State v. Brown, 48305

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Writing for the CourtBRODY, JUSTICE.
Decision Date05 January 2022
PartiesSTATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. VINCENT OTIS BROWN, Defendant-Appellant.
Docket Number48305

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,

VINCENT OTIS BROWN, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 48305

Supreme Court of Idaho

January 5, 2022

Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Lansing L. Haynes, District Judge.

The decision of the district court is affirmed.

Eric D. Fredericksen, State Appellant Public Defender, for Appellant. Kimberly Coster argued.

Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for Respondent. Ken Jorgensen argued.


This appeal addresses the one motion limit under Idaho Criminal Rule 35(b) for motions by a defendant to reduce sentence. Brown made two oral requests for reduction of sentence prior to the district court relinquishing jurisdiction and imposing sentence. After sentence was imposed, Brown filed one written motion to reduce sentence pursuant to Rule 35(b). The district court denied the motion, and Brown appeals that denial.

Before reaching the merits of Brown's appeal, we address three prior decisions concerning Rule 35(b). We now disavow our decision in State v. Wersland, 125 Idaho 499, 873 P.2d 144 (1994) and abrogate the holding in State v. Bottens, 137 Idaho 730, 52 P.3d 875 (Ct. App. 2002)


to the extent those cases treated the one motion limit in Rule 35(b) as jurisdictional in effect. We also clarify that the one motion limit in Rule 35(b) is a procedural rule, but we apply this announcement only prospectively. In addition, we abrogate State v. Hurst, 151 Idaho 430, 258 P.3d 950 (Ct. App. 2011) where the Court of Appeals interpreted the one motion limit in Rule 35(b) as applying to both written and oral motions for a reduction of sentence at any point after a sentence is announced. Finally, we affirm the district court's decision denying Brown's Rule 35(b) motion to reduce his sentence.


In November of 2012, police in Kootenai County, Idaho, received a report of a stolen pistol. Three months later, the State filed a criminal complaint against Vincent Otis Brown for burglary, felony grand theft of a firearm, and unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon after police discovered he had pawned the same pistol. Following a preliminary hearing, the district court dismissed all counts except for the felony grand theft charge.

Four months after being charged, Brown pleaded guilty pursuant to a plea agreement with the State. The district court accepted Brown's guilty plea and set his sentencing hearing for October of 2013. The district court released Brown on his own recognizance, ordered a presentence investigation, and ordered Brown to return for sentencing. However, Brown did not appear for his presentence investigation interview, and the State filed a bench warrant request before the date of his sentencing hearing. After Brown failed to appear and show cause why the warrant should not issue, the district court granted the bench warrant request and vacated the sentencing hearing. Brown alleged he showed up to the courthouse on the day of his vacated sentencing hearing, but thought he was "good to go" because he did not see his name on the day's docket. Brown then moved to Louisiana to "live his life" without contacting his attorney or the court about his sentencing.

Nearly three years after moving to Louisiana, Brown decided to return for sentencing after a prospective employer ran a background check and informed him that he had an outstanding warrant in Idaho. Brown traveled to Washington and turned himself in to the Spokane Police Department for transfer to Idaho. After his transfer, Brown's presentence investigation was finally completed. The presentence report documented Brown's criminal history as involving violent crimes, theft, and felony convictions across several states: a 1986 felony conviction for breaking and entering in Michigan; a 1986 felony conviction for carrying a concealed weapon in Michigan;


a 1988 felony conviction for second degree murder in Michigan (Brown explained that this charge involved him shooting an arrow "into the sky" and it landing on a homeless person who then died); a 2006 felony fugitive charge in Minnesota; a 2010 misdemeanor conviction for petty theft in Idaho; a 2011 misdemeanor assault charge in Washington; a 2012 misdemeanor assault charge in Washington; a 2013 felony charge for grand theft of a firearm in Idaho with sentencing in 2016 (the underlying conviction in this appeal); and a 2013 misdemeanor assault charge in Washington.

On September 16, 2016, about two months after Brown turned himself in for sentencing, District Court Judge Cynthia K.C. Meyer, sentenced Brown to a unified term of six years, with three years fixed and three years indeterminate. The court suspended the sentence and placed Brown on supervised probation for three years. However, as a sanction for absconding to Louisiana, the court ordered six months county jail time, after which Brown's probation would commence. Approximately three months after sentencing, Brown's case was transferred to District Court Judge Lansing L. Haynes.

