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Nowak v. Suthers

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

February 24, 2014

Jeffrey T. Nowak, Petitioner-Appellee
v.
Attorney General John W. Suthers; Warden Pamela Plough, Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility; and Rick Raemisch, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, Respondents-Appellants

Page 341

Appeal from the District Court. Fremont County District Court Case No. 11CV71. Honorable David M. Thorson, Judge.

Judgment Affirmed.

SYLLABUS

In this habeas corpus appeal, the supreme court evaluates for the first time the relationship between section 17-22.5-101, C.R.S. (2013), and section 17-22.5-403(1), C.R.S. (2013), of article 22.5, which governs " Inmate and Parole Time Computation." The supreme court holds that, for the purpose of computing an inmate's parole eligibility date, section 17-22.5-101 requires the Department of Corrections to construe all sentences as one continuous sentence when the inmate has been committed under several convictions with separate sentences, even when doing so results in the inmate becoming parole eligible before serving at least 50% of the second sentence.

Jeffrey T. Nowak, Pro se, Lake Zurich, Illinois.

For Respondents-Appellants: John W. Suthers, Attorney General, Nicole S. Gellar, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado.

OPINION

Page 342

HOOD, JUSTICE.

[¶1] In this habeas corpus appeal, we consider whether section 17-22.5-101, C.R.S. (2013), requires the Colorado Department of Corrections (" DOC" ) to construe an inmate's sentences as one continuous sentence in determining his parole eligibility date (" PED" ), when the second sentence is not imposed until after the PED for the first sentence has passed, and when doing so would result in the inmate becoming parole eligible before serving at least 50% of the second sentence. To resolve this question, we evaluate for the first time the relationship between section 17-22.5-101 and section 17-22.5-403(1), C.R.S. (2013), of article 22.5, which governs " Inmate and Parole Time Computation."

[¶2] The district court held that basic rules of statutory construction--together with cases interpreting section 17-22.5-101--require DOC to construe all sentences as one continuous sentence when an inmate has been committed under several convictions with separate sentences, even when the inmate's PED for an antecedent sentence has passed before the imposition of a subsequent sentence.

[¶3] On appeal, DOC argues that applying the one-continuous-sentence rule in calculating Nowak's PED violates section 17-22.5-403(1), which provides that an inmate in certain designated categories " shall be eligible for parole after such person has served fifty percent of the sentence imposed upon such person," less applicable credits. DOC contends that " because Nowak had already reached his PED on his first sentence before receiving his subsequent consecutive sentence, his current PED should be calculated independently of the prior, original sentence to ensure that he serves at least 50% of the sentence imposed upon him."

[¶4] We agree with the district court. We hold that, for the purpose of computing an inmate's PED, section 17-22.5-101 requires DOC to construe all sentences as one continuous sentence when the inmate has been committed under several convictions with separate sentences, even when doing so results in the inmate becoming parole eligible before serving at least 50% of the second sentence. Accordingly, we affirm the district court's decision.

I. Facts and Procedural History

[¶5] Jeffrey T. Nowak was convicted of two counts of aggravated motor vehicle theft and sentenced to eight years in prison. He began serving that sentence on May 13, 2003, which is the effective date of the sentence for parole eligibility purposes. DOC calculated Nowak's PED at 50% of his eight-year sentence, or July 3, 2006, after applying uncontroverted credits for presentence confinement and earned time.[1] Several months after reaching this PED, Nowak absconded from a halfway house while on temporary leave.

Page 343

[¶6] After being apprehended, Nowak was convicted of felony escape and sentenced to twelve years in prison, to run consecutively to his original eight-year sentence. He began serving the new sentence on July 13, 2007. Because Nowak had already reached his PED on the original sentence when he began serving the new sentence, DOC used July 13, 2007--rather than May 13, 2003--to calculate Nowak's new PED. The result was a PED in May 2012.

[¶7] Acting pro se, Nowak filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus with the Fremont County District Court, arguing that DOC had erroneously calculated his PED and was unconstitutionally denying him the opportunity to be considered for parole. He contended that DOC should use the May 13, 2003 date to calculate his PED, under which he would be immediately eligible for parole. In response, DOC explained that it " ignore[d]" Nowak's 2003 conviction because the PED for that conviction " was already past" and was therefore irrelevant to its new PED calculation. DOC provided a revised, estimated PED of April 10, 2012, again based solely on Nowak's 2007 conviction.

[¶8] At the hearing on the petition, DOC explained that it calculated Nowak's PED " as though his 2007 conviction[] [were] the only relevant conviction[]." DOC argued that it was required to " break out the two sentences and calculate the PED separately for each one" in order to give effect to section 17-22.5-403(1) and ensure that Nowak served both 50% of his 2003 sentence and 50% of his 2007 sentence. DOC acknowledged that if it applied the one-continuous-sentence rule and treated Nowak's eight-year sentence from 2003 and his twelve-year sentence from 2007 as one continuous twenty-year sentence, with an effective date of May 13, 2003, his PED would be approximately one year earlier, in March or April 2011.

[¶9] The district court rejected DOC's argument that effectuating the 50% requirement of section 17-22.5-403(1) required DOC to ignore the one-continuous-sentence rule of section 17-22.5-101 and ordered it to recalculate Nowak's PED as if he had received a twenty-year composite sentence beginning on May 13, 2003.

[¶10] DOC appealed under C.A.R. 1(a)(1) and section 13-4-102(1)(e), C.R.S. (2013), arguing that the district court erred by failing to give deference to its construction of section ...


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