People v. McMurtry

Decision Date07 November 2005
Docket NumberNo. 04SC437.,04SC437.
Citation122 P.3d 237
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Petitioner/Cross-Respondent, v. Christopher MCMURTRY, Respondent/Cross-Petitioner.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

John W. Suthers, Attorney General, Jennifer M. Smith, Assistant Attorney General, Matthew D. Grove, Assistant Attorney General, Appellate Division, Criminal Justice Section, Denver, for Petitioner/Cross-Respondent.

David S. Kaplan, Colorado State Public Defender, Mark G. Walta, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, for Respondent/Cross-Petitioner.

BENDER, Justice.

INTRODUCTION

We review the court of appeals' decision in People v. McMurtry, 101 P.3d 1098 (Colo.App.2003), which affirmed Christopher McMurtry's conviction pursuant to his plea of guilty to attempted sexual assault. Before entering his guilty plea, McMurtry moved to dismiss his case on the grounds that his statutory right to a speedy trial had been violated. The trial court denied this motion. Following language in earlier decisions of this court and of the court of appeals, the court of appeals held that an improper denial of an accused's statutory right to a speedy trial was a matter of subject matter jurisdiction and thus McMurtry's guilty plea did not foreclose his right to appellate review. That court affirmed McMurtry's guilty plea holding that his motion to dismiss was properly denied.

We affirm the judgment of the court of appeals but employ alternate reasoning. We hold that the improper denial of the statutory right to a speedy trial does not divest the trial court of subject matter jurisdiction. In such cases, the trial court possesses jurisdiction to accept a valid, binding and enforceable plea. By entering a guilty plea, a defendant waives his right to appellate review on the issue of the denial of his statutory right to a speedy trial. Addressing McMurtry's second argument for appellate review of his statutory speedy trial claim, that he entered a conditional plea of guilty, we hold that the facts of this case do not establish a conditional guilty plea.

Our holding clarifies our earlier decisions concerning the statutory speedy trial right and disapproves decisions of the court of appeals that hold that improper denial of this right divests the trial court of jurisdiction to accept a guilty plea.1 We return this case to the court of appeals with directions to return it to the trial court with directions to affirm McMurtry's plea of guilty.

FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS BELOW

Christopher McMurtry was a juvenile when he was charged as an adult with several counts of felony sexual assault. While represented by the Public Defender's Office, McMurtry entered a plea of not guilty with his trial date set for four months later.

McMurtry was held in the Adams County Detention Facility while awaiting trial. In violation of both a statute2 and a court order, the sheriff's department failed to segregate McMurtry from the adult inmates. As a result, McMurtry learned of information that caused him to be a witness in an unrelated case of a defendant who was represented by the public defender. The trial court granted the public defender's motion to withdraw from McMurtry's case and appointed alternative defense counsel two weeks before McMurtry's scheduled trial date. McMurtry sought a continuance and waived his right to speedy trial to accommodate a scheduling conflict of his new attorney and to allow this attorney adequate time to prepare for trial. The court set the new trial date nearly ten months from the date of McMurtry's plea of not guilty.

Two weeks before trial, McMurtry moved to dismiss the charges against him, arguing that his statutory right to a speedy trial had been violated by "the People's bad faith violation of" the juvenile segregation statute and of the "express orders" of the court.3 McMurtry claimed that his waiver of his speedy trial right was invalid due to the fact that the sheriff's department failed to follow the trial court's orders to segregate him from adult prisoners, which led in turn to the conflict of interest with his first attorney, the public defender. The trial court denied the motion, finding no bad faith on the part of the sheriff's department or the prosecution.

Three days before his trial, McMurtry entered a plea of guilty pursuant to a plea agreement with the prosecution. At the time he entered the plea, McMurtry told the trial court that he wanted to reserve his right to appeal the court's denial of his motion to dismiss for violation of speedy trial. The court stated that it was unsure if McMurtry's guilty plea would waive his right to appeal, and stated that whether the denial of his motion to dismiss was appealable would have to be decided by an appellate court. Despite this warning about whether his motion to dismiss was appealable, McMurtry stated that he understood his rights and the court accepted his guilty plea.

