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James v. Hruby-Mills

Court of Appeals of Utah

February 22, 2019

Lee Ralph James, Petitioner,
v.
The Honorable Elizabeth Hruby-Mills and West Valley City, Respondents.

          Original Proceeding in this Court

          Kendall Peterson and Bradley G. Nykamp, Attorneys for Petitioner.

          Brent M. Johnson and Michael C. Drechsel, Attorneys for Respondent the Honorable Elizabeth Hruby-Mills.

          Ryan D. Robinson and Cory D. Sherwin, Attorneys for Respondent West Valley City.

          Judge Ryan M. Harris authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory K. Orme and Diana Hagen concurred.

          OPINION

          HARRIS, JUDGE.

         ¶1 In this case, we are asked to determine whether the time-computation methodology set out in rule 2 of the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure should be applied to compute the days during which a probationer is on probation. We conclude that it should, and therefore determine that the prosecutor's probation violation report was timely filed on the last day of Lee Ralph James's probation period. Accordingly, the district court correctly ruled that the justice court had authority to revoke James's probation, and we therefore deny James's petition for extraordinary relief.

         ¶2 On November 12, 2014, in West Valley City Justice Court, James pled guilty to misdemeanor assault. The court imposed a jail sentence of 180 days, but suspended that sentence and placed James on probation "for twelve months." Among other conditions of probation, the court ordered James not to commit "violations of the law[, ] save perhaps a minor traffic offense." Exactly one year later, on November 12, 2015, West Valley City (the City) prosecutors filed an affidavit in support of a motion for order to show cause, alleging that James had violated his probation by, among other things, committing another assault on November 5, 2015, before the expiration of the twelve-month probationary period. After holding an evidentiary hearing, the justice court found James to be in violation of his probation and sentenced him to additional jail time.

         ¶3 James appealed the justice court's decision to the district court, as is his right under rule 38 of the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure, and argued that the order to show cause affidavit had been filed at least one day too late. He asserted that the "twelve-month" probationary period to which he had been sentenced had expired at midnight (i.e., 11:59 p.m.) on November 11, 2015, and that expiration of that time period deprived both the justice court and the district court of authority to revoke his probation. James further argued that, even though the alleged probation violation had occurred on November 5, during the probationary period, the City's failure to alert the court of that violation before the end of the probationary period deprived the court of authority to take action related to the alleged violation.

         ¶4 The district court initially agreed with James and dismissed his case, but later reconsidered its ruling and determined that, as calculated under the method set forth in rule 2 of the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure, James's probationary period did not expire until midnight (i.e., 11:59 p.m.) on November 12, and the City had therefore timely filed its affidavit. The district court eventually found James in violation of probation and remanded the matter to the justice court, which sentenced James to sixty additional days in jail. Before serving his sixty-day sentence, James filed a petition for extraordinary writ with this court.[1]

         ¶5 James argues that the twelve-month probationary period imposed by the justice court in 2014 expired before the filing of the City's probation violation report, thus divesting the court of power to find him in violation of his probation. "A court's power to grant, modify, or revoke probation is purely statutory." State v. Orr, 2005 UT 92, ¶ 18, 127 P.3d 1213 (quotation simplified). Questions of statutory interpretation are questions of law which we review for correctness. State v. Wallace, 2006 UT 86, ¶ 5, 150 P.3d 540.

         ¶6 James's argument is premised upon two critical assumptions: first, that James's probationary period really did expire at midnight on the eleventh; and second, that the City's failure to file a probation violation report within that probationary period deprived the justice court of the power to revoke his probation even for violations that occurred within the probationary period.[2] Because we conclude that James's first assumption is infirm, we deny James's petition without reaching the merits of the second.[3]

         ¶7 The Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure "govern the procedure in all criminal cases in the courts of this state except juvenile court cases." Utah R. Crim. P. 1(b). Those rules have a provision-rule 2-that governs the computation of periods of time, and the version of rule 2 in effect at the time James was sentenced stated as follows:

In computing any period of time, the day of the act or event from which the designated period of time begins to run shall not be included. The last day of the period so computed shall be included, unless ...

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