The People of the State of Colorado, Petitioner-Appellee, In the Interest of J.C., Juvenile-Appellant.
County District Court Nos. 14JD168, 14JD191, 14JD400 &
14JD522 Honorable Ann Gail Meinster, Judge
Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, John T. Lee, Senior
Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for
Noble Law Firm, LLC, Tara Jorfald, Lakewood, Colorado, for
1 The juvenile court sentenced J.C., a juvenile, to an
indeterminate one-to-two-year term of commitment in the
custody of the Division of Youth Corrections (DYC), with a
mandatory minimum term of one year. We conclude that the
sentence is illegal, for two reasons. First, nothing in the
juvenile sentencing statutes authorizes an indeterminate
sentence to DYC commitment; any such sentence must be
determinate. Second, a mandatory minimum sentence to DYC
commitment is authorized only if the juvenile qualifies as a
special offender under section 19-2-908, C.R.S. 2017. J.C.
doesn't qualify as such an offender, and therefore the
juvenile court had no statutory authority to impose a
mandatory minimum sentence. In deciding this second issue, we
hold that a juvenile doesn't qualify as a mandatory
sentence offender pursuant to section 19-2-516(1), C.R.S.
2017, or a repeat juvenile offender pursuant to section
19-2-516(2), when the multiple adjudications required by
those provisions occur in the same hearing.
2 Accordingly, we vacate the sentence and remand the case
3 J.C. pleaded guilty to charges in three separate cases,
pursuant to a global plea agreement, on the same day during a
hearing addressing all three cases. She pleaded guilty first
to a third degree assault charge, then to a second degree
criminal trespass charge, and finally to a second degree
assault charge. The court accepted the pleas and adjudicated
J.C. delinquent in all three cases.
4 At the sentencing hearing for all three cases, the
prosecutor argued that because there were three
adjudications, two of which were for violent offenses, the
court should commit J.C. to DYC custody for two years. When
the court asked the prosecutor whether she was requesting
that the court sentence J.C. as a "mandatory offender,
" the prosecutor said, "Yes." In sentencing
J.C., the court said, "I'm going to impose a DYC
commitment, a mandatory minimum of one year, but up to two
years." The sentencing orders for each case reflect a
sentence of "1-2 YEARS DYC." Corresponding orders
to the Department of Human Services (DHS) (which includes the
DYC) in each case say, "This juvenile was additionally
found to be: A mandatory sentence (third time) offender
pursuant to Sec. 19-2-908, C.R.S."
5 J.C. filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence under
Crim. P. 35(a). She argued that the court lacked authority to
sentence her to a mandatory minimum period of confinement as
a mandatory sentence offender because the three adjudications
required for the relevant statute to apply had all occurred
at the same hearing. The court denied the motion. In doing
so, the court said it had no "record that [J.C.] was
actually sentenced as a mandatory sentence offender. The
minute order does not reflect such a finding and no
transcript was filed with the Motion to show that such a
finding was made." Rather, the court said, it had
imposed "the mandatory 1 year and a maximum of 2 years
in DYC" based on "the totality of the
circumstances." Apparently in the alternative, the court
said that nothing in the relevant statute defining mandatory
sentence offender, section 19-2-516(1)(a)(I), requires that
the three adjudications be entered on separate dates.
6 J.C. then filed a motion for postconviction relief alleging
both ineffective assistance of plea counsel and that she
hadn't knowingly, voluntarily, or intentionally pleaded
guilty. Common to both claims was her assertion that her
lawyer hadn't told her that by pleading guilty she could
be sentenced as a mandatory sentence offender. The court
summarily denied the motion, ruling, as now relevant, that
because "it has not been shown that the court relied on
this classification in its sentencing, " she hadn't
shown prejudice. J.C. appeals the court's denial of the
Crim. P. 35(c) motion.
