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State v. Cook

Supreme Court of South Dakota

June 17, 2015

STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
TRAUN L. COOK, Defendant and Appellant

Considered on Briefs May 26, 2015

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FIRST JUDICIAL CIRCUIT CLAY COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA. THE HONORABLE CHERYLE W. GERING, Judge.

MARTY J. JACKLEY, Attorney General, CAROLINE A. SRSTKA, Assistant Attorney General, Pierre, South Dakota, Attorneys for plaintiff and appellee.

MATTHEW R. METZGAR of Rhinehart Law, P.C., Sioux City, Iowa, Attorneys for defendant and appellant.

WILBUR, Justice. GILBERTSON, Chief Justice, and ZINTER, SEVERSON, and KERN, Justices, concur.

OPINION

Page 879

WILBUR, Justice

[¶1] Traun L. Cook was convicted of aggravated assault and simple assault. Cook filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence. Cook appeals the circuit court's denial of his motion, arguing that the court erred as a matter of law because the oral pronouncement of his sentence was ambiguous or internally contradictory and, therefore, constituted an illegal sentence. We affirm.

Background

[¶2] On December 3, 2008, a jury found Cook guilty of aggravated assault under SDCL 22-18-1.1(4) and simple assault under SDCL 22-18-1(5). Cook admitted to an information for enhancement of simple assault and to a part II information for habitual offender. The sentencing court, the Honorable Judge Arthur Rusch presiding, sentenced Cook on January 30, 2009, to 20 years in the South Dakota State Penitentiary with 10 years suspended for aggravated assault and 2 years in the penitentiary for simple assault, to run concurrently. The sentencing court filed an amended judgment and sentence on February 5, 2009.

[¶3] Cook appealed his conviction to this Court on February 5, 2009. We summarily affirmed his conviction. State v. Cook, 779 N.W.2d 166 (S.D. 2009). Afterwards, the circuit court appointed Scot Mannschreck to represent Cook. Cook, through his attorney, filed a motion to amend his sentence on July 9, 2014. The circuit court, the Honorable Judge Cheryle Gering presiding, denied the motion without a hearing because " the two years during which time the sentencing court retains jurisdiction pursuant to SDCL 23A-27-19 and/or SDCL 23A-31-1 has long since expired."

[¶4] The circuit court appointed Matthew Metzgar on October 15, 2014, to represent Cook after Cook applied for new court-appointed counsel. Cook filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence on October 23, 2014, alleging that his sentence was ambiguous or internally contradictory. Specifically, Cook contended that his sentence was ambiguous or internally contradictory because Judge Rusch stated that the court retained control and jurisdiction over Cook for the entirety of his sentence. According to Cook, Judge Rusch only retained jurisdiction and control over him for two years; therefore, his sentence was in contravention of the law of this state. Furthermore, Cook alleged that the order was ambiguous or internally contradictory as to whether the circuit court intended to

Page 880

place him on probation or on parole after he finished serving ten years in the penitentiary. Cook stated, " [W]hen there is a concurrent penitentiary term and probation requirement, such a sentence places a defendant under simultaneous supervision of both the executive branch and [the] judicial branch of the government[.]" Thus, according to Cook, " The appropriate remedy is to remand the matter to the circuit court[.]"

[¶5] After a hearing, the circuit court denied Cook's motion to correct an illegal sentence. In its findings of fact and conclusions of law, the court noted that the oral sentence controlled over the written judgment. The court then found that the oral sentence was neither internally inconsistent nor ambiguous. Specifically, the court found that " it was superfluous and unnecessary for the sentencing court to use the language regarding revocation of suspension and reinstatement of the sentence without credit for the time on probation" because " there was no circumstance under which [Cook] would be on probation in this case[.]" In addition, the court found that the statement from the sentencing court that it retained jurisdiction for the entirety of Cook's sentence was inapplicable because a court cannot grant " jurisdiction beyond that provided by state law." Cook appeals this order and raises the following issue for our review:

Whether the circuit court erred when it denied Cook's motion to correct an illegal sentence.

Analysis

[¶6] The circuit court's " written sentence must conform to the court's oral pronouncement." State v. Thayer, 2006 S.D. 40, ¶ 8, 713 N.W.2d 608, 612. When there is a difference between the written and oral sentences, we review the sentence " under the premise that the oral sentence controls." Id. ¶ 7, 713 N.W.2d at 611. We may rely on the written sentence to clarify any ambiguity in the oral sentence. State v. Munk, 453 N.W.2d 124, 125 (S.D. 1990). Consequently, in this case, we review the oral pronouncement to determine whether the sentence was illegal and rely on the written sentence only to the extent necessary to clarify an ambiguity in the oral pronouncement. See id. We review questions of law de novo. State v. Berget, 2014 S.D. 61, ¶ 48, 853 N.W.2d 45, 65.

[¶7] The circuit court " may correct an illegal sentence at any time[.]" SDCL 23A-31-1 (Rule 35).[1] " Clerical mistakes in judgments, orders, or other parts of a record and errors in a record arising from oversight or omission may be corrected by a court at any time and after such notice, if any, as the court orders." SDCL 23A-31-2 (Rule 36). " 'Illegal sentences are essentially only those which exceed the relevant statutory maximum limits or violate double jeopardy or are ambiguous or internally contradictory.'" State v. Thomas, 499 N.W.2d 621, 622 (S.D. 1993) (quoting

Page 881

8A James W. Moore, Moore's Federal Practice § 35.06[a] (2d ed. 1992)).

