Kamoe v. Ridge, 012821 UTSC, 20190111

Docket Nº20190111
Opinion JudgeHIMONAS, JUSTICE
Party NameAlexie Kamoe, Appellant, v. Honorable Stevan Ridge, Appellee.
AttorneyAttorneys: Douglas J. Thompson, Provo, for appellant Carl R. Hollan and David O. Leavitt, Provo, for appellee
Judge PanelJustice Himonas authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Pearce, and Justice Petersen joined.
Case DateJanuary 28, 2021
CourtSupreme Court of Utah

2021 UT 5

Alexie Kamoe, Appellant,

v.

Honorable Stevan Ridge, Appellee.

No. 20190111

Supreme Court of Utah

January 28, 2021

Heard October 9, 2020

On Direct Appeal Fourth District, American Fork The Honorable Robert C. Lunnen No. 180100218

Attorneys: Douglas J. Thompson, Provo, for appellant

Carl R. Hollan and David O. Leavitt, Provo, for appellee

Justice Himonas authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Pearce, and Justice Petersen joined.

OPINION

HIMONAS, JUSTICE

INTRODUCTION

¶1 The Utah County Attorney's office charged Alexie Kamoe in justice court with three separate criminal counts. Pursuant to a negotiated plea bargain, Kamoe pled guilty to a single count of Impaired Driving. Following sentencing, she appealed her conviction to district court but withdrew the appeal after that court denied her motion to suppress blood-test evidence. Back in justice court, Kamoe asked to have her original conviction, sentence, and commitment (collectively, the "Judgment") reinstated. The court refused at the request of the prosecutor, who wanted her to face trial on the initial three counts. In response, Kamoe filed in the district court a petition for extraordinary relief in which she asked that court to reinstate the original Judgment. When that petition was denied, she appealed to this court.

¶2 The issue in this case is straightforward enough: Does an appeal from a negotiated plea in justice court under Utah Code section 78A-7-118(3) vacate that court's Judgment? As we explain below, it doesn't. Under the plain language of the statute, a Judgment resulting from a negotiated plea in justice court persists, although it may be stayed pending the defendant's appeal to district court.

¶3 Having determined that both the justice court and the district court misread subsection 118(3) and, therefore, erred in refusing to reinstate Kamoe's Judgment, we exercise our discretion under rule 65B(d)(2) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure and grant Kamoe the relief she seeks. Accordingly, we reverse the district court's denial of Kamoe's petition for extraordinary relief and remand to the justice court with instructions to restore the original Judgment.

BACKGROUND

¶4 Utah County Sheriff's Department deputies found Kamoe driving on a closed road. They alleged that a search of her vehicle revealed marijuana and open containers of alcohol and that a subsequent blood test revealed the presence of THC, THC metabolite, and cocaine metabolite in her system.

¶5 The Utah County Attorney's office charged Kamoe in the Utah County Justice Court with three counts: (1) Driving with a Measurable Controlled Substance in the Body, (2) Possession or Use of Marijuana, and (3) Failure to Obey a Traffic Control Device. Kamoe made a motion to suppress the blood-test evidence, which the court denied. She then, with the aid of counsel, negotiated with the prosecutor a plea bargain that contemplated the dismissal of Counts 2 and 3 and the amendment of Count 1 to a single count of Impaired Driving, a charge that is available only as part of a negotiated plea. See Utah Code § 41-6a-502.5(1)(b). That same day, the justice court sentenced Kamoe to 180 days in jail but suspended the sentence and instead ordered that she spend two days in jail, pay a $1, 420 fine, and complete an alcohol/substance-abuse evaluation and comply with any recommended treatment.

¶6 Kamoe appealed her conviction in the justice court to the district court. The justice court stayed her sentence pending the disposition of her appeal pursuant to Utah Code section 78A-7-118(2).1 In district court, Kamoe again moved to suppress the blood-test evidence, and the motion was again denied. She then filed a motion to withdraw her appeal and requested a remand to the justice court under rule 38(f)(6) of the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure. The district court granted the motion.

¶7 Back in justice court, Kamoe requested that the stay on her negotiated sentence be lifted and the Judgment be reinstated. The prosecutor objected, claiming that, under Utah Code section 78A-7-118(3), her original Judgment was voided upon her appeal. And this time around, the prosecutor was unwilling to offer the same deal-Kamoe would either plead guilty to, or face trial on, the original three counts. The justice court agreed with the prosecutor's interpretation of subsection 118(3) and denied Kamoe's request for reinstatement.

