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State of Idaho v. Daniel Francis Lute

April 20, 2011

STATE OF IDAHO, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
DANIEL FRANCIS LUTE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Ronald J. Wilper, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burdick, Justice

2011 Opinion No. 50

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

This case arises on appeal from the district court's denial of Daniel Lute's Idaho Criminal Rule 35 motion for correction of an illegal sentence. Lute argues that the grand jury that indicted him was acting without authority as its commission had expired and, therefore, the district court had no subject matter jurisdiction over his case and could not properly enter a Judgment of conviction. Lute further argues that the conviction underlying his sentence is for something that is not a crime in Idaho and, as such, any sentence given for such conduct is necessarily illegal. We reverse the district court's denial of Lute's I.C.R. 35 motion and remand with instructions to grant the motion and vacate Lute's conviction, consistent with this opinion.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On May 6, 1993, a grand jury indicted Lute for the offense of "Battery with the Intent to Commit a Serious Felony", specifically "rape and/or kidnapping." Following his arraignment, Lute entered into a plea agreement with the State, under which Lute agreed to plead guilty and the State agreed to amend the indictment to eliminate reference to "rape", with the resulting charge reading "Battery with the Intent to Commit a Serious Felony, [to wit], Kidnapping, I.C. § 18-911." The judge used handwritten strike throughs to amend the indictment, eliminating any reference to rape. A judgment of conviction was entered on August 17, 1993, sentencing Lute to five years fixed, to run concurrently with a sentence that Lute was already serving. The judgment did not specify which serious felony Lute intended to commit when he committed battery.

On August 30, 2007, approximately nine years after the expiration of Lute's sentence, Lute filed an I.C.R. 35 motion for correction or reduction of sentence. Lute complained that the records of the Idaho Department of Corrections showed that he had been convicted of a sex crime, and requested that the judgment be amended to eliminate this confusion. The district court granted Lute's request,*fn1 amending the judgment to read that Lute had been convicted for "Battery with Intent to Commit a Serious Felony, to wit, Kidnapping, I.C. §§ 18-903, 18-911."

On January 29, 2008, Lute filed a second I.C.R. 35 motion, arguing that his sentence was invalid because the crime he pled guilty to was not proscribed in the Idaho Code. Lute also argued that the district court was without subject matter jurisdiction or personal jurisdiction when it entered the judgment, because the term of the grand jury had already expired at the time he was indicted. The State acknowledged that the grand jury's term had expired at the time of Lute's indictment, but argued that the defect was not jurisdictional and was waived by Lute when he entered into a Rule 11 plea agreement and pled guilty to the amended indictment.

The district court denied Lute's January 29, 2008, motion, finding that a validly entered guilty plea rendered the procedural defects in the grand jury indictment harmless, and no jurisdictional defect existed. Lute appealed and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Lute filed a petition for review, which this Court granted.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When reviewing a case on petition for review from the Court of Appeals this Court gives due consideration to the decision reached by the Court of Appeals, but directly reviews the decision of the trial court. State v. Clements, 148 Idaho 82, 84, 218 P.3d 1143, 1145 (2009). Idaho Criminal Rule 35 allows a trial court to correct an illegal sentence at any time. Id. As a general matter, it is a question of law as to whether a sentence is illegal or was imposed in an illegal fashion, and this Court exercises free review over questions of law. Id. Jurisdiction is likewise a question of law and is reviewed de novo. State v. Barros, 131 Idaho 379, 381, 957 P.2d 1095, 1097 (1998).

III. ANALYSIS

The crux of this appeal is jurisdiction. We must determine whether the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to consider the charges filed against Lute when the grand jury that indicted him was acting without legal authority. If we find that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction over the case initially, then this Court must determine whether the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to grant the relief ...


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