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Nagi v. People

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

February 21, 2017

Farouk Nagi, Petitioner
v.
The People of the State of Colorado. Respondent

         Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals Case No. 12CA4

         Judgment Affirmed

          Attorneys for Petitioner: Law Office of Ingrid J. DeFranco Ingrid J. DeFranco Brighton, Colorado

          Attorneys for Respondent: Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General Ryan A. Crane, Assistant Attorney General Denver, Colorado

          JUSTICE COATS delivered the Opinion of the Court.

          JUSTICE MARQUEZ dissents, and JUSTICE HOOD and JUSTICE GABRIEL join in the dissent.

          ¶1 Nagi sought review of the court of appeals' judgment affirming his conviction and sentence for sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust. See People v. Nagi, 2014 COA 12, ___ P.3d___. In addition to rejecting his challenge to the legality of his sentence, the court of appeals rejected the defendant's assertion that he was denied his statutory right to a speedy trial, as prescribed by section 18-1-405, C.R.S. (2016). The defendant had argued that the district court lacked sufficient grounds to justify ordering a competency evaluation, and that the period during which the defendant was under observation or examination was therefore not properly excluded from the calculation of the time within which trial was statutorily required. With one member of the panel dissenting, the appellate court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in ordering the evaluation, notwithstanding its reference to the defendant's choice to proceed pro se as at least one of the reasons for questioning his competency, and that the evaluation period was therefore properly excluded and the defendant's statutory speedy trial right was not violated.

         ¶2 Because section 18-1-405, on its face, mandates exclusion from the defendant's speedy trial computation of any period during which he was actually being examined for competency, without regard for the necessity or propriety of the court's order requiring such an examination, the defendant was brought to trial within the statutorily calculated six-month period. In the absence of any specific assertion or indication in the record that the district court's order was entered in bad faith, for the purpose of circumventing the statutory speedy trial mandate or otherwise depriving the defendant of a protected interest, rather than from any concern for the defendant's rights or the integrity of the judicial process, the judgment of the court of appeals is affirmed.

         I.

         ¶3 Farouk Nagi was charged with one count of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust, committed as part of a pattern of abusing his stepdaughter, beginning when she was thirteen years old and continuing until the abuse was reported when she was fifteen years old. The jury convicted him as charged, and he was sentenced to an indeterminate term of twelve years to life in the custody of the Department of Corrections.

         ¶4 Just prior to the commencement of his August 31, 2011 trial, a newly appointed defense counsel moved to dismiss the charge against the defendant on the ground that his statutory right to a speedy trial had been violated. Counsel reasoned that a two-month period during which the defendant was being examined for competency should not have been excluded from the court's computation of the six-month period statutorily permitted for trial for the reason that the court lacked lawful justification for ordering the competency exam, and if the period during which the defendant was being examined had not been excluded, the time permitted for trial would already have elapsed before his trial commenced. The district court denied the motion, and its denial was upheld by the court of appeals.

         ¶5 By June 20, the day before the original trial setting, when the district court first raised the issue of competency and ordered an evaluation of the defendant, the court had presided over a preliminary hearing and, in the immediately preceding three weeks, over a series of pre-trial conferences at which the defendant vacillated between accepting a continuance for further preparation by either his public defender or an alternate defense counsel, on the one hand, and declining to accept any continuance in favor of proceeding pro se, on the other. By the close of the first pre-trial conference, the defendant appeared to have agreed to a continuance for the appointment of a new defense counsel, but by the second pre-trial conference he had returned to a position of either remaining with his original counsel, if that counsel would go to trial without a continuance, or proceeding pro se, in the event the former course of action was not a viable option. After setting the matter over until the day before the original trial setting, and upon hearing from both defense counsel and the defendant-from the former that he could not proceed without a continuance and from the latter that he therefore demanded to proceed pro se-the district court ordered a competency evaluation and vacated the trial setting. The court also declined any further negotiation when the defendant countered with a proposal to accept alternate defense counsel with a continuance of no more than three months.

         ¶6 As the court of appeals subsequently noted, although the district court's brief explanation for its decision to order a competency evaluation expressly referenced what it considered to be the defendant's questionable decision to represent himself in a matter involving a potential life sentence, it also referenced the series of hearings over the preceding weeks and the court's concern that, based on the defendant's behavior and decision-making, he was not acting competently. In greater detail, the court of appeals specified various statements of the defendant at those hearings it considered to reveal ample grounds for believing that he may have been incompetent, including such things as his wild accusations of partying and collusion between his counsel and the prosecution; his assertion that the charges against him were baseless, that his stepdaughter's statements were actually written by a police detective, and that his counsel's investigation was fake; his claim to have inspiration in his veins as the result of his Semitic heritage and his willingness to proceed without a defense in acceptance of "whatever God [had] written for [him];" and finally his vacillation between contradictory stances regarding his representation by counsel.

         ¶7 On the basis of these findings, the court of appeals concluded that the district court had "reason to believe" the defendant was incompetent and consequently that it did not abuse its discretion in ordering the evaluation. It therefore further concluded that the time during which the defendant was being evaluated was properly excluded from the computation of the statutory speedy trial period. We granted the defendant's petition for a writ of certiorari.

         II.

         ¶8 Unlike the federal and state constitutional guarantees that it is designed to effect, Colorado's speedy trial statute, § 18-1-405, C.R.S. (2016), specifies a certain time period within which a criminal defendant must be brought to trial or else the charges against him must be dismissed with prejudice to refile. § 18-1-405(1). Except as otherwise provided by the statute, a criminal defendant must be brought to trial within six months of his plea of not guilty. Id. Among its various specifications for the calculation of this six-month time period, the statute expressly enumerates a number of "periods of time" that are to be excluded, see § 18-1-405(6), including "[a]ny period during which the defendant is incompetent to stand trial, or is unable to appear by reason of illness or physical disability, or is under observation or examination at any time after the issue of the defendant's mental condition, insanity, incompetency, or impaired mental condition is raised, " § 18-1-405(6)(a).

         ¶9 This six-month speedy trial requirement and the sanction of dismissal for its violation are entirely creatures of statute. Answering the question whether the statutory mandate has been violated therefore calls, first and foremost, for an interpretation of the language of the statute itself. While a number of intrinsic and extrinsic aids to construction are available to assist in determining which among more than one reasonable interpretation of particular statutory language best represents the meaning intended by the enacting legislature, statutory language that is susceptible of no more than a single reasonable understanding ...


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