¶8 Kamoe responded by filing in district court a petition for extraordinary relief under rule 65B(d)(2) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, alleging that the justice court had "exceed[ed] its jurisdiction or abused its discretion" by misinterpreting subsection 118(3) and not allowing the Judgment to be reinstated. After briefing and oral argument, the district court denied Kamoe's petition. She then appealed the denial of the petition to the court of appeals, which certified the case to this court. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Utah Code section 78A-3-102(3)(b).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶9 When considering the appeal of a petition for extraordinary relief, the reviewing court "may" grant relief "where an inferior court . . . has exceeded its jurisdiction or abused its discretion." Utah R. Civ. P. 65B(d)(2)(A). Absent special circumstances not present here, "the abuse-of-discretion standard of review" will typically "include review to ensure that no mistakes of law affected a lower court's use of its discretion, "2 and "the proper interpretation of a statute is a question of law." State v. Barrett, 2005 UT 88, ¶¶ 14, 17, 127 P.3d 682 (footnote omitted); see also State v. Petersen, 810 P.2d 421, 425 (Utah 1991) ("[T]rial courts do not have discretion to misapply the law."). Therefore, we review the justice court's interpretation of subsection 118(3) for correctness.

¶10 Still, a showing that an inferior court abused its discretion under rule 65B(d)(2) only gets a petitioner a foot in the door. As we have explained, a lower court's abuse of discretion establishes "adequate grounds for relief," but a reviewing court "may nevertheless withhold relief." Barrett, 2005 UT 88, ¶ 24. Following a showing of abuse of discretion, "[a] court faced with a petition for extraordinary relief will consider multiple factors when determining whether or not to grant the relief requested in the petition." Id. (listing, as examples, factors such as "the egregiousness of the alleged error, the significance of the legal issue presented by the petition, [and] the severity of the consequences occasioned by the alleged error"). In short, "[t]he question of whether to grant a petition for extraordinary relief lies within the sound discretion of this court." Snow, Christensen & Martineau v. Lindberg, 2013 UT 15, ¶ 22, 299 P.3d 1058 (citing Barrett, 2005 UT 88, ¶ 24).

ANALYSIS

¶11 This case concerns the effect of an appeal from a negotiated plea in justice court on the defendant's Judgment. Utah Code section 78A-7-118(3) provides: If an appeal under Subsection (1) is of a plea entered pursuant to negotiation with the prosecutor, and the defendant did not reserve the right to appeal as part of the plea negotiation, the negotiation is voided by the appeal.

And subsection (1) states in relevant part: "In a criminal case, a defendant is entitled to a trial de novo in the district court only if the defendant files a notice of appeal within 28 days of: (a) sentencing . . . ." Utah Code § 78A-7-118(1). The State argues that the final clause of subsection 118(3) voids upon appeal not just the pre-plea agreement but also the conviction, sentence, and commitment, i.e., the Judgment. Kamoe responds that the "negotiation" voided by appeal does not implicate everything attendant the Judgment; rather, the provision makes clear that, absent an agreement to the contrary, the prosecutor and defendant are not bound in district court by their plea negotiations in justice court or the outcome of those negotiations.

¶12 Thus, in Kamoe's view, when a defendant appeals a Judgment based upon a plea in justice court but "d[oes] not reserve the right to appeal as part of the plea negotiation," the Judgment remains in place unless it is supplanted by a new judgment in the district court. But there, neither the district court nor the prosecutor are bound by the same plea deal as offered below. The prosecutor has the right to take the plea deal off the table and try the defendant on all the original charges.

¶13 We agree. The plain language of subsection 118(3), read in light of the whole statute, demonstrates that "negotiation" means the pre-plea agreement between the prosecutor and defendant and does not include the Judgment. Further, the State's interpretation of subsection 118(3) cannot be read in harmony with the statute as a whole, as it would create a chasm in the statutory structure governing justice court jurisdiction.

¶14 Finding that the district court abused its discretion in misapplying subsection 118(3), we employ our ample discretion to grant Kamoe the relief she seeks under the standard of review articulated in State v. Barrett. 2005 UT 88, ¶ 24, 127 P.3d 682; see supra ¶ 10.

I. UNDER THE PLAIN LANGUAGE OF SUBSECTION 118(3), AN APPEAL FROM A NEGOTIATED PLEA IN JUSTICE COURT PRESERVES THE ASSOCIATED JUDGMENT

¶15 Our object in interpreting a statute is to determine the intent of the legislature. Castro v. Lemus, 2019 UT 71, ¶ 17, 456 P.3d 750. To do so, we first look to "the plain language of the statute" and seek to interpret it "in harmony with other statutes in the same chapter and related chapters." Id. (citations omitted). "If, after conducting this plain language review we are left with competing reasonable interpretations,...

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