[¶8] Cook does not contend that his sentence exceeded the relevant statutory maximum limit or violated double jeopardy. Instead, Cook asserts only that his sentence was ambiguous or internally contradictory. " A sentence may be found illegal when it is internally ambiguous or self-contradictory to the extent that a reasonable person cannot determine what the sentence is." James W. Moore, Moore's Federal Practice § 635 App. 102[3][c][iii] (3d ed. 2015) (footnote omitted). " It is the obligation of the sentencing court to express a sentence in clear terms, so as to 'reveal with fair certainty' its intent and 'exclude any serious misapprehensions by those who must execute them.'" United States v. Moss, 614 F.2d 171, 175 (8th Cir. 1980) (quoting United States v. Daugherty, 269 U.S. 360, 363, 46 S.Ct. 156, 157, 70 L.Ed. 309 (1926)). We examine the following guiding factors to determine whether an oral pronouncement is ambiguous:

(1) when the words used have more than one meaning;
(2) when otherwise unambiguous words are used in an unusual way;
(3) the extent of the sentence cannot be ascertained from the language used; or
(4) the plain meaning of the words used lead to an irrational or absurd result.

State v. Cady, 422 N.W.2d 828, 830 (S.D. 1988) (quoting United States v. Villano, 816 F.2d 1448, 1453 n.6 (10th Cir. 1987)).

[¶9] Cook argues that the oral pronouncement in this case was ambiguous or internally contradictory because the sentencing court stated that it would retain control and jurisdiction over him for the entire term of his sentence. Generally, the sentencing court only retains jurisdiction over a defendant for a period of two years from the date the sentence is imposed. See SDCL 23A-27-19 (" The sentencing court retains jurisdiction for the purpose of suspending any such sentence for a period of two years from the effective date of the judgment of conviction[.]" ); SDCL 23A-31-1 (Rule 35) (" A court may reduce a sentence . . . [w]ithin two years after the sentence is imposed[.]" ). " A defendant with a partially suspended penitentiary sentence is under the supervision of the Department of Corrections and the Board of Pardons and Paroles." SDCL 23A-27-18.4; see also State v. McConnell, 495 N.W.2d 658, 658 (S.D. 1993) (" While in the penitentiary [the defendant] will be under supervision of the Department of Corrections, an agency of the executive branch." ). " The board [of pardons and paroles] is charged with the responsibility for enforcing the conditions imposed by the sentencing judge, and the board retains jurisdiction to revoke the suspended portion of the sentence for violation of the terms of parole or the terms of the suspension." SDCL 23A-27-18.4. Therefore, in this case, the sentencing court clearly did not retain jurisdiction and control over Cook for the entire term of his sentence--i.e., 20 years in the penitentiary with 10 years suspended.

[¶10] Consequently, Cook alleges that his sentence was illegal because it was " both internally conflicting and ambiguous in that regard." In this case, the oral pronouncement of Cook's sentence was not so ambiguous or internally conflicting that a reasonable person would not understand the sentence. We note that the sentencing court may have, at times, confused the concepts of parole and probation during its oral pronouncement.[2] Indeed, a sentencing

Page 882

court retains jurisdiction over a defendant for the entire term of his sentence when the defendant receives either a suspended imposition or suspended execution of sentence and is placed on probation. SDCL 23A-27-13, -18. In considering the motion to correct an illegal sentence, the circuit court speculated that the language in the oral pronouncement referencing probation " likely" originated from " standard conditions that [Judge Rusch] may have stated in this case[.]" The circuit court found that " there was no circumstance under which [Cook] would be on probation in this case" because " no probation [was] ordered and [there was] no possibility of probation being ordered." [3] Accordingly, the circuit court concluded that " it was superfluous and unnecessary for the sentencing court to use the language" regarding probation. We agree.

[¶11] The record indicates that Judge Rusch clearly and unambiguously placed Cook under the supervision of the board of pardons and paroles: " You shall be placed under the supervision of the board of pardons and paroles or their representative for a period of ten years, and that you shall be governed by their rules and regulations." Regardless of whether Judge Rusch employed a practice of modifying sentences after the expiration of the two-year jurisdiction under SDCL 23A-31-1 (Rule 35) as asserted by Cook,[4] the law plainly provides that the court only retained jurisdiction in this case for a period of two years from the date that the sentence was imposed. See SDCL 23A-27-19, -31-1 (Rule 35). Therefore, the few references to " probation" did not render the oral pronouncement of the sentence so ambiguous or internally conflicting that a reasonable person would not understand his sentence. See James W. Moore, Moore's Federal Practice § 635 App. 102[3][c][iii] (3d ed. 2015).[5] Moreover, the oral pronouncement was not subject to more than one interpretation, the language was not used in an unusual way, the extent of the sentence was ascertainable, and the plain

Page 883

meaning of the words did not lead to an irrational or absurd result. See Cady, 422 N.W.2d at 830.

[¶12] We affirm.

[¶13] GILBERTSON, Chief Justice, and ZINTER, SEVERSON, and KERN, Justices, concur.


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