and County of Denver District Court No. 15CV520 Honorable
Morris B. Hoffman, Judge
Abdu-Latif Kazembe Abu-Nantambu-El, Pro Se
Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Ethan E. Zweig,
Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for
1 Defendant-petitioner, Abdu-Latif Kazembe Abu-Nantambu-El,
appeals the district court's order granting the State of
Colorado's motion to dismiss his petition for
compensation pursuant to the "Compensation for Certain
Exonerated Persons" statute, sections 13-65-101 to -103,
C.R.S. 2017 (Exoneration Statute). As a matter of first
impression, we consider whether a defendant-petitioner whose
felony convictions were vacated, but who remains convicted of
a misdemeanor in the same case, is eligible for compensation
under the Exoneration Statute. We conclude he is not. We
further conclude that, because he is not eligible to file a
petition under the Exoneration Statute, we need not address
whether the court deprived him of his right to a jury trial
under the statute. Accordingly, we affirm the district
court's order granting the State's motion to dismiss.
2 A jury convicted Abu-Nantambu-El (formerly known as Paul
Delano McKnight, Jr.) of first degree sexual assault (a class
3 felony), second degree kidnapping (a class 2 felony), and
third degree assault (a class 1 misdemeanor) in the same
case, all arising out of an incident in which the victim
claimed that Abu-Nantambu-El had raped her. His convictions
were affirmed on appeal. People v. McKnight, 813
P.2d 331 (Colo. 1991).
3 Abu-Nantambu-El then filed a pro se Crim. P. 35(c) motion
claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. He presented
evidence that scientific testing was available during his
trial and that his attorney never requested it. During the
postconviction proceedings, a scientific test was conducted
and it ruled out Abu-Nantambu-El as the contributor of the
semen sample found in the victim's underwear.
4 The district court found that Abu-Nantambu-El's counsel
provided ineffective assistance and that, but for the
ineffective assistance, Abu-Nantambu-El would probably not
have been convicted of the kidnapping and sexual assault
charges. The court vacated these two felony convictions.
5 However, the court also found that counsel's
ineffective assistance had not affected Abu-Nantambu-El's
third degree assault conviction, and it denied his Crim. P.
35(c) motion as to that conviction. The court's order was
affirmed on appeal. See People v. McKnight, slip op.
at 12 (Colo.App. No. 97CA1638, Jan. 14, 1999) (not published
pursuant to C.A.R. 35(f)). The prosecution elected not to
retry the felony counts, but Abu-Nantambu-El remains
convicted of the misdemeanor in that case.
6 Based on the order vacating his felony convictions,
Abu-Nantambu-El filed a petition for compensation pursuant to
the Exoneration Statute. The State filed a C.R.C.P. 12(b)(5)
motion to dismiss, contending that Abu-Nantambu-El was not
eligible to seek relief because (1) the order vacating the
kidnapping and sexual assault convictions was based on
ineffective assistance of trial counsel, a ground
"unrelated to the petitioner's actual
innocence"; and (2) Abu-Nantambu-El remained convicted
of third degree assault, and therefore he did not satisfy the
portion of the statute requiring that "all convictions
in the case" be vacated or reversed. The district court
rejected the State's first argument, but agreed with its
second argument and granted the motion to dismiss. The State
did not cross-appeal the court's "actual
innocence" finding, so the only issue we consider is the
eligibility requirements for filing a petition for
compensation under the Exoneration Statute.
7 Abu-Nantambu-El contends that the district court erred when
it concluded that his misdemeanor conviction precluded him
from filing a petition under section 13-65-102(2)(a), C.R.S.
2017, because it was never vacated or reversed and remains on
his record. He also contends that the court erred by
rejecting his request for a jury trial under section
13-65-102(6)(b). We reject his first contention and therefore
do not consider his second contention.
Standard of Review and Applicable Law
8 We review de novo the district court's grant of a
motion to dismiss. BRW, Inc. v. Dufficy & Sons,
Inc., 99 P.3d 66, 71 (Colo. 2004). In reviewing a motion
to dismiss, we accept all matters of material fact in the
petition as true and view the allegations in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff. See Bly v. Story, 241
P.3d 529, 533 (Colo. 2010). Under this standard, "only a
complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a
motion to dismiss." Warne v. Hall, 2016 CO 50,
¶ 9 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
679 (2009)). That is, a party must plead sufficient facts
that, if taken as true, suggest plausible grounds to support
a claim for relief. Warne, ¶ 24.
9 Statutory interpretation presents a question of law, which
we review de novo. People v. Garcia, 113 P.3d 775,
780 (Colo. 2005). When interpreting a statute, a court must
ascertain and give effect to the General Assembly's
"purpose or intent in enacting the statute."
Martin v. People, 27 P.3d 846, 851 (Colo. 2001). To
determine legislative intent, we first look to the language
of the statute, giving words and phrases their commonly
accepted and understood meanings. Garcia, 113 P.3d
at 780; Martin, 27 P.3d at 851. If those words are
clear and unambiguous, we apply the statute as written.
See Martin, 27 ...