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People v. Nelson

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Third Division

September 10, 2015

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Joseph Nelson, Defendant-Appellant

          Mesa County District Court No. 12CR89. Honorable Richard T. Gurley, Judge.

         Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Rebecca Adams Jones, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

         Douglas K. Wilson, Colorado State Public Defender, Nathaniel E. Deakins, Deputy Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant.

         Opinion by JUDGE FOX. Dailey and Lichtenstein, JJ., concur.


         FOX, JUDGE.

          [¶1] Defendant, Joseph Nelson, was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, cruelty to animals, and underage possession of alcohol after a 2011 incident in which he killed his mother's dog. Nelson was a juvenile at the time of the offense, but he was charged as an adult under Colorado's direct filing statute, Ch. 264, sec. 1, § 19-2-517, 2010 Colo. Sess. Laws 1199 (direct filing statute or Statute). The Statute allows the state, in certain circumstances, to charge juvenile offenders as adults by filing the charges directly in district court. When Nelson was charged, a juvenile accused of committing a felony could be charged in district court if the juvenile qualified as a " habitual juvenile offender." Id. at 1200. Nelson concedes that he was a habitual juvenile offender and that he was properly charged under the then-existing direct filing statute.

          [¶2] Months after Nelson was charged, but before he entered a guilty plea and was sentenced, the governor signed into law House Bill 12-1271, which significantly amended the direct filing statute. See Ch. 128, sec. 1, § 19-2-517, 2012 Colo. Sess. Laws 439-45 (approved Apr. 20, 2012). The amendments narrowed the circumstances in which juveniles may be charged as adults by direct filing. The amended Statute allows direct filing only where a juvenile (1) is alleged to have committed a " crime of violence" pursuant to section 18-1.3-406, C.R.S. 2014; (2) is alleged to have committed certain sexual assault crimes; or (3) has previously been convicted of felony offenses that were, or could have been, directly filed in district court. § 19-2-517, C.R.S. 2014. Under the amended Statute, Nelson's offenses would not qualify for direct filing.

          [¶3] House Bill 12-1271 also amended the sentencing procedures -- which vary depending on the nature of the conviction -- for cases directly filed in district court. The prior version of the Statute gave the district court authority to sentence a juvenile convicted of a crime in district court. See 2010 Colo. Sess. Laws at 1200 (§ 19-2-517(6)). Under the amended Statute, however, when a juvenile is convicted in district court of offenses that are not eligible for district court jurisdiction under the direct filing statute or the transfer statute, the district court must remand the case to juvenile court[1] for sentencing. See § 19-2-517(6)(c).

          [¶4] On September 13, 2012, Nelson pleaded guilty to aggravated cruelty to animals -- a class six felony -- and the state dismissed the remaining charges and charges in an unrelated case. The amendments to the direct filing statute had taken effect before Nelson pleaded guilty, but Nelson did not challenge the district court's jurisdiction over the case. At his sentencing hearing, however, Nelson asked the district court to apply the direct filing statute's amended sentencing provisions. He argued that he had been convicted of an offense that is no longer eligible for direct filing and that, therefore, he should be sentenced as a juvenile. The district court refused to apply the amended Statute, stating that the Statute " didn't apply to this incident." Nelson was sentenced to five years of intensive supervised probation, including eighteen months in community corrections, in accordance with the adult felony sentencing scheme. See § § 18-1.3-201,-202,-401, C.R.S. 2014.

          [¶5] Nelson now appeals his conviction and sentence. He argues that the district court erred by failing to apply the amended direct filing statute to his case, and he contends that, had the court applied the amended statute as required, it would have been required to remand his case to the juvenile court for sentencing. Because we conclude that the district court's sentencing authority over Nelson's case remains unchanged after House Bill 12-1271 was enacted, we affirm the conviction and sentence.

         I. Standard of Review

          [¶6] Because this case involves a question of statutory interpretation, we review the district court's interpretation de novo. People v. Kovacs, 284 P.3d 186, 2012 COA 111, ¶ 9. Our primary aim when interpreting a statute is to " ascertain and give effect to" the intent the General Assembly has expressed in the language of the statute. Id. ; Benefield v. Colo. Republican Party, 329 P.3d 262, 2014 CO 57, ¶ 11. To do so, we read the statute as a whole, giving words and phrases their plain and ordinary meanings, and interpret the statute to give consistent, harmonious, and sensible effect to all of its parts. Kovacs, ¶ 10. If the statute is unambiguous, we apply the statute's unambiguous meaning to the present case. Id. at ¶ 11. If the statute is ambiguous, however, " we may consider prior law, legislative history, the consequences of a given construction, and the underlying purpose or policy of the statute" to determine its meaning. Id.

         II. Discussion

          [¶7] Before House Bill 12-1271 was passed, the direct filing statute's sentencing provisions ...

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