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Jones v. Williams

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

June 24, 2019

Richard S. Jones, Petitioner-Appellant
v.
Dean Williams, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections. Respondent-Appellee

          Appeal from the District Court Fremont County District Court Case No. 18CV35 Honorable Robert Freeman, Magistrate

          Richard S. Jones, pro se Olney Springs, Colorado

          Attorneys for Respondent-Appellee: Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General Alison Faryl Kyles, Assistant Solicitor General Denver, Colorado

          PER CURIAM.

         ¶1 The Habeas Corpus Act requires that a habeas petition "be accompanied by a copy of the warrant of commitment." § 13-45-101(1), C.R.S. (2018). In this habeas corpus appeal, we consider whether a district court may summarily dismiss a petition for lack of jurisdiction when the petition includes the petitioner's mittimus for his latest conviction but does not include the mittimuses for two earlier convictions, which he asserts are relevant to his habeas claim. To resolve this issue, we review the constitutional and statutory authority authorizing habeas corpus and our prior caselaw discussing the warrant requirement. We conclude that noncompliance with the warrant requirement does not deprive courts of jurisdiction over habeas corpus petitions. We overrule our prior cases holding that failing to provide a copy of the warrant of commitment is a jurisdictional defect, deprives the court of authority to act on a habeas petition, and requires summary dismissal. Accordingly, we reverse the district court's order dismissing the habeas petition for lack of jurisdiction and remand to the district court for further consideration.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶2 Richard S. Jones filed a habeas corpus petition in the district court challenging the Department of Corrections' ("DOC") calculation of his parole eligibility date ("PED"). Jones asserted that the DOC used only his latest 2008 conviction to calculate his PED, but, to correctly calculate his PED, he believed that the DOC's calculation should include two earlier convictions from 1991. If his PED was calculated utilizing the 1991 convictions, Jones argued that he had passed his PED and was being unlawfully denied consideration for parole.[1] His habeas petition included the mittimus for the 2008 conviction but did not include the mittimuses for the two 1991 convictions.

         ¶3 In response to Jones's petition, the DOC moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The DOC characterized Jones's failure to include all three of his mittimuses as a "jurisdictional failure which requires dismissal." The district court granted the DOC's motion and dismissed the petition.

         ¶4 Jones appealed the district court's order to this court. See Colo. Const. art. VI, § 2 (outlining appellate jurisdiction of the supreme court); § 13-4-102(1)(e), C.R.S. (2018) (excluding habeas corpus appeals from the jurisdiction of the court of appeals); see also Nowak v. Suthers, 2014 CO 14, ¶ 11, 320 P.3d 340, 343.

         ¶5 Jones is representing himself. In his appellate briefs, he reasserts the merits of the claims he outlined in his habeas corpus petition. Pleadings by pro se litigants must be broadly construed to ensure that they are not denied review of important issues because of their inability to articulate their argument like a lawyer. See People v. Bergerud, 223 P.3d 686, 696-97 (Colo. 2010). Broadly construed, Jones argues that he was entitled to a ruling on the merits, and the district court should not have dismissed his petition.

         ¶6 Relying on this court's precedent, the DOC contends that the district court properly dismissed the petition because the district court lacked jurisdiction[2] as a result of Jones's failure to provide all three of his mittimuses.[3]

         II. Analysis

         ¶7 When, as here, the challenge to the court's jurisdiction involves no disputed facts and instead involves interpreting a statutory requirement, we review the district court's dismissal order de novo. St. Vrain Valley Sch. Dist. RE-1J v. Loveland, 2017 CO 54, ¶ 10, 395 P.3d 751, 754; Nowak, ¶ 17, 320 P.3d at 344. In interpreting a statutory requirement, we must give effect to the General Assembly's intent. Colorow Health Care, LLC v. Fischer, 2018 CO 52M, ¶ 11, 420 P.3d 259, 262. To determine that intent, we look at the statute's plain language, apply the text as written, and read the words in context giving the words their ordinary meanings. Id.

         ¶8 To decide whether the warrant requirement of section 13-45-101(1) is a jurisdictional requirement, we review the constitutional and statutory authority allowing habeas corpus. We also revisit our caselaw discussing the warrant requirement. We disagree with the DOC and conclude that the statutory requirement that a habeas petition "be accompanied by a copy of the warrant of commitment" is not jurisdictional. Therefore, noncompliance with the statute does not deprive the court of authority to act on the petition. When a habeas petition's allegations involve multiple sentences from multiple ...


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