FROM THE HOT SPRING COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 30CR-16-124]
HONORABLE CHRIS E WILLIAMS, JUDGE.
Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Adam Jackson, Ass't
Att'y Gen., for appellant.
Wesley Hall and Sarah M. Pourhosseini; and Crisp &
Freeze, by J. David Crisp, for appellee.
COURTNEY HUDSON GOODSON, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE.
State of Arkansas brings this interlocutory appeal from the
Hot Spring County Circuit Court's order dismissing the
misdemeanor negligent-homicide charges against appellee
Benjamin Ward Ledwell due to the expiration of the one-year
statute of limitations. For reversal, the State argues that
the circuit court erred in its interpretation of Arkansas
Code Annotated section 5-1-109(f) (Supp. 2015). We reverse
12, 2016, Arkansas State Police Special Agent Jimmie Thomas
II, prepared an application for an arrest warrant for
Ledwell. The affidavit alleged that, on May 19, 2015, Ledwell
had committed four counts of negligent homicide, a Class A
misdemeanor, when the vehicle he was driving crossed over the
center line of Arkansas Highway 7 and hit another vehicle
head-on, causing the death of all four occupants in the
vehicle. The affidavit further stated that a blood sample
obtained from Ledwell shortly after the accident had tested
positive for benzodiazepines and that Xanax and
hydrocodone/acetaminophen tablets were found inside his sock.
on the information contained in the affidavit, on May 13,
2016, the Hot Spring County Circuit Court found probable
cause to support the negligent homicide charges, and the
circuit court clerk issued a bench warrant for Ledwell on May
16, 2016. The warrant was served on June 2, 2016, when
Ledwell voluntarily surrendered to police custody, and on
June 6, 2016, the criminal information was filed charging him
with four counts of negligent homicide.
filed a motion to dismiss the charges on October 14, 2016,
arguing that the prosecution was not commenced within the
applicable one-year statute of limitations. At the November
10, 2016 hearing on the motion, Ledwell specifically
contended that because the criminal information had not been
filed until June 6, 2016, which was more than one year after
the accident had occurred, the statute of limitations had
expired on the misdemeanor offenses pursuant to Arkansas Code
Annotated section 5-1-109(b)(3)(A). In response, the State
asserted that the arrest warrant had been issued on May 16,
2016, within the one-year statute of limitations. The State
also presented the testimony of the Hot Spring County Circuit
Court clerk, who indicated that it was her practice to issue
an arrest warrant after the prosecutor's office had
presented a criminal information and probable-cause
affidavit. A case file with these documents would then be
created once the arrest warrant had been returned. Because
the arrest warrant had been issued based on the criminal
information and affidavit, and the warrant was issued within
one year of the accident, the State argued that the
prosecution had been timely commenced in accordance with
Arkansas Code Annotated section 5-1-109(f). The State
asserted that there was no requirement in this subsection
that the criminal information or other supporting
documentation be filed in order for the prosecution to have
posthearing briefing, the circuit court entered an order on
November 29, 2016, granting Ledwell's motion to dismiss.
The court found that the charging documents in this case had
not been filed until June 6, 2016, and that the statute of
limitations for the prosecution of the misdemeanor charges
had expired by that date. The State timely appealed the
circuit court's order of dismissal on December 8, 2016.
threshold matter, we must first decide if we have
jurisdiction to hear the State's appeal in this case.
Unlike that of a criminal defendant, the State's right to
appeal is limited to the provisions of Rule 3 of the Arkansas
Rules of Appellate Procedure-Criminal. State v.
Colvin, 2013 Ark. 203, 427 S.W.3d 635. Pursuant to Rule
3(d), we will not consider an appeal by the State unless the
correct and uniform administration of the criminal law
requires review by this court. Ark. R. App. P.-Crim. 3(d). In
addition, we review only State appeals that are narrow in
scope and that involve the interpretation, not the
application, of a criminal rule or statutory provision.
State v. Jenkins, 2011 Ark. 2; State v.
Pittman, 360 Ark. 273, 200 S.W.3d 893 (2005). State
appeals that merely demonstrate that the circuit court erred
are not permitted. Jenkins, supra.
State contends, the issue presented in this appeal is whether
the circuit court erred in its interpretation of Arkansas
Code Annotated section 5-1-109(f). Because this is an issue
of first impression involving statutory interpretation, our
decision will have widespread application and is necessary
for the correct and uniform administration of the criminal
law. Accordingly, jurisdiction of this appeal is properly in
this court. See, e.g., State v. Coble, 2016
Ark. 114, 487 S.W.3d 370 (accepting State appeal involving
interpretation of Ark. Code Ann. § 5-14-110(a)(4)(C)).
review issues of statutory interpretation de novo, as it is
for this court to decide the meaning of a statute. Newman
v. State, 2011 Ark. 112, 380 S.W.3d 395. Criminal
statutes are construed strictly, and any doubts are resolved
in favor of the defendant. Id. The primary rule of
statutory interpretation is to give effect to the intent of
the legislature. Id. We first construe the statute
just as it reads, giving the words their ordinary and usually
accepted meaning in common language; if the language of the
statute is plain and unambiguous and conveys a clear and
definite meaning, there is no occasion to resort to rules of
statutory interpretation. Id.
to Arkansas Code Annotated section 5-1-109(b)(3)(A),
prosecution of a misdemeanor offense must be commenced within
one year of the commission of the offense. "A
prosecution is commenced when an arrest warrant or other
process is issued based on an indictment, information, or
other charging instrument if the arrest warrant or other
process is sought to be executed without unreasonable
delay." Ark. Code Ann. § 5-1-109(f). The Original
Commentary to section 5-1-109 explained that "other
charging instrument" was "intended to encompass
affidavit complaints, citations, summons, and similar
instruments which are presently or may hereafter be employed
in non-felony prosecutions." Original Commentary to Ark.
Code Ann. § 5-1-109 (Repl. 1995).
circuit court in this case interpreted subsection (f) to
require that an indictment, information, or other charging
instrument be filed in order to commence a misdemeanor
prosecution, regardless of whether an arrest warrant based on
that charging instrument had been issued prior to the
expiration of the limitations period. In reaching this
decision, the circuit court cited Administrative Order No.
2(a), which provides that "[a]ll papers filed with the
clerk . . . . shall be noted chronologically in the dockets
and filed in the folio assigned to the action and shall be
marked with its file number, " and it also cited
Administrative Order No. 2(b), which states that a judgment,
decree, or order is "entered" when stamped or
otherwise marked by the date and time and the word
"filed." Ark. Sup. Ct. Admin. Order No. 2(a), (b).
In addition, the ...