People v. Summers, No. 08SA169.

Docket NºNo. 08SA169.
Citation208 P.3d 251
Case DateMay 26, 2009
CourtSupreme Court of Colorado
208 P.3d 251
The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff
v.
Eugene SUMMERS, Defendant.
No. 08SA169.
Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc.
May 26, 2009.

[208 P.3d 253]

Mitchell R. Morrissey, District Attorney, Second Judicial District, Robert J. Whitley, Chief Appellate Deputy District Attorney, Denver, Colorado, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

Haddon, Morgan, Mueller, Jordan, Mackey & Foreman, P.C., Norman R. Mueller, Rachel A. Bellis, Denver, Colorado, Attorneys for Defendant.

Justice RICE delivered the Opinion of the Court.


This original proceeding arises out of the defendant's motion to dismiss the sexual assault on a child charges against him because they are time barred. The defendant contends that the ten-year statute of limitations in effect when he allegedly committed the crimes mandates dismissal of charges brought more than ten years after the last alleged incident. The People counter that the General Assembly's amendment of the statute of limitations for sexual assault on a child, extending it to ten years after the victim reaches the age of eighteen, was intended to apply retroactively and therefore applies to the charges in this case. The trial court agreed with the People, concluding that the extended statute of limitations applied to the defendant, and denied his motion to dismiss. We issued a rule to show cause and now make that rule absolute, holding that because we are unable to discern the legislative intent behind the amendments to the statute of limitations, we must apply the rule of lenity to bar the charges under the ten-year statute of limitations in effect when the crimes were allegedly committed. We also overrule the court of appeals' recent decision in People v. Boston, ___ P.3d ___, No. 07CR2186, 2009 WL 400073 (Colo.App. Feb. 19, 2009).

I. Facts and Procedural History

The defendant, Eugene Summers, was charged with thirty-two counts of sexual assault on a child, sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust, sexual assault on a child — pattern of abuse, and criminal attempt to commit sexual assault on a child. The acts were allegedly committed during two separate time periods — one period from August 1, 1992, to August 31, 1993, and one period from August 1, 1995, to June 30, 1996. The felony complaint charging Summers with these crimes was filed April 6, 2007. Summers moved to dismiss the charges against him, contending that they were all barred by the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations in effect at the time of the alleged crimes was ten years. However, the General Assembly amended the statute of limitations in 2002, tolling the ten-year statute of limitations for sexual assault on a child until the child victim reaches the age of eighteen. The trial court denied Summers' motion to dismiss, holding that the newly amended statute of limitations applied to Summers' case and that it had not yet run.1

II. Analysis

We are asked in this case to determine which statute of limitations applies to the sexual assault on a child charges brought against Summers. Because the plain language of the statute is ambiguous and we are unable to determine any clear intent expressed by the legislature, we hold that the rule of lenity applies and the ten-year statute of limitations in effect at the time of the alleged acts bars the charges against Summers.

A. Ambiguity in Plain Language

The amendments to the statute of limitations for sexual assault on a child were introduced as House Bill 02-1396, which was later enacted as § 18-3-411, C.R.S. (2002). In determining how to apply H.B. 02-1396,

208 P.3d 254

we begin with the plain language of the statute. Frazier v. People, 90 P.3d 807, 810 (Colo.2004). If the language is unambiguous, we look no further and apply the words as written. Slack v. Farmers Insurance Exchange, 5 P.3d 280, 284 (Colo.2000). If, however, there is ambiguity on the face of the statute, our task is to discern the legislative intent behind the law. Frazier, 90 P.3d at 810. In construing statutory language, we read the statute as a whole, with a goal of giving "consistent, harmonious, and sensible effect to all its parts." People v. Dist. Court, 713 P.2d 918, 921 (Colo.1986).

