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Commonwealth v. Farmer

Supreme Court of Kentucky

February 20, 2014

COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY, APPELLANT
v.
CHARLES P. FARMER, APPELLEE

Released for Publication March 13, 2014.

ON REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS. CASE NO. 2012-CA-001659-MR. RUSSELL CIRCUIT COURT NO. 12-CR-00074.

COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Jack Conway, Attorney General of Kentucky, Jason Bradley Moore, Assistant Attorney General.

COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: R. Burl McCoy, Jr., George Edward Nicholson, III; Ralph E. Meczyk, Robert J. White.

Page 691

OPINION

ABRAMSON, JUSTICE

Appellee Charles Farmer moved the Russell Circuit Court to dismiss an indictment charging him with one count of murder. He contended that he was legally justified to act in self-defense and therefore immune from prosecution under Kentucky Revised Statute (" KRS" ) 503.085. Following the denial of that motion, Farmer filed a notice of appeal to the Court of Appeals which subsequently held that it had jurisdiction to consider the appeal despite it being interlocutory. The Commonwealth sought discretionary review, arguing that the Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction to consider Farmer's appeal from an interlocutory order denying him immunity in a criminal prosecution. We agree and reverse. The Court of Appeals is not authorized by our Constitution or statute to consider an appeal from an interlocutory order denying immunity pursuant to KRS 503.085, and furthermore, the collateral order exception to the finality doctrine does not apply in this circumstance.

RELEVANT FACTS

On April 27, 2012, Charles Farmer shot and killed Daniel Popplewell who had entered Farmer's property wielding two large tobacco sticks. A Russell County grand jury indicted Farmer for one count of murder pursuant to KRS 507.020. Upon arraignment, Farmer entered a plea of not guilty and then filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, arguing that he was immune from prosecution under KRS 503.085(1)[1] because he had justifiably acted in self-defense. The Commonwealth filed a response to Farmer's motion to

Page 692

dismiss as well as discovery materials for the trial court to consider in ruling on the motion. The trial court denied Farmer's motion to dismiss, finding that there was probable cause to believe that the use of force against Popplewell was unlawful, and thus Farmer was not entitled to immunity from prosecution based on self-defense.

When Farmer appealed the order denying his motion to dismiss to the Court of Appeals, that court ordered Farmer to show cause why his appeal should not be dismissed as interlocutory because a final and appealable judgment had not yet been entered by the trial court. After considering Farmer's response, the Court of Appeals rendered a 2-1 decision finding that Farmer had demonstrated sufficient cause to proceed with his interlocutory appeal. Addressing a question of first impression, specifically, whether an order denying immunity from prosecution pursuant to KRS 503.085 is immediately appealable, the Court of Appeals analogized Farmer's appeal to the civil context where this Court has recognized the right of a party to immediately appeal an order denying a motion to dismiss based on governmental immunity. See Breathitt Cnty. Bd. of Educ. v. Prater, 292 S.W.3d 883, 886 (Ky. 2009). The Court of Appeals reasoned that denying a criminal defendant the right to immediately appeal a denial of immunity would undermine the intent of KRS 503.085.

ANALYSIS

I. The Court of Appeals Lacked a Constitutional or Statutory Basis for Exercising Jurisdiction Over Farmer's Appeal From an Interlocutory Order in a Criminal Case.

Jurisdiction is a threshold consideration for any court at any level of the Kentucky court system. " It is fundamental that a court must have jurisdiction before it has authority to decide a case." Wilson v. Russell, 162 S.W.3d 911, 913 (Ky. 2005). Our state Constitution confers jurisdiction upon the Commonwealth's trial and appellate courts. See Ky. Const. § § 109-113. In considering the jurisdiction granted to the Court of Appeals, we begin with Section 111(2) of the Kentucky Constitution, which provides the following:

The Court of Appeals shall have appellate jurisdiction only, except that it may be authorized by rules of the Supreme Court to review directly decisions of administrative agencies of the Commonwealth, and it may issue all writs necessary in aid of its appellate jurisdiction, or the complete determination of any cause within its appellate jurisdiction. In all other cases, it shall exercise appellate jurisdiction as provided by law.

The " as provided by law" language in the second sentence of Section 111(2) authorizes the legislature to prescribe the appellate jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals. Commonwealth v. Bailey, 71 S.W.3d 73, 77 (Ky. 2002); see also Moore v. Commonwealth, 199 S.W.3d 132, 138 (Ky. 2006), Ballard v. Commonwealth, 320 S.W.3d 69, 72-73 (Ky. 2010). The ...


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