7 J.C.'s opening brief argues that the juvenile court
erred by summarily denying her petition for postconviction
relief because she had alleged that neither her lawyer nor
the court had advised her "that she would be sentenced
as a repeat juvenile offender" and that she was
prejudiced by counsel's deficient performance and the
court's failure to advise her. That prejudice was that
she wouldn't have pleaded guilty if she'd known she
would be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of
8 After reading the parties' briefs and the record, we
asked the parties to file supplemental briefs addressing the
following four issues:
1. Notwithstanding the district court's statements in
denying J.C.'s Crim. P. 35(a) motion, did the district
court sentence J.C. As a mandatory sentence offender or
repeat juvenile offender pursuant to § 19-2-908, C.R.S.
2.If not, what statutory authority did the district court
have to sentence J.C. to a "mandatory minimum"
period of commitment?
3.If so, did J.C. qualify as a mandatory sentence offender
under §§ 19-2-516(1) and 19-2-908(1)(a)? Explain.
4.If so, did J.C. qualify as a repeat juvenile offender under
§§ 19-2-516(2) and 19-2-908(1)(b)? Explain.
9 Having reviewed the parties' supplemental briefs and
the relevant law, we conclude that J.C.'s sentence is
illegal. We therefore vacate the sentence. And because we
vacate the sentence on which J.C.'s Crim. P. 35(c) claims
are premised, we also conclude that her Crim. P. 35(c) motion
May Consider the Legality of J.C.'s Sentence
10 Initially, the People invite us to hold that J.C.
abandoned the issue of the legality of her sentence because
she didn't appeal from the order denying her motion to
correct an illegal sentence. They acknowledge that Crim. P.
35(a) authorizes a court to correct an illegal sentence
"at any time." Nonetheless, they urge us not to
consider this issue because, they argue, (1) the word
"may" in that rule creates an option, but not an
obligation for an appellate court to vacate an illegal
sentence; and (2) therefore we should apply the
familiar principle of appellate practice that a party waives
for appeal an issue that she doesn't reassert on appeal.
¶ 11 The People's argument, however, overlooks the
more directly relevant principle that "[a]llegations
that a particular sentence is void or illegal require inquiry
into the subject matter jurisdiction of the sentencing court
and may not be waived." Downing v. People, 895
P.2d 1046, 1050 (Colo. 1995); see People v.
Hinchman, 196 Colo. 556, 530, 589 P.2d 917, 920 (1978).
Indeed, when there's a question as to the court's
subject matter jurisdiction, a court has an obligation to
address it, even if the parties haven't raised it.
See People v. S.X.G., 2012 CO 5, ¶ 9;
Allison v. Engel, 2017 COA 43, ¶ 22; see
also Bender v. Williamsport Area Sch. Dist., 475 U.S.
534, 541 (1986) (an appellate court has an
"obligation" to consider a trial court's
jurisdiction, even if the parties conceded it); Archer W.
Contractors, Ltd. v. Benise-Dowling & Assocs., Inc.,
33 So.3d 1216, 1270 (Ala. 2009) ("[W]e are obligated to
address the absence of [a trial court's] subject-matter
jurisdiction ex mero motu.").
12 The "at any time" language of Crim. P. 35(a)
merely gives effect to this principle. So a defendant may
raise the legality of his sentence for the first time on
appeal. Downing, 895 P.2d at 1050;
Hinchman, 196 Colo. at 530, 589 P.2d at 919-20. And
a court may raise the issue on its own. People v.
White, 179 P.3d 58, 61 (Colo.App. 2007) (citing
Guerin v. Fullerton, 154 Colo. 142, 144, 389 P.2d
84, 85 (1964)). In any case, save perhaps when issue
preclusion or some other similar doctrine applies, see In
re Marriage of Mallon, 956 P.2d 642, 645-46 (Colo.App.
1998), a substantial question as to a court's subject
matter jurisdiction, whenever or however raised, isn't
one a court is free to duck.
13 We decline the ...