In 2019, following a report of probation violations, the district court revoked Brown's probation. At the revocation hearing, Brown admitted to the following violations: poor attendance and participation in his substance abuse program; dismissal from the same program; an arrest by Lewiston Police for possession of methamphetamine; failure to attend a scheduled appointment with his probation officer; and three urinalysis tests which were positive for marijuana. At the hearing, the district court asked for defense counsel's "recommendation" as to the case disposition. Brown's counsel recommended a rider or reducing the sentence by commuting it:

Your Honor, we're asking the Court to consider a rider in this case or alternatively commuting the indeterminate period-excuse me, the determinate period of the sentence to a year and a half, and then adding the remaining year and a half to the indeterminate period of the sentence

Ruling from the bench, the district court concluded that Brown violated multiple terms of his probation. The district court made the decision to retain jurisdiction and send Brown on a rider.

Approximately eight months into his rider program, Brown was accused of engaging in two violent incidents against other inmates, as well as other non-violent violations. The first violent incident involved Brown striking an inmate with an "easy clamp" cane after that inmate allegedly directed racial slurs at Brown. The second violent incident involved Brown, apparently unprovoked, striking another inmate in the face with his fist.


On January 31, 2020, the district court held a jurisdictional review hearing to examine these incidents and decide Brown's case disposition. At the hearing, Brown's defense counsel recommended probation, another rider, or reducing the fixed term of Brown's sentence:

With respect to our recommendations, your Honor. We're asking the Court to consider probation in this case. He has a place to live. He's completed a substantial amount of his programming . . . . If your Honor feels that probation is inappropriate in this case, we're asking the Court to consider [giving] him another chance at the rider . . . . Finally, Judge, if your Honor feels a rider is not appropriate we're asking the Court to consider reducing the fixed term in this case.

Before rendering its decision, the district court described its concerns with Brown's previous probation violations, his extensive criminal history, and the two violent incidents during the rider program. Ultimately, the district court relinquished jurisdiction and imposed Brown's original sentence of six years, with three years fixed and three years indeterminate.

After sentence was imposed, Brown timely filed a written Rule 35(b) motion requesting a reduction of his sentence. The district court denied Brown's motion, reiterating, among other things, the sentencing factors, the court's concerns from the previous jurisdictional review hearing, and the need to protect society from Brown's inability to control his conduct. Brown timely appealed the district court's denial to this Court.


A. The one motion limit in Rule 35(b) is a procedural limit on the sentencing court.

The State contends the district court erred by entertaining Brown's written motion for a reduced sentence because the one motion limit in Idaho Criminal Rule 35(b) deprives the district court of subject matter jurisdiction whenever the limit is offended. The State's position is based on our opinion in State v. Wersland, 125 Idaho 499, 505, 873 P.2d 144, 150 (1994) and the holding of the Court of Appeals in State v. Bottens, 137 Idaho 730, 732-33, 52 P.3d 875, 877-78 (Ct. App. 2002). Today we disavow Wersland and abrogate Bottens to the extent either case held the one motion limit in Rule 35(b) was jurisdictional in effect. Instead, we clarify that the one motion limit in Rule 35(b) is a procedural limit on the district court's authority-not power-to entertain successive motions to reduce a defendant's sentence.

"Stare decisis requires that this Court follows controlling precedent unless that precedent is manifestly wrong, has proven over time to be unjust or unwise, or overruling that precedent is necessary to vindicate plain, obvious principles of law and remedy continued injustice." State v. Owens, 158 Idaho 1, 4-5, 343 P.3d 30, 33-34 (2015). Issues of subject matter jurisdiction are


unwaivable questions of law subject to this Court's free review. State v. Jones, 140 Idaho 755, 757, 101 P.3d 699, 701 (2004). Here, we are concerned not so much with directly overruling controlling precedent as we are with cleaning up the imprecise use of the term "jurisdiction" in Wersland and Bottens.

Precise use of the term "jurisdiction" refers only to: (1) personal...

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