People v. Owens, No. 09CA0145.

Decision Date16 April 2009
Docket NumberNo. 09CA0145.
Citation219 P.3d 379
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Sir Mario OWENS, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtColorado Court of Appeals

John W. Suthers, Attorney General, Catherine P. Adkisson, Assistant Solicitor General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Douglas K. Wilson, Colorado State Public Defender, Kathleen A. Lord, Chief Appellate Deputy Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant.

Opinion by Judge BERNARD.

Sir Mario Owens was convicted of two counts of first degree murder, for which death sentences were imposed, and several other lesser felony offenses. He has filed an appeal with this court concerning the lesser offenses and a motion requesting us to determine whether we have jurisdiction over this appeal. In light of the unitary review statute vesting the supreme court with exclusive appellate jurisdiction in death penalty cases, we dismiss the appeal.

I. Background

Defendant was sentenced to two death sentences for the two murders and to sixty-five years in the Department of Corrections for the lesser offenses. On January 22, 2009, defendant filed a motion to determine whether this court has jurisdiction over his appeal from judgments on the lesser charges and a motion for a thirty-day extension of time to file a notice of appeal. On February 11, 2009, we deferred ruling on the motion to determine jurisdiction until defendant filed a notice of appeal. Defendant filed a notice of appeal with this court on February 23, 2009, that lists all of the convictions, but which also states that the murder convictions are "not subject to this appeal." The prosecution filed a motion to dismiss the appeal on March 3, 2009.

Relying on specific language in the unitary review statute, defendant contends that we have jurisdiction over his appeal from the judgments on the lesser charges. We disagree.

II. Analysis
A. Standards of Statutory Review

Construction of a statute is a question of law. People v. Golden, 140 P.3d 1, 4 (Colo.App.2005). Our duty is to give effect to the legislature's intent. To determine this intent, we look first to the plain and ordinary meaning of the language of the statute before consulting other principles of statutory construction. People v. Banks, 9 P.3d 1125, 1127 (Colo.2000). We read the words and phrases employed in context, and we construe them "according to their common usage." Bostelman v. People, 162 P.3d 686, 690 (Colo.2007).

We examine the statute as a whole in order to give "consistent, harmonious and sensible effect to all of its parts," because we presume that the legislature intended all of a statute to be effective. People v. Davis, 218 P.3d 718, 723 (Colo.App. 2008) (quoting Bd. of County Comm'rs v. Costilla County Conservancy Dist., 88 P.3d 1188, 1192 (Colo. 2004)). We eschew interpretations that defeat the General Assembly's obvious intent, Klinger v. Adams County Sch. Dist. No. 50, 130 P.3d 1027, 1031 (Colo.2006), or that would lead to illogical or absurd results, Frazier v. People, 90 P.3d 807, 811 (Colo.2004).

The rule of lenity requires us to resolve ambiguities in a penal code in favor of defendants. See id. However, this rule is only applied as a last resort, and we will not employ it if we are able to discern the legislature's intent. Id.

B. Relevant Statutes and Court Rules
1. Statutes
a. 1994 Amendments

In 1994, the General Assembly urged the supreme court to adopt an expedited process to review for

class 1 felony convictions where the death penalty has been imposed and any order by the district court granting or denying postconviction relief in such cases. It is the general assembly's intent that the Colorado supreme court give priority to cases in which a sentence of death has been imposed over other cases before the court [with one exception not relevant here].

§ 16-12-101.5(1), C.R.S.2008 (adopted in Ch. 262, sec. 1, 1994 Colo. Sess. Laws 1473).

The act that produced this statement of legislative intent also:

• Amended section 16-12-101.5(2), C.R.S. 2008, to require that almost all challenges to the conviction and sentence in the "direct appeal of any class 1 felony case in which a conviction is entered and in which a sentence of death is imposed" must be included in the defendant's brief "at the time such brief is filed with the supreme court"; and

Added section 13-4-102(1)(h), C.R.S.2008, which states that the court of appeals does not have jurisdiction over "[c]ases appealed from the district court granting or denying postconviction relief in a case in which a sentence of death has been imposed."

Ch. 262, secs. 1 & 3, 1994 Sess. Laws 1473-74.

b. 1997 Amendments

The legislature added the statutes establishing unitary review in death penalty cases (the unitary review statute, or the URS) in 1997. §§ 16-12-201 to -210, C.R.S.2008 (adopted in Ch. 268, sec. 1, 1997 Colo. Sess. Laws 1573-82). As pertinent here, the legislative declaration for the URS, found in section 16-12-201, states:

(1) The general assembly hereby declares that the purpose of this part 2 is to establish an expedited system of unitary review of class 1 felony cases in which a death sentence is imposed.