For purposes of determining the statute of limitations that applies to Summers' alleged crimes, two sentences contained in section 18-3-411 are relevant. The first is contained in subsection (2)(b) and reads, "The ten-year statute of limitations shall apply to all felony offenses specified in subsection (1) of this section which are alleged to have occurred on or after July 1, 1992." § 18-3-411(2)(b), C.R.S. (2002). The second appears in section 18-3-411(5) as published in the Colorado Session Laws and reads, "Except as otherwise provided in subsection (2) of this section, this act shall take effect upon passage, and shall apply to offenses committed on or after said date." Ch. 288, sec. 5, § 18-3-411, 2002 Colo. Sess. Laws 1127, 1130.

These two sentences are in direct conflict with one another. The first mandates that the new eighteen-plus-ten statute of limitations be retroactively applied to all crimes for which the ten-year statute of limitations had not yet run when the new law was enacted, including the crimes at issue in this case. If that language is applied, the charges against Summers are not time barred, and he can be tried on the charges. However, the second sentence mandates that the new statute of limitations applies only to crimes committed on or after its effective date of June 3, 2002, implying that the previously existing flat ten-year statute of limitations be applied to all crimes committed before that date. If this language is applied, the flat ten-year statute of limitations applies in this case, and the charges against Summers are time barred. Reading the statute as a whole, it is impossible to give meaning to both of these provisions. We must therefore determine which one controls by inquiring into the legislative intent behind the language used.

B. Legislative Intent

Because we are unable to apply the plain language of the statute, we turn to an analysis of the legislature's intent in enacting the statute. When an ambiguity appears on the face of a statute, "we may rely on other factors such as legislative history, the consequences of a given construction and the goal of the statutory scheme to determine a statute's meaning." Frazier, 90 P.3d at 811. In doing so, we are mindful that "[a] statute should not be construed in a manner which defeats the obvious legislative intent." Tacorante v. People, 624 P.2d 1324, 1330 (Colo. 1981).

1. Legislative History

The confusion in this case arises out of a poorly drafted statute — the substantive provisions of the statute indicate that the statute is to apply retroactively, but the effective date clause explicitly states that the statute applies to crimes committed on or after the statute's effective date. In order to understand the conflicting provisions of the law, it is important to consider how the statute was amended.

Prior to the 2002 legislative session, the statute of limitations for sexual assault on a child in Colorado was ten years from the date of the last occurrence of the crime. The statute of limitations at the time read:

No person shall be prosecuted, tried, or punished for an unlawful sexual offense other than the misdemeanor offenses specified in sections 18-3-402 and 18-3-404, unless the indictment, information, complaint, or action for the same is found or instituted within ten years after commission of the offense. . . . The ten-year statute of limitations shall apply to all offenses specified in subsection (1) of this section [including the offenses with which the defendant is charged in this case] which are

208 P.3d 255

alleged to have occurred on or after July 1, 1979.

§ 18-3-411(2), C.R.S. (2001).

The General Assembly amended the law in 2002 to toll the ten-year statute of limitations for sexual assault on a child until the child victim reaches the age of eighteen. The substantive amendments indicated that the new statute of limitations was intended to reach back and apply to crimes committed on or after July 1, 1992. The amended statute of limitations provided:

No person shall be prosecuted, tried, or punished for an unlawful sexual offense charged as a felony unless the indictment, information, complaint, or action for the same is found or instituted within ten years after the victim reaches the age of eighteen years. The ten-year statute of limitations shall apply to all felony offenses specified in subsection (1) of this section [including the offenses with which the defendant is charged in this case] which are alleged to have occurred on or after July 1, 1992.

§ 18-3-411(2)(b), C.R.S. (2002) (emphasis added). When H.B. 02-1396 was initially proposed,2 it contained a no-appropriations clause.3 Section 3 of the original version of the bill read:

The general assembly hereby finds that the amendments to sections 16-5-401 and 18-3-411, Colorado Revised Statutes, enacted in this act will result in the minor fiscal impact of one additional offender being convicted and sentenced to the department of corrections during the five years following the passage of the act. Because of the relative insignificance of this degree of fiscal impact, these amendments constitute an exception to the five-year appropriation requirement specified in section 2-2-703, Colorado Revised Statutes.

