State v. Lucero, No. 54375.

Docket NºNo. 54375.
Citation249 P.3d 1226, 127 Nev. Adv. Op. 7
Case DateMarch 17, 2011
CourtSupreme Court of Nevada

249 P.3d 1226
127 Nev.
Adv. Op. 7

The STATE of Nevada, Appellant,
v.
Arthur Louis LUCERO, Respondent.

No. 54375.

Supreme Court of Nevada.

March 17, 2011.


[249 P.3d 1226]

Catherine Cortez Masto, Attorney General, Carson City; Richard A. Gammick, District Attorney, and Gary H. Hatlestad, Chief Deputy District Attorney, Washoe County, for Appellant.Jennifer L. Lunt, Alternate Public Defender, and Mary Pat Barry, Deputy Alternate Public Defender, Washoe County, for Respondent.BEFORE DOUGLAS, C.J., PICKERING and HARDESTY, JJ.

[249 P.3d 1227]

OPINION

By the Court, HARDESTY, J.:

A conviction for level-three trafficking in a controlled substance results in a mandatory minimum prison term of 10 years pursuant to NRS 453.3385(3), unless the defendant renders substantial assistance to law enforcement pursuant to NRS 453.3405(2). Under the substantial-assistance exception, the district court has discretion to reduce or suspend the mandatory minimum sentence if it determines that the defendant rendered substantial assistance. In this appeal, we consider whether the district court has the authority to reduce the 10–year minimum sentence prescribed by NRS 453.3385 when revoking probation pursuant to NRS 176A.630 for a defendant who previously received a suspended sentence because he rendered substantial assistance. We conclude that the phrase “minimum term of imprisonment prescribed by the applicable penal statute” in NRS 176A.630, which limits the extent to which a district court can reduce the term of imprisonment upon revocation of probation, is ambiguous when applied to NRS 453.3385 in cases where a defendant has rendered substantial assistance. Because the general rules of statutory construction do not resolve that ambiguity, we apply the rule of lenity and conclude that the district court had the authority to reduce the defendant's sentence after it revoked his probation.

FACTS

In 2007, the State charged respondent Arthur Lucero with one count of level-three trafficking in a controlled substance, in violation of NRS 453.3385(3), and in January 2008, he pleaded guilty to that charge. The district court sentenced Lucero to life in prison with eligibility for parole after 10 years, but the court suspended his sentence, placing him on probation for up to 60 months pursuant to NRS 453.3405(2) because he provided “substantial assistance” to law enforcement.

Several months later, Lucero violated the terms of his probation. After a hearing pursuant to Anaya v. State, 96 Nev. 119, 606 P.2d 156 (1980), 1 the district court revoked his probation. Lucero's counsel requested a lesser sentence than the sentence originally imposed by the district court because of the prior finding of substantial assistance. After revoking his probation, the district court reduced Lucero's original sentence to 180 months with eligibility for parole after 24 months.

The State then filed a motion to correct the new sentence, which it asserted was an illegal sentence. The State argued that allowing parole eligibility in less than 10 years violated the statutorily prescribed minimum sentence found in NRS 453.3385(3). It also argued that NRS 453.3405(2), which allows a sentence reduction for “substantial assistance,” is limited to original sentences imposed by the district court, not subsequent probation revocation proceedings. Permitting such a sentence reduction at the time probation is being revoked, the State argued, would allow district courts to resentence probation violators on lesser charges than those of their original convictions. Lucero countered that the applicable sentencing statute contains an exception to the minimum sentencing requirements for defendants who provided substantial assistance to the State. Thus, he argued, the controlling sentencing statute at the time of probation revocation authorized the district court to reduce sentences below the statutory 10–year minimum.

The district court ultimately found that it had authority to reduce Lucero's sentence at the time of probation revocation pursuant to NRS 453.3405(2), and it denied the State's motion to correct the sentence. The State now appeals.

DISCUSSION

NRS 453.3385 prescribes the mandatory prison sentence for trafficking in certain controlled substances unless, under

[249 P.3d 1228]

NRS 453.3405(2), the defendant has “rendered substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of any offense.” In such event, the district court has discretion to “reduce or suspend” the mandatory prison sentence imposed for a drug trafficking violation. NRS 453.3405(2). The State and Lucero agree that the substantial-assistance provision applied at the time Lucero was originally sentenced, giving the district court the discretion to deviate from the mandatory minimum by reducing or suspending his sentence. In its original sentence, the district court chose not to reduce the statutorily mandated minimum sentence for a level-three trafficking offense of 10 years, but instead imposed the minimum sentence and suspended it for 60 months.

