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State v. Nix

Supreme Court of Oregon

March 5, 2015

STATE OF OREGON, Respondent on Review,
v.
ARNOLD WELDON NIX, Petitioner on Review

Page 417

On review from respondent on review's Motion to Determine Jurisdiction, filed August 25, 2014, and petitioner on review's Motions to Dismiss Appeal and Vacate Opinions, filed November 13, 2014; considered and under advisement on November 14, 2014.[*] CC CRH090155; CA A145386.

State v. Nix, 355 Or. 777, 334 P.3d 437 (2014) State v. Nix, 251 Or.App. 449, 283 P.3d 442 (2012)

Jamie K. Contreras, Assistant Attorney General, Salem, filed the motion for respondent on review. With her on the motion was Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General, and Anna M. Joyce, Solicitor General.

David J. Celuch, Portland, filed the motions for petitioner on review.

Erin J. Snyder, Deputy Public Defender, Salem, filed the brief for amicus curiae Office of Public Defense Services. With her on the brief was Peter Gartlan, Chief Defender.

Before Balmer, Chief Justice, and Kistler, Walters, Linder, Landau, and Baldwin, Justices.[**]

OPINION

Page 418

[356 Or. 770] LANDAU, J.

In this misdemeanor criminal case, the state appealed a judgment of conviction, challenging the lawfulness of the sentence. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for resentencing. State v. Nix, 251 Or.App. 449, 283 P.3d 442 (2012). We affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals. State v. Nix, 355 Or. 777, 334 P.3d 437 (2014). Shortly after our opinion was published, however, the state filed a motion to stay the issuance of the appellate judgment and a motion to determine jurisdiction; the state noted that, although it had prevailed on its appeal, it perhaps had lacked authority to file an appeal in the first place, because no statute authorizes it to appeal a judgment of conviction for a misdemeanor. Defendant responded by moving to vacate both opinions and dismiss the appeal.

For the reasons that follow, defendant's motions are well taken. We commend the state for bringing the matter to our attention. But we conclude that it lacked authority to appeal the judgment of conviction in this misdemeanor case. Both the Court of Appeals and this court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the appeal. As a result, we vacate both opinions and dismiss the appeal.

The relevant facts are few and undisputed. Defendant was found guilty of 20 counts of second-degree animal neglect, a misdemeanor. ORS 167.325(2) (2009).[1] The state asked the trial court to impose sentence on 20 separate convictions. Defendant objected, arguing that violations " merge" into a single conviction under Oregon's anti-merger statute, ORS 161.067, when there are multiple violations of a single statute and only one victim. In this case, defendant argued, animals are not " victims" within the meaning of that statute, so the trial court should impose a sentence on a single, merged, conviction. The trial court agreed and did just that.

The state appealed, arguing that the trial court had erred in accepting defendant's contention that animals cannot be " victims" within the meaning of the anti-merger [356 Or. 771] statute. In its notice of appeal, it cited ORS 138.060(1)(e) as the basis for appellate jurisdiction. That provision authorizes the state to appeal a " judgment of conviction based on the sentence as provided in ORS 138.222." The state apparently relied on a subsection of the cross-referenced statute, ORS 138.222(4), that authorizes an appellate court to review a claim that " [t]he sentencing court failed to comply with the requirements of law in imposing or failing to impose a sentence."

Defendant did not contest the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals to hear the state's appeal of his misdemeanor conviction. That court proceeded to review the state's appeal on the merits and, as we have noted, agreed with the state and reversed and remanded for resentencing. Defendant then sought review in this court, which we allowed, ultimately affirming the decision of the Court of Appeals.

Approximately two weeks later, the state moved the court to stay the issuance of the appellate judgment and entertain a motion to determine jurisdiction. The state asserted that it had come to its attention that, although ORS 138.222(4)--at least on the surface--appeared to permit an appeal on a claim that the trial court had erred in imposing a sentence in any case, closer inspection of the statute suggests that it actually applies only to appeals in felony cases. We granted the motion to stay issuance of the appellate judgment and solicited from the parties further briefing on the jurisdictional issue that the state raised. We also solicited a brief amicus curiae from the Office of Public Defense Services.

In response, the state acknowledged that, on further reflection, it " lacked a statutory basis to file a notice of appeal in this case," because no statute authorizes the state to appeal a judgment of conviction for a misdemeanor. The state argued that this court nevertheless had jurisdiction, " because it could have heard the case in mandamus."

Defendant argued that, because the state lacked authority to appeal a judgment of

Page 419

conviction for a misdemeanor, the appellate courts lacked jurisdiction, and this court should vacate the opinions of both appellate courts [356 Or. 772] and dismiss the appeal. OPDS, in an excellent and helpful amicus brief, likewise argued that the state lacked the statutory authority to appeal and that we should vacate both opinions and dismiss the appeal.

The state rejoined that, even if this court lacked jurisdiction over the appeal, defendant has failed to establish that he is entitled to the " extraordinary remedy" of vacatur. The state argued that we should ...


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