H.B. 1396, 63rd Gen. Assem., 2d Reg. Sess. (Colo.2002).

This version of the bill resulted from the Colorado Legislative Council Staff's State and Local Fiscal Impact Report, which analyzed the financial impact of the change in the statute of limitations, and predicted an increase of one offender admitted to the Department of Corrections every five years. Finding an increase of one offender every five years to be minimal, the House attempted to exempt the bill from the requirement that the bill's costs...

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58 practice notes
  • United States ex rel. King v. Solvay S.A., Civil Action No. H–06–2662.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • October 12, 2011
    ...it must turn to “other aids of statutory construction” when “legislative history fails to reveal the legislative intent behind the bill.” 208 P.3d 251, 256 (Colo.2009). “One such aid in Colorado is the presumption that statutes apply prospectively,” which the Colorado General Assembly can o......
  • Carruthers v. Carrier Access Corp.., No. 09CA2138.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • October 28, 2010
    ...other members of the General Assembly, and witnesses testifying for or against it. See § 2–4–203(1)(b), (c), (g); People v. Summers, 208 P.3d 251, 255 & n. 2 (Colo.2009) (successive drafts of legislation); Walgreen Co. v. Charnes, 819 P.2d 1039, 1044 (Colo.1991) (legislative declaration); D......
  • People v. Jones, Supreme Court Case No. 18SC445
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • June 1, 2020
    ...legislature's intent, "ambiguity in the meaning of a criminal statute must be interpreted in favor of the defendant." People v. Summers , 208 P.3d 251, 258 (Colo. 2009) (quoting People v. Thoro Prods. Co. , 70 P.3d 1188, 1198 (Colo. 2003) ). This is "a rule of last resort," and is to be "in......
  • People v. Stellabotte, Court of Appeals No. 14CA1954
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • July 14, 2016
    ...¶ 43 In determining whether to apply amendments to legislation, we first look to the plain language of the statute. People v. Summers , 208 P.3d 251, 253–54 (Colo. 2009). Statutes that explicitly state that they are to apply only to offenses committed after the effective date are to be appl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
59 cases
  • United States ex rel. King v. Solvay S.A., Civil Action No. H–06–2662.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • October 12, 2011
    ...it must turn to “other aids of statutory construction” when “legislative history fails to reveal the legislative intent behind the bill.” 208 P.3d 251, 256 (Colo.2009). “One such aid in Colorado is the presumption that statutes apply prospectively,” which the Colorado General Assembly can o......
  • Carruthers v. Carrier Access Corp.., No. 09CA2138.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • October 28, 2010
    ...other members of the General Assembly, and witnesses testifying for or against it. See § 2–4–203(1)(b), (c), (g); People v. Summers, 208 P.3d 251, 255 & n. 2 (Colo.2009) (successive drafts of legislation); Walgreen Co. v. Charnes, 819 P.2d 1039, 1044 (Colo.1991) (legislative declaration); D......
  • People v. Jones, Supreme Court Case No. 18SC445
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • June 1, 2020
    ...legislature's intent, "ambiguity in the meaning of a criminal statute must be interpreted in favor of the defendant." People v. Summers , 208 P.3d 251, 258 (Colo. 2009) (quoting People v. Thoro Prods. Co. , 70 P.3d 1188, 1198 (Colo. 2003) ). This is "a rule of last resort," and is to be "in......
  • People v. Stellabotte, Court of Appeals No. 14CA1954
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • July 14, 2016
    ...¶ 43 In determining whether to apply amendments to legislation, we first look to the plain language of the statute. People v. Summers , 208 P.3d 251, 253–54 (Colo. 2009). Statutes that explicitly state that they are to apply only to offenses committed after the effective date are to be appl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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