Pohnpei Supreme Court
MADOLENIHMW MUNICIPAL COURT, and POHNPEI CHIEF JAILOR,
PCA No. 104-2000
A petition for a writ of habeas corpus came on to be heard before me on May 16, 2000.
On December 1, 1999, the petitioner Kein Sailas was found guilty of assault and battery under Chapter 6, Section 6-2 of the Pohnpei Crimes Act of 1994, S.L. No. 3L-89-95, by the Madolenihmw Municipal Court, the sentence of which was initially suspended. On May 15, 2000, the Municipal Court revoked the suspended sentence, and petitioner was committed to the Pohnpei State Jail to serve the balance of his sentence. Consequently, petitioner filed for a writ of habeas corpus in this Court on May 16, 2000.
Petitioner's writ of habeas corpus petition challenges the jurisdiction of Madolenihmw Municipal Court of the offense
of assault and battery. He thus contends that he was unlawfully confined and that the Pohnpei Supreme Court Trial Division is the proper forum for said offense. Thus, petitioner argues, he was denied due process and equal of protection of the law as guaranteed by the Pohnpei and FSM Constitutions.
This Court issued an order to show cause directing the Chief Jailor of the Department of Public Safety1 to appear before it on May 16, 2000 to show cause why the Court should not grant the writ and order immediate release of Kein Sailas from confinement.2 At the May 16 hearing, this Court, by order, stayed the execution of the sentence imposed by the Madolenihmw Municipal Court until superseded or revoked. Although not controverted by petitioner or the Chief tailor, 17 this Court, on May 19, 2000, ordered that the Madolenhimw Municipal Court confirm whether the petitioner was in fact sentenced to imprisonment by the Madolenihmw Municipal Court for violation of Chapter 6, Section 6-2 of the Pohnpei Crimes
Act. The Municipal Court complied with the order, establishing that petitioner was in fact imprisoned for having violated the Pohnpei Crimes Act.
The sole issue before this Court is whether it is within the jurisdiction of the Madolenihmw Municipal Court to try petitioner for assault and battery under the Pohnpei Crimes Act of 1994.
To try a person for a crime and render a valid judgment and sentence, a trial court must have jurisdiction of both the subject matter and the person of the defendant. See 21 Am Jur 2d Criminal Law §§ 336, 338 (1981). Regarding subject matter jurisdiction, a court's criminal jurisdiction extends only to those matters that the law declares to be criminal in nature. See id. at § 336. In other words, it must have the authority to pronounce and enter the particular judgment and sentence rendered. See id. Incidentally, the right to object to subject matter jurisdiction is never waived and can be raised at any stage of the proceedings, even though conversely, the
right to object to personal jurisdiction may be waived. See id. § 339.3
The Pohnpei Crimes Act of 1994 was enacted by the Pohnpei Legislature to define.Pohnpei crimes and prescribe penalties therefor.4 Article 10, Section 1 of the Pohnpei Constitution states, "[t]he judicial power of Pohnpei is vested in the Pohnpei Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as may be established by law." Thus, clearly it is within the jurisdictional province of the Pohnpei Supreme Court to adjudicate the crimes prescribed in the Pohnpei Crimes Act.
As for a municipal court trying offenses against the Pohnpei Crimes Act that occur within their territorial borders, two prerequisites must exist. The legislature must delegate such power and there must be an absence of constitutional provisions to the contrary. See 21 Am Jur 2d Criminal Law §§ 357. There has never been a legislative
designation of such authority to the Madolenihmw Municipal Court or any municipal court. Further, Article 10, Section 1 of the Constitution limits the judicial power of Pohnpei to the Pohnpei Supreme Court and inferior courts established by legislation. Indeed, the Municipal Court lacked the authority to pronounce and enter the conviction and sentence rendered against petitioner.
For the foregoing reasons, this Court concludes that the Madolenihmw Municipal Court lacks the jurisdiction to try, concoct and punish petitioner for assault and battery under Section 6-2 of the Pohnpei Crimes Act. The December 1999 conviction is therefore null and void. This Court further concludes that no municipal court in Pohnpei has the authority to adjudicate offenses against the Pohnpei Crimes Act of 1994. Writ of habeas corpus granted in favor of petitioner.
DATED this 9th day of June, 2000.
Judah C. Johnny
ENTERED this 9th day of June, 2000.
Chief Clerk of Court
1 Officially referred to as chief of Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Pohnpei State Department of Justice.Back To Opinion
2 Out of deference to the Madolenihmw Municipal Court, the Court did not order that court to appear before it at the May 16 hearing. Additionally, the petitioner was not in the custody of the Madolenihmw Municipal Court.Back to Opinion
3 Under this doctrine, Madolenihmw Municipal Court could not have obtained subject matter jurisdiction by implication. Although petitioner was found guilty of assault and battery by that court when he stipulated to changing his plea of not guilty to a plea of guilty, petitioner's actions at the Municipal Court proceedings do not constitute a waiver of subject matter jurisdiction.Back to Opinion
4 Section 6-2 if the act makes assault and battery a criminal offense, the penalty being imprisonment of not more than two years or a fine not more than $500.00 or both.Back to Opinion