 13-901.01 precludes a conviction under that section from being used as a historical prior felony conviction to enhance punishment of a subsequent offense under A.R.S. § 13-604(V)(1)." Id. at 464, ¶ 6, 466, ¶ ¶ 17-18, 47 P.3d at 668, 670. The majority of the court went on to hold that A.R.S. section 13-604(V)(1) permits a prior felony conviction for possession of drugs below the threshold amount to be used as a historical prior for purposes of sentence enhancement. Id. at 465-66, ¶ 13, 47 P.3d at 669-70. Judge Fidel dissented from this part of the decision, contending that the plain language of A.R.S. section 13-604(V)(1)(a)(i) excluded prior felony convictions for drug offenses below the threshold amount from being used to enhance the sentence for a subsequent conviction. Id. at 467, ¶ 26, 47 P.3d at 671.

¶ 5 We granted review to decide whether the court of appeals correctly interpreted A.R.S. section 13-604(V)(1). We have jurisdiction under Article 6, Section 5(3) of the Arizona Constitution, and A.R.S. sections 13-4031 and -4032(5) (2001).

Discussion

¶ 6 The parties do not dispute that Christian had two prior felony convictions. 4 Thus, the issue is whether a prior conviction for possession of narcotic drugs in an amount below the statutory threshold is a historical prior felony conviction. To decide that issue we must interpret A.R.S. section 13-604(V)(1). Issues of statutory interpretation are reviewed by this court de novo. State v. Getz, 189 Ariz. 561, 563, 944 P.2d 503, 505 (1997). In any case involving statutory interpretation we begin with the text of the statute. Zamora v. Reinstein, 185 Ariz. 272, 275, 915 P.2d 1227, 1230 (1996). This is so because the best and most reliable index of a statute's meaning is the plain text of the statute. Id. When the plain text of a statute is clear and unambiguous there is no need to resort to other methods of statutory interpretation to determine the legislature's intent because its intent is readily discernable from the face of the statute. Hayes v. Cont'l Ins. Co., 178 Ariz. 264, 268, 872 P.2d 668, 672 (1994). We conclude that the text of section 13-604(V)(1) is unambiguous and plain on its face, and that it permits a prior conviction for possession of drugs below the threshold amount to be alleged as a historical prior felony conviction in limited circumstances.

A.

¶ 7 Section 13-604(V)(1) separates historical prior felony convictions into four categories. 5 First, under subdivision (a), the

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[205 Ariz. 67] statute lists six types of offenses that can be alleged as historical prior felony convictions no matter when they occurred. A.R.S. § 13-604(V)(1)(a). These include convictions for which a prison sentence was mandated, except for drug offenses that involved an amount of drugs below the statutory threshold; 6 convictions involving the intentional or knowing infliction of serious physical injury; convictions involving the use of a deadly weapon; convictions for illegal control of an enterprise; convictions for aggravated driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs; and convictions for any dangerous crime against children. 7 Id.

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