(2) The general assembly finds that enactment of this part 2 will accomplish the following goals ...

(c) Allowing for the full and fair examination of all legally cognizable postconviction and appellate issues by the trial court and the Colorado supreme court; and

(d) Eliminating, to the fullest extent possible, unreasonable and unjust delays in the resolution of postconviction issues by combining and reducing the number of proceedings in class 1 felony cases.

Section 16-12-202(1) establishes the URS as the "only procedure for challenging a sentence of death or the conviction that resulted in the sentence of death." Section 16-12-207(2) states Any appeal to the Colorado supreme court filed by the defendant pursuant to this part 2 [the URS] shall consolidate and resolve, in one proceeding, all direct appeal and postconviction review appeal issues.

Section 16-12-203(1) defines "direct appeal" as

the appeal to the Colorado supreme court of any issues raised at the entry of a guilty plea, before trial, at trial, at the penalty phase hearing, or in a motion for new trial.

Section 16-12-203(5) defines "postconviction review appeal" as "the appeal to the Colorado supreme court of any issues raised in postconviction review proceedings."

Our supreme court must review the propriety of all death sentences under section 18-1.3-1201(6)(a), C.R.S.2008. At the same time the legislature enacted the URS, the legislature amended section 18-1.3-1201(6)(a) by adding the following sentence: "The supreme court shall combine its review pursuant to this subsection (6) with consideration of any appeal that may be filed pursuant to [the URS]." Ch. 268, sec. 2, § 16-11-103(6)(a), 1997 Colo. Sess. Laws 1582.

The URS also directs the supreme court to adopt rules to establish procedures governing the "postconviction review and unitary appeal process" created by the URS. § 16-12-208(1). These rules are adopted to address, among other issues, filing of notices of appeal, certification of the appellate record, and the filing of briefs "in the supreme court." § 16-12-208(2)(i)-(k).

The URS provides that, as a general matter, "the Colorado appellate rules govern the procedures to be followed in appeals to the Colorado supreme court of trial court rulings" under the URS. § 16-12-208(4). The legislature urged the supreme court to render its decisions reviewing "class 1 felony convictions where the death penalty has been imposed" expeditiously, and repeated its intent that the supreme court give priority to cases in which the death penalty has been imposed. § 16-12-208(5).

2. Crim. P. 32.2

Crim. P. 32.2, effective January 1, 1998, was the response to the legislature's urging in the URS that the supreme court adopt rules implementing the URS. The purpose of Crim. P. 32.2 includes creating a "fair, just and expeditious procedure" for conducting appellate review of direct appeals "in class one felony cases in which a sentence of death is imposed." Crim. P. 32.2(a). A notice of appeal for direct appeal and postconviction review "shall be filed by unitary notice in the supreme court." Crim. P. 32.2(c)(1). "Any direct appeals," "any" postconviction appeals, and the review required by section 18-1.3-1201(6)(a) "shall be consolidated and resolved in one proceeding before the supreme court." Crim. P. 32.2(c)(3).

C. Conclusion

Section 13-4-102(1), C.R.S.2008, imbues the court of appeals with initial jurisdiction over "appeals from final judgments of the district courts." We conclude that this general grant of jurisdiction has been modified by specific limitations established by the legislature. See B.G.'s, Inc. v. Gross, 23 P.3d 691, 696 (Colo.2001) (when statutes dealing with the same subject cannot be reconciled, a more specific statute prevails as an exception to a general one).

We reach this conclusion by interpreting the language of the URS in context, according to its common usage, in order to discover the legislature's intent. We examine section 16-12-101.5(2), section 18-1.3-1201(6)(a), and the URS in its entirety to give those sections sensible effect, and we avoid constructions that would defeat the legislature's intent. This interpretive process yields five reasons supporting our conclusion that we do not have jurisdiction over this appeal.

First, the General Assembly repeatedly used the word "case" when describing the supreme court's review. §§ 16-12-101.5(1) (supreme court to give priority to "cases" in which death penalty has been imposed), 16-12-101.5(2) (referring to any appeal of a class one felony "case"), 16-12-201(1) (purpose of the URS is to establish unitary review of class one felony "cases"), 16-12-201(2)(d) (purpose of the URS is to eliminate unreasonable and unjust...

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