When a defendant's probation is revoked, NRS 176A.630(5) precludes the court from sentencing him or her to prison for a term “less than the minimum term of imprisonment prescribed by the applicable penal statute.” In this appeal, we must determine whether the “minimum term of imprisonment” after revocation of Lucero's level-three trafficking sentence includes consideration of substantial assistance rendered under NRS 453.3405(2). Applying the rule of lenity, we conclude that the district court can consider substantial assistance rendered by a defendant in setting the minimum term of imprisonment after probation revocation.

Standard of review and statutory interpretation

Challenges to a district court's discretionary modification of a sentence after a probation revocation hearing are reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Kirkpatrick v. State, 122 Nev. 846, 848, 137 P.3d 1193, 1194 (2006). However, we review questions of statutory interpretation de novo. State v. Catanio, 120 Nev. 1030, 1033, 102 P.3d 588, 590 (2004). Whether the substantial-assistance provision of NRS 453.3405(2) applies after the district court revokes probation is a matter of statutory interpretation.

When interpreting a statute, legislative intent “is the controlling factor.” Robert E. v. Justice Court, 99 Nev. 443, 445, 664 P.2d 957, 959 (1983). The starting point for determining legislative intent is the statute's plain meaning; when a statute “is clear on its face, a court can not go beyond the statute in determining legislative intent.” Id.; see also Catanio, 120 Nev. at 1033, 102 P.3d at 590 (“We must attribute the plain meaning to a statute that is not ambiguous.”). But when “the statutory language lends itself to two or more reasonable interpretations,” the statute is ambiguous, and we may then look...

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91 practice notes
  • Lisle v. State, No. 55173.
    • United States
    • Nevada Supreme Court of Nevada
    • June 25, 2015
    ...circumstance or circumstances found.” The plain meaning of a statute controls its interpretation. State v. Lucero, 127 Nev. 92, 95, 249 P.3d 1226, 1228 (2011). Here, the plain language of NRS 175.554(3) is that a defendant is eligible for the death penalty only if two elements are met: the ......
  • State v. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court of State, No. 52477.
    • United States
    • July 25, 2013
    ...rendered meaningless. And because they can be read in harmony, the rule of lenity does not apply. State v. Lucero, 127 Nev. ––––, ––––, 249 P.3d 1226, 1230 (2011) (the rule of lenity applies only when the other rules of statutory interpretation fail).Conflict with purpose of juvenile justic......
  • Bigpond v. State , No. 57558.
    • United States
    • Nevada Supreme Court of Nevada
    • March 1, 2012
    ...is a matter of statutory interpretation. We review questions of statutory interpretation de novo. State v. Lucero, 127 Nev. ––––, ––––, 249 P.3d 1226, 1228 (2011). When interpreting a statutory provision, this court will look first to the plain language of the statute. Mendoza–Lobos v. Stat......
  • Ibarra v. State, No. 69617
    • United States
    • Nevada Court of Appeals of Nevada
    • November 8, 2016
    ...and divided appellate panels, including panels of the Nevada Supreme Court, for decades. Contrast State v. Lucero, 127 Nev. 92, 95, 249 P.3d 1226, 1228 (2011) ("when a statute is clear on its face, a court cannot go beyond the statute in determining legislative intent") with Tate v. State B......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
91 cases
  • Lisle v. State, No. 55173.
    • United States
    • Nevada Supreme Court of Nevada
    • June 25, 2015
    ...circumstance or circumstances found.” The plain meaning of a statute controls its interpretation. State v. Lucero, 127 Nev. 92, 95, 249 P.3d 1226, 1228 (2011). Here, the plain language of NRS 175.554(3) is that a defendant is eligible for the death penalty only if two elements are met: the ......
  • State v. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court of State, No. 52477.
    • United States
    • July 25, 2013
    ...rendered meaningless. And because they can be read in harmony, the rule of lenity does not apply. State v. Lucero, 127 Nev. ––––, ––––, 249 P.3d 1226, 1230 (2011) (the rule of lenity applies only when the other rules of statutory interpretation fail).Conflict with purpose of juvenile justic......
  • Bigpond v. State , No. 57558.
    • United States
    • Nevada Supreme Court of Nevada
    • March 1, 2012
    ...is a matter of statutory interpretation. We review questions of statutory interpretation de novo. State v. Lucero, 127 Nev. ––––, ––––, 249 P.3d 1226, 1228 (2011). When interpreting a statutory provision, this court will look first to the plain language of the statute. Mendoza–Lobos v. Stat......
  • Ibarra v. State, No. 69617
    • United States
    • Nevada Court of Appeals of Nevada
    • November 8, 2016
    ...and divided appellate panels, including panels of the Nevada Supreme Court, for decades. Contrast State v. Lucero, 127 Nev. 92, 95, 249 P.3d 1226, 1228 (2011) ("when a statute is clear on its face, a court cannot go beyond the statute in determining legislative intent") with Tate v. State B......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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