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People v. Sandoval

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Fourth Division

April 21, 2016

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Steven J. Sandoval, Defendant-Appellant.

City and County of Denver District Court No. 10CR10078, Honorable Christina M. Habas, Judge.

Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Michael D. McMaster, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee

Douglas K. Wilson, Colorado State Public Defender, Ned R. Jaeckle, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant.



¶ 1 Defendant, [1] Steven J. Sandoval, was convicted of sexual assault in Denver District Court. As a sixteen-year-old at the time of the events in question, he could be charged only as a juvenile in Denver Juvenile Court unless his conduct constituted an enumerated offense under the direct file statute then in effect, Ch. 122, sec. 6, § 19-2-517(1)(a), 2006 Colo. Sess. Laws 422-23. (Citations in this opinion to section 19-2-517 are to the version in effect in 2007.) But neither that charge nor another that was dismissed qualified under that statute.

¶ 2 We must now decide the consequence of this confusion. We conclude that the district attorney never properly invoked and the Denver District Court never acquired subject matter jurisdiction over the case, and thus the conviction is a nullity. As a result, the conviction must be vacated and the case remanded with directions to the district court to dismiss it without prejudice.

I. Facts

¶ 3 In 2007, the fifteen-year-old victim attended a quinceanera (fifteenth birthday party) for a friend. At the quinceanera, she saw other high school classmates, including defendant. Another girlfriend invited the victim and other teenagers to a different party at another house with no adults present. There, the victim and some of the other teenagers drank alcohol and smoked marijuana. Defendant brought the victim a drink mixed with a crushed pill, which she drank. Afterward, the victim appeared to be dizzy, stumbled, and had difficulty talking.

¶ 4 One of the male teenagers took the victim into an empty room, pushed her down, and sexually assaulted her. Defendant and another male teenager joined them and also sexually assaulted the victim.

¶ 5 When questioned that night, the victim told the police that she had consensual sex. Two and one-half years later, the victim saw a counselor after engaging in cutting herself and suicidal behavior. She reported the sexual assaults to the counselor and then to the police.

II. Procedural Background

¶ 6 The prosecution moved to directly file two charges against defendant in Denver District Court: (1) sexual assault by causing submission of the victim through the application of physical force (section 18-3-402(1)(a), (4)(a), C.R.S. 2015); and (2) sexual assault of the victim while he knew she was incapable of appraising the nature of her conduct (section 18-3-402(1)(b)). The motion alleged that the offenses occurred when defendant was sixteen years old, that the sexual assault constituted a crime of violence under section 18-1.3-406(2)(a)(I), (b)(I), C.R.S. 2015, and that the case qualified for direct filing under section 19-2-517(1)(a)(II)(A). The district court granted the motion.

¶ 7 The prosecution later moved to dismiss the first count, sexual assault through physical force. The district court granted the motion and proceeded to trial on the second and only remaining count, sexual assault while the victim was incapable of appraising the nature of her conduct. After the first trial ended in a hung jury, a second jury found defendant guilty.

¶ 8 Prior to sentencing, however, the prosecutor raised concerns with respect to proceeding in the district court on only the second count, the one on which defendant was convicted. She noted that this count was not a crime of violence under section 18-1.3-406 and thus was not eligible for direct filing in the district court. She argued that defendant's conviction could nonetheless stand as an adjudication and he could be sentenced in accordance with the Children's Code (title 19 of the Colorado Revised Statutes).

¶ 9 Defendant then moved to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction, arguing that the district court was divested of jurisdiction after the enumerated count of violence had been dismissed.

¶ 10 The district court denied the motion. It ruled that under article VI, section 9 of the Colorado Constitution, district courts have general jurisdiction. The court concluded that because the first count constituted a crime of violence, it could keep ancillary jurisdiction over the second, nonenumerated count or send the case to the juvenile court. See Flakes v. People, 153 P.3d 427, 434 (Colo. 2007). As a matter of judicial efficiency, the district court elected to retain ancillary jurisdiction but to sentence defendant under the juvenile sentencing laws. Noting that, under the Children's Code, defendant would be entitled to cross-examine the person who administered the offense specific evaluation or the adult probation representative, the district court continued the sentencing hearing. Defense counsel asked the court to enter the case as a "JD" (juvenile delinquency) rather than a "CR" (criminal) case so that there would be no question that defendant did not have an adult conviction. The court denied the motion, stating that changing the case in this way was not possible.

¶ 11 The district court sentenced defendant to eight years of sex offender specific intensive probation and ninety days in jail.

III. Jurisdiction

¶ 12 Defendant now contends the Denver District Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to proceed because neither offense charged in the complaint was a crime of violence under section 18-1.3-406 and thus did not qualify for direct filing in the district court. He further contends the proceedings before the district court were a nullity and that the case must be remanded to the district court for dismissal. We agree.

¶ 13 As a preliminary matter, we note that the Children's Code defines "juvenile court" as both the Denver Juvenile Court and the juvenile division of the district courts in other districts. § 19-1-103(70), C.R.S. 2015. Notwithstanding that definition, the Denver Juvenile Court, unlike a juvenile division of a district court, is a separate court distinct from the Denver District Court. The jurisdiction of the Denver Juvenile Court is limited to juvenile matters, see § 13-8-103, C.R.S. 2015, and its judges are appointed separately from district judges. See §§ 13-8-104, 13-8-108, C.R.S. 2015. In this case, we address the jurisdiction of only the Denver District Court and the Denver Juvenile Court, respectively, and not any similar issues that might arise in any of the other twenty-one judicial districts in the state.

A. Standard of Review

¶ 14 We review questions of law, including challenges to jurisdiction and issues of statutory and constitutional interpretation, de novo. People v. Maser, 2012 CO 41, ¶ 10 (jurisdiction); Bostelman v. People, 162 P.3d 686, 689 (Colo. 2007) (statutory interpretation); Bruce v. City of Colorado Springs, 129 P.3d 988, 992 (Colo. 2006) (constitutional interpretation).

B. Statutory and Constitutional Interpretation

¶ 15 When interpreting statutes, we must give effect to the intent of the General Assembly, which is vested with the power to define criminal conduct and to establish the legal components of criminal liability. Bostelman, 162 P.3d at 689, 693; People v. Vecellio, 2012 COA 40, ¶ 14. To determine the General Assembly's intent, we look first to the language of the statute itself. Bostelman, 162 P.3d at 690. If the language is clear, we should interpret the statute according to its plain and ordinary meaning. People v. Bruno, 2014 COA 158, ¶ 7. We also apply generally accepted principles of legislative drafting, such as according words their plain or common meaning, in construing constitutional amendments. See Bruce, 129 P.3d at 993. We presume statutes are constitutional, and if a challenged statute can be construed several ways, one of which is constitutional, we must adopt the constitutional construction. People v. Schoondermark, 699 P.2d 411, 415 (Colo. 1985); People v. Houser, 2013 COA 11, ¶ 41.

C. The Statutory Framework

¶ 16 Article 2 of the Children's Code creates "a system of juvenile justice that will appropriately sanction juveniles who violate the law." § 19-2-102(1), C.R.S. 2015. The jurisdiction of the juvenile court for such cases, as pertinent here, is ...

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