McMurtry appealed the trial court's speedy trial ruling to the court of appeals, arguing two points. First, McMurtry argued that because the sheriff's department, in bad faith, violated the juvenile segregation statute, the continuance he sought and was granted must be charged against the People. Under this theory, the People caused his trial to be scheduled beyond the six-month statutory speedy trial period. Thus, the trial court erred in failing to dismiss the charges against him for violation of the speedy trial statute. Second, McMurtry argued, for the first time, that these facts constituted a denial of his constitutional right to a speedy trial.

The court of appeals addressed the issue of the propriety of appellate review of the denial of McMurtry's motion to dismiss as one of jurisdiction. McMurtry, 101 P.3d at 1100. Addressing first the statutory right to a speedy trial, the court held that McMurtry's appeal was reviewable because "improper denial of a defendant's motion to dismiss for violation of his or her statutory right to a speedy trial divests the trial court of jurisdiction to proceed." Id. (citing Hampton v. Dist. Court, 199 Colo. 104, 605 P.2d 54 (Colo.1980)) (additional case citations omitted). Based upon the fact that McMurtry had moved to dismiss prior to entering his guilty plea, the court of appeals held that it could properly consider his statutory speedy trial argument. Id.

On the substance of McMurtry's appeal, the court of appeals found no bad faith on the part of the sheriff's department or the prosecution. Id. at 1101. Thus, the court of appeals held that McMurtry's waiver of his statutory speedy trial right was valid and that the trial court properly charged the continuance to McMurtry. Id. Based upon this, the court of appeals held that McMurtry's statutory right to a speedy trial was not violated. Id.

Turning to McMurtry's constitutional arguments, the court of appeals held that in contrast to the statutory right to a speedy trial, the constitutional right is not jurisdictional. Id. at 1101-02. Thus, the court reasoned, a defendant does waive his constitutional right to a speedy trial once he pleads guilty. Id. Applying this reasoning, the court found that McMurtry had waived his constitutional right to a speedy trial by entering a guilty plea. Id. at 1102.

The People sought certiorari review on the question of whether McMurtry's entry of a plea of guilty bars him from appealing the denial of his motion to dismiss. McMurtry's cross-petition sought certiorari review on two questions: first, whether the court of appeals wrongly precluded McMurtry from appealing his conviction through his argument that he was deprived of constitutional right to a speedy trial; and second, whether delays in bringing McMurtry to trial ought to be charged against the People, resulting in a violation of his statutory right to a speedy trial.4

ANALYSIS
Introduction

We first address McMurtry's argument that the trial court's denial of his motion to dismiss for violation of his statutory right to a speedy trial merits appellate review. Generally, a guilty plea precludes review of issues that arose prior to the plea. See People v. Schneider, 25 P.3d 755, 759-60 (Colo.2001). But exceptions exist to this general rule. One such exception is that challenges to a trial court's subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time. See Crim.P. 35(c)(2)(III) (2005). Because we hold that the improper denial of the statutory right to a speedy trial is not a matter of subject matter jurisdiction, McMurtry's right to appeal the trial court's denial of his motion to dismiss does not survive his plea of guilty on jurisdictional grounds. McMurtry's second theory seeking appellate review of his plea of guilty and conviction rests upon the argument that his guilty plea was a conditional one —that is, conditional upon appellate review of his earlier-denied motion to dismiss. In Colorado there exists no clear recognition of the conditional plea and we decline to provide one here. Instead, we hold that the facts of this case do not establish a basis for us to conclude that McMurtry entered a conditional plea.

The Statutory Right to a Speedy Trial and Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Section 18-1-405, C.R.S. (2005), guarantees the criminal defendant the right to a speedy trial. Specifically, this section requires that a defendant be brought to trial within six months of his plea of not guilty. § 18-1-405(1), C.R.S. (2005). This statutory protection is meant to give effect to the constitutional right to a speedy trial. Ex parte Schechtel, 103 Colo. 77, 82, 82 P.2d 762, 764 (Colo.1938) overruled on other grounds by Watson v. People, 700 P.2d 544 (Colo.1985). The statute does not create any additional rights. Id. Rather, it provides a "method of securing" the constitutional right of an accused to a speedy trial. Id.

The court of appeals opinion rests upon the premise that because an improper denial of a statutory speedy trial motion is jurisdictional, it may...

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