Laura Lebeau was charged with violating an Omaha city ordinance prohibiting telephone harassment. Lebeau filed two motions to discharge on statutory speedy trial grounds. The county court denied both motions to discharge, and the district court affirmed. The primary issue in this case is whether the "intimate partner" exception of Neb.Rev.Stat. § 29-1207(2) (Reissue 2008) applies and, if so, whether the statute is constitutional. We conclude that the exception does not apply; therefore, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand the cause with directions to dismiss the complaint against Lebeau.
Lebeau was charged by complaint on September 17, 2008, with violating Omaha Mun. Code, ch. 20, art. IV, § 20-62 (1996), prohibiting "[t]elephone harassment" of another person. Among other things, § 20-62 makes it unlawful for any person, by means of telephonic communication, to purposefully or knowingly threaten to inflict injury to any person or his or her property or to use indecent or obscene language against such person. And specifically, it was alleged that Lebeau left harassing messages on her ex-husband's answering machine. Lebeau, however, was not arraigned until March 3, 2009. The record before the district court indicates that her appearance on March 3 resulted from her arrest on March 2.
On March 20, 2009, relying on September 17, 2008, as the starting date for the 6-month speedy trial period, Lebeau filed a motion to discharge alleging that her case had not been brought to trial within 6 months of the filing of the complaint, as required by § 29-1207 and Neb.Rev.Stat. § 29-1208 (Reissue 2008). On March 23, 2009, Lebeau filed a second motion to discharge, which added a constitutional challenge. Section 29-1207(2) provides that the time for bringing a defendant to trial runs from the date the indictment is returned or the complaint is filed, "unless the offense is a misdemeanor offense involving intimate partners ... in which case the six-month period shall commence from the date the defendant is arrested on a complaint filed as part of a warrant for arrest." Lebeau argued that the intimate partner exception of § 29-1207(2) did not apply and that even if it did, the exception was unconstitutional.
Following a hearing, the county court denied both motions, and on appeal, the district court affirmed. Lebeau appeals.
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR
Lebeau assigns, consolidated and restated, that the district court erred in affirming the county court order which had denied her motions to discharge.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The meaning of a statute is a question of law.
Nebraska's speedy trial statutes
In this case, there are no excludable periods under § 29-1207(4); the only issue is when the 6-month speedy trial period began. Ordinarily, in cases commenced and tried in county court, the 6-month period within which an accused must be brought to trial begins to run on the date the complaint is filed.
(Emphasis supplied.) And Neb.Rev.Stat. § 28-323 (Reissue 2008), the domestic assault statute, defines intimate partner as "a spouse; a former spouse; persons who have a child in common whether or not they have been married or lived together at any time; and persons who are or were involved in a dating relationship." We note that §§ 29-1207 and 29-1208 have been amended again, effective July 15, 2010,
In this case, the alleged victim was Lebeau's former spouse. And as a result, there is no question that the alleged victim and Lebeau are intimate partners for the purposes of our analysis. But Lebeau argues that she is entitled to absolute discharge of her case because the intimate partner exception of § 29-1207(2) does not toll the speedy trial clock. Specifically, Lebeau asserts that because § 29-1207(2) refers to the definition of "intimate partner" contained in § 28-323, the intimate partner exception must be narrowly construed to refer only to those offenses of which "intimate partner" is an element. And, Lebeau argues, because the involvement of an intimate partner is not an element of telephone harassment under the Omaha Municipal Code, the intimate partner exception does not apply.
Statutory language is to be given its plain and ordinary meaning, and an appellate court will not resort to interpretation to ascertain the meaning of statutory words which are plain, direct, and unambiguous.
When a statutory term is reasonably considered ambiguous, we often find it helpful to examine the pertinent legislative history of the act in question to ascertain the intent of the Legislature.
And the testimony before the Judiciary Committee, and statements during the floor debate, certainly made clear that the intimate partner exception was necessary for domestic violence incidents, which, it was explained, were uniquely different from other misdemeanors.
The principal objective of construing a statute is to determine and give effect to the legislative intent of the enactment.
And in this case, "intimate partner" is not an element of telephone harassment under § 20-62 of the Omaha Municipal Code. As briefly noted earlier, the elements of telephone harassment under § 20-62 are that a person:
Because telephone harassment neither involves nor includes "intimate partner" as an element, the exception of § 29-1207(2) does not apply to toll the speedy trial clock. Lebeau was charged by complaint on September 17, 2008, and filed her motions for discharge on March 20 and 23, 2009. Because the intimate partner exception of § 29-1207(2) does not apply and there were no excludable periods under § 29-1207(4), the 6-month statutory speedy trial clock expired on March 17, 2009. We conclude that the State did not bring Lebeau to trial within the required time and that she is entitled to absolute discharge.
We note briefly the State's argument that the speedy trial statute does not apply to the prosecution of city ordinances. The State contends that the statute does not apply to a city ordinance because § 29-1207 references only "offense[s]," which are defined by Neb.Rev. Stat. § 28-104 (Reissue 2008) as violations of statutes. Although the speedy trial act expressly refers to indictments and informations, it is well settled that the act also applies to prosecutions on complaint in the county court.
Our conclusion that the intimate partner exception of § 29-1207(2) does not apply is dispositive of this appeal. We need not, and do not, address Lebeau's argument regarding the constitutionality of § 29-1207(2).
We conclude that the State did not bring Lebeau to trial within the required time and that the county court and district court erred in finding otherwise. We reverse the lower courts' orders denying Lebeau's motion for absolute discharge and remand the matter to the district court with directions to reverse the judgment of the county court and remand the cause with directions to dismiss the complaint against Lebeau.
REVERSED AND REMANDED WITH DIRECTIONS TO DISMISS.