State v. Payne

Decision Date24 July 2009
Docket NumberNo. 2 CA-CR 2008-0171.,No. 2 CA-CR 2008-0309.,No. 2 CA-CR 2008-0166.,2 CA-CR 2008-0166.,2 CA-CR 2008-0171.,2 CA-CR 2008-0309.
Citation225 P.3d 1131
PartiesThe STATE of Arizona, Appellee, v. Stetson Austin PAYNE, Appellant. The State of Arizona, Appellee, v. Channtell Nelson, Appellant. The State of Arizona, Appellee, v. Susan Jane Daniels, Appellant.
CourtArizona Court of Appeals

Terry Goddard, Arizona Attorney General by Kent E. Cattani, Kathryn A. Damstra, Joseph L. Parkhurst, and Diane Leigh Hunt, Tucson, Attorneys for Appellee.

Harriette P. Levitt, Tucson, Attorney for Appellants.



¶ 1 These three consolidated appeals present a common issue of first impression and statewide importance: may a superior court impose on a convicted felon at sentencing a "prosecution fee" pursuant to a county ordinance? In each of the three cases, pursuant to Pinal County Ordinance 91097-PS, the trial court assessed against the defendant a discretionary $1,000 prosecution fee that is payable to the county and deposited to a fund that directly benefits the Pinal County Attorney's Office.

¶ 2 On appeal, defendants/appellants Stetson Payne, Channtell Nelson, and Susan Daniels argue the ordinance is invalid and the prosecution fee was illegally imposed on them. We address that issue in this opinion and, in a separate, simultaneously filed memorandum decision, dispose of other issues Payne and Daniels raise.1 See Ariz. R.Crim. P. 31.26; Ariz. R. Sup.Ct. 111(b), (h). For the reasons stated below, we conclude the Pinal County Ordinance's prosecution fee is statutorily unauthorized and invalid and, therefore, we vacate the trial court orders imposing that fee.


¶ 3 Enacted in 1997, Pinal County Ordinance 91097-PS states in relevant part:

WHEREAS, the prosecution services provided by the County Attorney for Pinal County . . . are consumed by easily identifiable members of the public, to-wit: defendants in criminal prosecution[s]; and as a matter of public policy, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors . . . favors easing the burden on taxpayers by recovering all or part of the cost of prosecution from those who cause the expenditure; and

WHEREAS, based on the best available estimates, the Board finds that the County Attorney's Office actually expends an average of $1,000.00 prosecuting each felony case. . . .

. . . .

Sec. 100 This Ordinance is adopted pursuant to A.R.S. § 11-251.05 and A.R.S. § 11-251.08 which authorize[] the Board of Supervisors to adopt and enforce all ordinances necessary or proper to carry out the duties, responsibilities and functions of the county government and to adopt fee schedules for any specific services provided by the county to the public.

. . . .

Sec. 300 A fee schedule may be adopted by the Board to cover expenses for traditional prosecution services provided to criminal defendants prosecuted by the County Attorney. . . .

. . . .

Sec. 304 Upon a defendant's conviction at trial, the Justice Court shall, and the Superior Court is requested, to impose and collect a Prosecution Fee pursuant to the Prosecution and Supervision Fee Schedule, or for such lesser amount as the Court deems appropriate based on the economic circumstances of the defendant. Only one fee shall be assessed against each defendant in each case, but no fee shall be assessed in misdemeanor prosecutions that are concluded without an appearance by the Pinal County Attorney.

. . . .

Sec. 400 The Board of Supervisors hereby establishes the Pinal County Attorney Prosecution Cost Recovery Fund, hereinafter referred to as the "Fund," administered by the Pinal County Attorney, through the Finance Office, for the purposes provided by this Ordinance.

. . . .

Sec. 405 Monies in the Fund shall be expended by the Pinal County Attorney for the following three program areas:

405.1 Pursuant to current commitments, to reimburse the General Fund for expenses previously defrayed by Anti-Racketeering or Criminal Justice Enhancement Funds;

405.2 To modernize, streamline and automate the County Attorney's Office; and

405.3 To meet expansion needs of the County Attorney's Office that cannot be met by the General Fund.

¶ 4 As noted above, pursuant to that ordinance, the trial court imposed on Payne, Nelson, and Daniels at their respective sentencings a $1,000 prosecution fee. Appellants argue that fee is both statutorily unauthorized and unconstitutional. But they also characterize their challenge to the ordinance as "jurisdictional in nature" and contend the trial court "did not have jurisdiction to impose a prosecution fee which had been illegally established by the Pinal County Board of Supervisors." We therefore begin our analysis by addressing the issues relating to the superior court's subject matter jurisdiction.


