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People v. Knoeppchen

Court of Appeals of Colorado, First Division

March 7, 2019

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Billy Joe Knoeppchen, Defendant-Appellant.

          Larimer County District Court No. 13CR335 Honorable Susan J. Blanco, Judge

          Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General, Marixa Frias, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee

          Megan A. Ring, Colorado State Public Defender, Lance Thibert, Deputy State Public Defender, Fort Collins, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant

          OPINION

          TOW JUDGE.

          ¶ 1 Defendant, Billy Joe Knoeppchen, appeals the district court's order denying his motion to vacate the restitution order. His appeal requires us to determine whether his challenge involves a claim that his sentence is not authorized by law or is a challenge to the manner in which sentence was imposed. Because we decide it is the latter, and the challenge is untimely, we affirm.

         I. Background

         ¶ 2 On August 22, 2013, Knoeppchen pleaded no contest to third degree assault and was sentenced to probation. As part of the plea agreement, Knoeppchen agreed to pay restitution. However, because the prosecution did not have complete information regarding restitution at the time, the district court reserved the restitution determination for ninety days.[1]

         ¶ 3 On November 29, 2013, 100 days later, the prosecution moved for an order imposing restitution. Knoeppchen did not file any response to the motion. The district court adopted the proposed order filed by the prosecution. This order noted, "[t]he above stated amount is the current amount due, but not a final amount due. The defendant is ordered to pay restitution covering the actual costs of the ongoing or future treatment of [the victim] for treatment to his mouth, teeth[, ] and jaw." The amount of restitution owed to the victim compensation fund was also left to be determined. On May 21, 2014, the prosecution moved to amend the restitution amount, reducing the total amount due. Again, Knoeppchen filed no response. The district court granted this motion as well.

         ¶ 4 More than three years later, Knoeppchen filed a motion to vacate the restitution order. Although he did not explicitly refer to Crim. P. 35, or to any other statute or rule under which he was proceeding, he "attack[ed] the restitution order itself as a matter of law," asserting that the proposed order was filed by the prosecution and adopted by the district court after the ninety-day deadline, and that the prosecution did not establish good cause for its tardy request. The district court denied the motion, finding that good cause existed for filing the motion for restitution late, despite not having made any express finding of good cause when it entered the original order.

         II. Analysis

         ¶ 5 Knoeppchen now appeals the district court's order denying his motion to vacate the restitution order. As a preliminary matter, the People argue that (1) this court lacks jurisdiction to review the order because it is not a final, appealable order denying postconviction relief; and (2) even if the motion to vacate the restitution order is a final, appealable order seeking postconviction relief, the motion was time barred. Although we disagree that this court lacks jurisdiction to review the order, we agree that the motion was time barred. Thus, we affirm the district court's order, but on grounds other than those relied on by the district court.

         A. This Court Has Jurisdiction

         ¶ 6 We first address, and reject, the People's assertion that the district court's order is not a final, appealable order. According to the People, because Knoeppchen did not explicitly invoke Rule 35 or its statutory counterpart, section 18-1-410, C.R.S. 2018, the district court lacked authority to treat the matter as a postconviction challenge. However, courts have long considered the substantive issues raised in a motion, rather than the label placed on such motion, to determine how the matter should be characterized. See Dodge v. People, 178 Colo. 71, 73, 495 P.2d 213, 214 (1972). Knoeppchen's collateral attack on the three-year-old restitution order clearly sought postconviction relief in the form of vacating the restitution order.[2] Thus, the challenge to the propriety of the district court's resolution of that claim is properly before us.

         B. Knoeppchen's Claims Are Time Barred

         ¶ 7 The People's second procedural argument is more availing. As noted, Knoeppchen's motion levies an attack on the restitution award "as a matter of law." In substance, he asserts that restitution was not legally imposed. Which provision of Rule 35 governs Knoeppchen's claim depends on whether he asserts an illegality of constitutional dimension. If it is a claim that the sentence is illegal in a way that does not invoke constitutional protections, it is cognizable under Rule 35(a). See People v. Dunlap, 222 P.3d 364 (Colo.App. 2009) (construing the defendant's argument that the district court failed to consider and fix the restitution amount as a claim that his sentence was illegal under Rule 35(a)). If it is a claim that the sentence violates constitutional rights, it is cognizable under Rule 35(c). See People v. Wenzinger, 155 P.3d 415, 419 ...


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