Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (F-7269-05) (Hon. Brian Holeman, Trial Judge).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Belson, Senior Judge
Before FARRELL, Associate Judge, and PRYOR and BELSON, Senior Judges.
This appeal calls upon this court to decide precisely when a young adult becomes too old to be sentenced under the Youth Rehabilitation Act, D.C. Code § 24-901 et seq. (2001 and Supp. 2007), ("YRA" or "Youth Act"), a question of first impression. Plainly, the special provisions of the Act are available in the sentencing of a person less than twenty-two years of age at the time of sentencing. The Act is unclear as to whether it also applies to persons who are less than twenty-two years of age at the time of conviction, but who reach their twenty-second birthday before sentencing. As the government points out in its brief, this court has never squarely addressed this issue.
Appellant Phillip Holloway was charged with one count of unlawful distribution of cocaine, D.C. Code § 48-904.01 (a)(1) (2001), and entered a plea of guilty to one count of attempted distribution of cocaine on February 28, 2006. At the time of his plea, appellant was twenty-one years of age. By April 28, 2006, the date on which he was sentenced, appellant had passed his twenty-second birthday. For that reason, the trial court denied appellant's request for sentencing under the YRA, and subsequently denied his motion for reduction of sentence. The trial court rejected his argument that he was eligible for sentencing under the YRA because he was still twenty-one years of age when he entered his plea of guilty. We agree with appellant, and therefore reverse and remand for resentencing.
As this appeal raises a question of statutory interpretation, our review is de novo. See United States v. Crockett, 861 A.2d 604, 607 (D.C. 2004). In construing the YRA, we look first to the language of the statute. "The primary and general rule of statutory construction is that the intent of the lawmaker is to be found in the language that he has used." Varela v. Hi-Lo Powered Stirrups, Inc. 424 A.2d 61, 64-65 (D.C. 1980) (en banc) (quoting United States v. Goldenberg, 168 U.S. 95, 102-03 (1897)). Where "the plain meaning of the statutory language is unambiguous, the intent of the legislature is clear, and judicial inquiry need go no further." District of Columbia v. Place, 892 A.2d 1108, 1111 (D.C. 2006) (internal citations omitted).
The Council of the District of Columbia enacted the YRA in 1985 "to fill the void created by congressional repeal of the Federal Youth Corrections Act ("FYCA"), [18 U.S.C. § 5005 et seq.] on October 12, 1984." REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY, COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ON BILL 6-47, JUNE 19, 1985. When Congress repealed the FYCA, it adopted a new set of sentencing provisions for the federal courts, while leaving in place the District of Columbia Code's provisions for indeterminate sentences.
In our view, the meaning of the statute is not clear. The critical language of the YRA is found at D.C. Code § 24-901 (2) and (6) (Supp. 2007):
(2) "Conviction" means the judgment on a verdict or a finding of guilty, a plea of guilty, or a plea of no contest. . . .
(6) "Youth Offender" means a person less than 22 years convicted of a crime other than murder, first degree murder that constitutes a crime of terrorism, and second degree murder that constitutes a crime of terrorism.
The comparable provisions of the FYCA, 18 U.S.C. § 5010 (e) and (h), in force in federal and D.C. courts until October 12, 1984, provided:
(e) "Youth Offender" means a person under the age of twenty-two years at the time of conviction; . . .
(h) "Conviction" means the judgment on a verdict or finding of guilty, a plea of guilty, or a plea of nolo contendere.
Each party argues unpersuasively that the language of the YRA should be read as plainly supporting its side of the issue. The government argues that the term "judgment of conviction" is defined not only in Superior Court Criminal Rules 32 (d)(1),*fn1 and in BLACK'S LAW DICTIONARY,*fn2 but also in case law, to include not only the finding or plea of guilt but also the sentence, citing in particular Jackson v. United States, 95 U.S. App. D.C. 238, 330, 221 F.2d 883, 885 (1955) ("The judgment of conviction from which the appeal was taken includes the sentence[.]"). We disagree. As an initial matter, we note that the YRA does not use the term "judgment of conviction," but, as quoted above, defines conviction as "a judgment on a verdict or a finding of guilty, a guilty plea . . . ." The language of the statute itself ...