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State v. Lambright

Court of Appeals of Arizona, Second Division

September 6, 2017

The State of Arizona, Appellee,
Joe Leonard Lambright, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Superior Court in Pima County No. CR05669 The Honorable Richard D. Nichols, Judge

          Mark Brnovich, Arizona Attorney General Lacey Stover Gard, Chief Counsel, Tucson By Ginger Jarvis, Assistant Attorney General, Phoenix Counsel for Appellee.

          Arizona Capital Representation Project, Tucson By Amy Armstrong and Sam Kooistra Counsel for Appellant.

          Presiding Judge Vásquez authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Judge Eckerstrom and Judge Howard [1] concurred.



         ¶1 In this appeal from his resentencing after his 1982 death sentence was vacated in a federal habeas proceeding, see Lambright v. Schriro, 490 F.3d 1103 (9th Cir. 2007) (per curiam), Joe Lambright contends the trial court erred in ordering his life term of imprisonment be served consecutively to the consecutive prison terms imposed in 1982 on his sexual assault and kidnapping convictions, and for refusing to give him credit for all time served since his arrest. We affirm for the reasons stated below.

         Facts and Procedural Background[2]

         ¶2 In 1980, Lambright, his girlfriend Kathy Foreman, and codefendant Robert Smith were driving across the country. Id. at 1106. They ended up in Tucson, where they picked up the victim, who was hitchhiking. Id. at 1107. Smith sexually assaulted her twice, and after Smith began choking her, Lambright stabbed her multiple times and struck her in the head with a rock, killing her. Id. Foreman testified against the two men at trial, and both were convicted of sexual assault, kidnapping, and first-degree murder. Id.

         ¶3 After an aggravation/mitigation hearing in May 1982, the trial court sentenced Lambright to death on the first-degree murder conviction, count one of the indictment. In a separate minute entry, the court sentenced him to an aggravated prison term of twenty-one years on count two, kidnapping, giving him 438 days' presentence incarceration credit and an aggravated, twenty-one-year term on count three, sexual assault, specifying that these terms were consecutive. In neither order did the court state whether the death sentence was concurrent with or consecutive to the prison terms.

         ¶4 In 2007, after years of appellate and post-conviction proceedings, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the death sentence based on defense counsel's ineffectiveness during the penalty phase of the 1982 trial. Id. at 1115-28. Upon remand to the trial court, the state again sought the death penalty, and further litigation followed. See Lambright v. Ryan, 698 F.3d 808, 811 (9th Cir. 2012). Before the commencement of the 2015 jury trial on the penalty, Lambright filed a motion to preclude the capital sentence based on the delay in obtaining relief, attributing it to the state's aggressive litigation of his claims. Alternatively, he requested that the court preclude the state from introducing the trial testimony of Kathy Foreman, who was deceased. The court denied the motion, and a jury trial was held in November 2015, first on the aggravating circumstances, during which Foreman's trial testimony was read to the jury, and then the penalty phase.

         ¶5 The jury found the state had proved the aggravating circumstance that Lambright had committed the murder in an especially cruel, heinous, or depraved manner, specifying their unanimous finding in the special verdict that he had committed the murder in an especially cruel manner. However, the jury was unable to decide after the penalty phase of the trial whether to sentence Lambright to death, and the trial court declared a mistrial. The state then withdrew its notice of intent to seek the death penalty, and the court set the case for a resentencing hearing by the trial court for the only term available, life with the possibility of parole after twenty-five years. See 1979 Ariz. Sess. Laws, ch. 144, § 1.

         ¶6 In its sentencing memorandum, the state urged the court to order that the life term be consecutive to the previously imposed and already served prison terms. Based on information provided by a Department of Corrections (DOC) employee, the state specified the incarceration credit Lambright would be entitled to depending on whether the term was consecutive or concurrent. Lambright objected to a consecutive term on various grounds, arguing in his sentencing memorandum that it was not supported by the applicable statutes, specifically, former A.R.S. § 13-708 (1978), [3] because he was no longer being sentenced on multiple offenses, nor was he subject to an undischarged term on other charges. He also argued that denying him credit for all time served would violate the state and federal prohibitions against double jeopardy and that delay in resentencing him violated his due process rights. He made similar arguments at the January 2016 resentencing hearing.

         ¶7 The trial court resentenced Lambright on January 25, 2016, to a consecutive life term of imprisonment, articulating its reasons for doing so. The court stated it had considered in mitigation Lambright's exemplary conduct while incarcerated. Although it acknowledged his difficult childhood and service in the Vietnam War, it declined to give these factors substantial weight. The court agreed with the jury that the murder had been committed in an especially cruel manner. As additional "aggravating" circumstances, it noted the fear experienced by and emotional trauma inflicted on the victim, the fact that Lambright had acted as an accomplice during the sexual assault, and the overall brutality of the offenses. The court gave Lambright 1, 183 days' incarceration credit for the period between October 30, 2012, the date he was discharged from the prison term on count three, and the date of the resentencing. This appeal followed.[4]

         Consecutive Life Term

         ¶8 On appeal, Lambright raises many of the same arguments he raised below, contending the consecutive life term violates the applicable statutes, as well as due process and the prohibition against double jeopardy under the state and federal constitutions. He also reasserts his prior argument that because the death sentence was concurrent by default under § 13-708, he has, therefore, "been serving time on his conviction under [c]ount [one] since the time of his initial arrest in advance of his 1982 trial, a period of over 35 years, and [he] is entitled to credit for his time served, " making him eligible for parole.

         ¶9 "A trial court has broad discretion in sentencing and, if the sentence imposed is within the statutory limits, we will not disturb the sentence unless there is a clear abuse of discretion." State v. Ward, 200 Ariz. 387, ¶ 5, 26 P.3d 1158, 1160 (App. 2001). We review de novo, however, the legal questions whether consecutive sentences are permissible, State v. Siddle, 202 Ariz. 512, ¶ 16, 47 P.3d 1150, 1155 (App. 2002), and whether a defendant is entitled to incarceration credit, see State v. Bomar, 199 Ariz. 472, ¶ 5, 19 P.3d 613, 616 (App. 2001). We also review de novo legal questions involving the interpretation and application of statutes. State v. Farnsworth, 241 Ariz. 486, ¶ 13, 389 P.3d 88, 91 (App. 2017).

         ¶10 "[Statutory provisions are to be read in the context of related provisions and of the overall statutory scheme. The goal is to achieve consistency among the related statutes." State v. Reyes, 238 Ariz. 304, ¶ 14, 360 P.3d 100, 104 (App. 2015), quoting Goulder v. Ariz. Dep't of Transp., Motor Vehicle Div., 177 Ariz. 414, 416, 868 P.2d 997, 999 (App. 1993). Additionally, when interpreting a statute, we must give effect to the legislature's intent, which is best reflected in the statute's plain language. See State v. Estrada, 201 Ariz. 247, ¶¶ 16-17, 34 P.3d 356, 359-60 (2001). We do not look beyond the plain language of the statute unless it is unclear or the result of its application would be absurd. See id.

         ¶11 At the time Lambright committed the offenses, § 13-708 provided as follows:

If multiple sentences of imprisonment are imposed on a person at the same time, or when a person who is subject to any undischarged term of imprisonment imposed at a previous time is sentenced to an additional term of imprisonment, the sentence or sentences imposed by the court shall run concurrently unless the court expressly directs otherwise, in ...

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