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Appeal from the District Court of the Second Judicial District, State of Idaho, Idaho County. Hon. Michael James Griffin, District Judge.
District court decision on motion to correct illegal sentence and Rule 35 motion, affirmed.
Sara Thomas, Idaho Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for appellant. Justin M. Curtis, Deputy Idaho Appellate Public Defender, argued.
Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise for respondent. Kenneth K. Jorgensen, Deputy Attorney General, argued.
BURDICK, Chief Justice. Justices EISMANN, J. JONES, HORTON and BEVAN, J., Pro tem, CONCUR.
BURDICK, Chief Justice
This case comes to the Idaho Supreme Court via a petition for review of a Court of Appeals decision. William Franklin Wolfe appealed the Idaho County district court's decisions denying (1) his motion for a hearing on his motion for reconsideration of his I.C.R. 35 motion to correct an illegal sentence; and (2) his successive Rule 35 motion to correct an illegal sentence. Specifically, Wolfe argues the district court denied his motions based on two erroneous conclusions: that the subject matter jurisdiction issue had been previously adjudicated and that Wolfe could not file a successive Rule 35 motion. Wolfe asserts that if the district court had properly considered the merits of his motions, the district court would have found it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Wolfe's original criminal proceedings. Accordingly, Wolfe asks this Court to vacate his judgment of conviction and sentence, or alternatively, to remand the case for an evidentiary hearing. We affirm the district court's decisions denying Wolfe's motion for a hearing and his successive Rule 35 motion alleging an illegal sentence.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Wolfe is serving a fixed life sentence for first degree murder after a jury found him guilty in 1982. Years later, Wolfe learned the state district court may have lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the charged offense because it occurred on tribal grounds and there was evidence the victim was " Indian" as defined under federal law for purposes of determining federal jurisdiction.
On December 2, 2004, Wolfe filed a pro se Rule 35 motion to correct an illegal sentence, alleging that the Idaho courts lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the underlying criminal proceedings. Wolfe argued that the federal courts had exclusive jurisdiction over the proceedings because the crime occurred on tribal lands and because the victim was Native American. The district court summarily denied the motion as untimely on December 14, 2004. Within fourteen days of the denial, Wolfe filed a motion to reconsider the decision and an affidavit in support of that motion.
While the motion for reconsideration was pending, Wolfe filed a second successive petition for post-conviction relief on February 11, 2005. In the second successive petition, Wolfe alleged a claim of ineffective assistance of prior post-conviction counsel based on counsel's failure to raise the claim of lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The district court found the subject matter jurisdiction issue had merit and requested further briefing on the matter. The court ordered the
second successive petition for post-conviction relief to be filed as a separate civil case along with the Rule 35 pleadings and related court documents.
On October 26, 2006, after reviewing the parties' extensive briefing on the subject matter jurisdiction issue, the district court issued its Memorandum Decision and Order advising the parties that the court intended to dismiss Wolfe's claims as being untimely. In that Order, the district court stated that there was a genuine issue of whether the court had subject matter jurisdiction, but ultimately held that interest in finality of judgments trumped jurisdiction. The district court did not explicitly rule on the motion for reconsideration of the Rule 35 denial. On January 4, 2006, the district court entered its Order dismissing Wolfe's civil case based on the reasons it set forth in its October 26, 2006 Memorandum Decision and Order. Wolfe did not appeal this dismissal.
On April 25, 2011, relying on State v. Lute, 150 Idaho 837, 252 P.3d 1255 (2011), Wolfe moved the district court for a hearing on his motion for reconsideration of his 2004 Rule 35 motion (hereinafter " motion for a hearing" ). Wolfe argued the district court erred when it denied his initial Rule 35 motion to correct an illegal sentence on the basis it was untimely because Lute made clear that the court can correct an illegal sentence at any time. On April 29, 2011, the district court denied Wolfe's motion for a hearing, finding Wolfe had already had a hearing on the issue. Wolfe appealed this decision on June 5, 2011.
On June 17, 2011, Wolfe filed a successive Rule 35 motion to correct an illegal sentence, again asserting a lack of subject matter jurisdiction over the original charge. The district court denied the successive Rule 35 motion on June 22, 2011. The district court's only reason for the denial was that Wolfe was permitted to file only one Rule 35 motion alleging an illegal sentence. Wolfe then filed an amended notice of appeal on August 16, 2011, challenging both the denial of his motion for a hearing and the denial of his successive Rule 35 motion.
The Idaho Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decisions, noting that although Wolfe presented compelling evidence regarding the subject matter jurisdiction issue, the challenges to Idaho's subject matter jurisdiction were either untimely, abandoned, or barred by res judicata. As to the motion for a hearing, the Court of Appeals held that Wolfe abandoned the motion when he failed to pursue it for nearly five years. Consequently, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's order denying Wolfe's motion for a hearing. As to Wolfe's successive motion to correct an illegal sentence, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's denial, holding that res judicata barred Wolfe ...