¶ 5 Although appellants did not raise any jurisdictional challenge below and do not adequately develop or support their argument on appeal, we are obliged to determine sua sponte whether the trial court exceeded its subject matter jurisdiction, or power, by imposing the prosecution fee. See State v. Maldonado, 223 Ariz. 121, ¶ 9, 219 P.3d 1050 (App.2009) ("Defects in subject matter jurisdiction cannot be waived and may be contested at any time, including on appeal."); State v. Chacon, 221 Ariz. 523, ¶ 5, 212 P.3d 861 (App.2009) (same); State v. Marks, 186 Ariz. 139, 141, 920 P.2d 19, 21 (App.1996) (same). "We review de novo whether the trial court had jurisdiction to issue its order" assessing that fee. In re Marriage of Dorman, 198 Ariz. 298, ¶ 6, 9 P.3d 329, 332 (App.2000); see also State v. Flores, 218 Ariz. 407, ¶ 6, 188 P.3d 706, 709 (App.2008).

¶ 6 "Subject matter jurisdiction is `the power to hear and determine cases of the general class to which the particular proceedings belong. . . .'" Marriage of Dorman, 198 Ariz. 298, ¶ 7, 9 P.3d at 332, quoting Estes v. Superior Court, 137 Ariz. 515, 517, 672 P.2d 180, 182 (1983); see also State ex rel. Neely v. Rodriguez, 165 Ariz. 74, 76 n. 4, 796 P.2d 876, 878 n. 4 (1990) ("`Subject matter jurisdiction' relates to the constitutional or statutory power of a court to decide a case."); Chacon, 221 Ariz. 523, ¶ 5, 212 P.3d 861 ("Subject matter jurisdiction is `the power of a court to hear and determine a controversy.'"), quoting Marks v. LaBerge, 146 Ariz. 12, 15, 703 P.2d 559, 562 (App.1985). In determining the nature and scope of the superior court's subject matter jurisdiction, we first look to applicable provisions in the Arizona Constitution and statutes. See Marvin Johnson, P.C. v. Myers, 184 Ariz. 98, 100, 907 P.2d 67, 69 (1995).

¶ 7 Under our constitution, the superior court has original jurisdiction of "[c]riminal cases amounting to felony." Ariz. Const. art. VI, § 14(4); see also A.R.S. § 12-123(A) ("The superior court shall have original and concurrent jurisdiction as conferred by the constitution. . . ."). Because the state filed and tried felony charges against appellants, the superior court clearly had original jurisdiction in these cases. The preliminary jurisdiction issue we must address is different from the question whether any statute authorizes the county's ordinance and its prosecution fee. If the superior court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to impose that fee, for purposes of these cases it would not matter whether the fee was statutorily authorized.

¶ 8 "[T]he Superior Court of Arizona [i]s a single unified trial court of general jurisdiction." Marvin Johnson, 184 Ariz. at 102, 907 P.2d at 71. As such, the superior court has not only original jurisdiction in felony cases such as these, but also "ha[s] all powers and may issue all writs necessary to the complete exercise of its jurisdiction." § 12-123(B). "[I]n addition to [exercising] the powers conferred by constitution, rule or statute," the superior court also "may proceed according to the common law." A.R.S. § 12-122.

¶ 9 Although broad, a superior court's original jurisdiction is not unlimited. As our supreme court has stated:

While the words "general jurisdiction" have a certain rotundity of sound pleasing to the ear, they add nothing to powers or jurisdiction of the court, for these are circumscribed by the Constitution and statutes. The jurisdiction of the Superior Court is general because it has the power or jurisdiction to hear and determine all classes of cases and controversies except those otherwise carved out specifically by the Constitution and placed in an inferior court. That a court is a court of general jurisdiction does not mean that because the judicial robe has been donned a judge has unlimited power to impose punishment or reward righteousness as the occasion is deemed suitable.

Hash's Estate v. Henderson, 109 Ariz. 174, 178-79, 507 P.2d 99, 103-04 (1973). A superior court "cannot, for example, in [a] criminal case enter an order giving damages to the complaining witness in the case, even though the facts would justify damages if a civil suit were brought." Id. at 178, 507 P.2d at 103. In other words, "`the terms upon which [the court] may put its power into action, are as firmly and clearly established as the right to adjudicate when authorized to do so; and, though a court of general jurisdiction, it must proceed in the manner and upon the conditions imposed by the law.'" Id., quoting State ex rel. Pollard v. Superior Court, 233 Ind. 667, 122 N.E.2d 612, 615 (1954).

¶ 10 Notwithstanding those qualifications, our supreme court has cautioned against mischaracterizing a trial court's legal error as a matter implicating that court's subject matter jurisdiction. See Marvin Johnson, 184 Ariz. at 101, 907 P.2d at 70. The "imprecise use of language [in some cases] cannot detract from the constitutional grant of jurisdiction to the Superior Court." Id. at 102, 907 P.2d at 71. "`The test of jurisdiction is whether . . . the tribunal has power to enter upon the inquiry; not whether its conclusion in the course of it is right or wrong.'" State v. Phelps, 67 Ariz. 215, 220, 193 P.2d 921, 925 (1...

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