Plaintiff: Kaitlin Tracey, Esq.
Defendant: Samantha Slack, Esq. Michelle M. Alves, Esq.
MCGUIRL, MAGISTRATE J.
matter is before the Court on the State of Rhode Island's
(the State) appeal of Superior Court Magistrate John F.
McBurney, III's (Magistrate) decision to defer sentencing
Megan Knight (Defendant) for one year, pursuant to G.L. 1956
§ 12-19-19 (the deferred sentence statute). On appeal,
the State challenges the deferred sentence statute's
constitutionality. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956
Facts and Travel
20, 2017, the State charged Defendant with one count of
violating G.L. 1956 § 11-32-3, "Obstruction of the
judicial system, " based on allegations that Defendant
"maliciously and recklessly" influenced her
four-year-old daughter's testimony in a separate criminal
proceeding. See Crim. Info., C.A. No.
K2-2017-0453A at 1. At a plea hearing, held on November 8,
2017, the Magistrate offered Defendant a one-year deferred
sentence in consideration of her pleading nolo
contendere. (Tr. I at 7.)
plea hearing, the Magistrate afforded the State an
opportunity to place its objection to the deferred sentence
agreement on the record: "As it relates to the deferred
[sentence], the state is looking for two years' probation
on this. And the amendment that removes the attorney general
from the deferred sentence agreement violates the separation
of powers provisions of the Rhode Island Constitution . . .
." Id. at 6. Thereafter, the Magistrate found
that there was a sufficient factual basis to accept
Defendant's plea and then entered a judgment deferring
Defendant's sentence for one year. Id. at 7. The
Magistrate added that Defendant will be "automatically
eligible for expungement after that one-year sentence ends as
long as she has not been involved in any other criminal
November 9, 2017, the State timely filed this appeal. This
appeal is restricted to only a review of the deferred
sentence statute's constitutionality. (State's Notice
of Appeal at 2.) On November 29, 2017, the parties appeared
before the Magistrate on "[D]efendant's motion to
perfect a deferred sentence agreement." (Tr. at 1, Nov.
29, 2017) (Tr. II.) At that time, Defendant, Defendant's
attorney, and the Magistrate signed a "Deferred Sentence
Agreement" form, which reflected the terms of the
November 8, 2017 plea agreement. See Deferred
Sentence Agreement at 1, Nov. 29, 2017.
Standard of Review
Superior Court's review of a Magistrate decision is
governed by § 8-2-11.1(d). Section 8-2-11.1(d) provides:
"A party aggrieved by an order entered by the
administrator/magistrate shall be entitled to a review of the
order by a justice of the superior court. Unless otherwise
provided in the rules of procedure of the court, the review
shall be on the record and appellate in nature. The court
shall, by rules of procedure, establish procedures for review
of orders entered by the administrator/magistrate, and for
enforcement of contempt adjudications of the
administrator/magistrate." Sec. 8-2-11.1(d).
Rule 2.9(h) of the Superior Court Rules of Practice presently
governs the standard of review. Rule 2.9(h) provides:
"The Superior Court justice shall make a de
novo determination of those portions to which the
appeal is directed and may accept, reject, or modify, in
whole or in part, the judgment, order, or decree of the
magistrate. The justice, however, need not formally conduct a
new hearing and may consider the record developed before the
magistrate, making his or her own determination based on that
record whether there is competent evidence upon which the
magistrate's judgment, order, or decree rests. The
justice may also receive further evidence, recall witnesses
or recommit the matter with instructions." Super. Ct. R.
P. 2.9(h) (emphasis added). 
the Superior Court justice conducts a de novo review
of the portions of the record appealed. See Paradis v.
Heritage Loan and Inv. Co., 678 A.2d 440, 445 (R.I.
1996). The record on appeal includes "[t]he original
papers and exhibits filed with the Superior Court, the
transcript of the proceedings, and the docket entries."
Super. Ct. R. P. 2.9(f).
appeal, this Court's review of the Magistrate's
decision is restricted to only those portions of the record
that are appealed. In the instant matter, it is undisputed
that the scope of this Court's review is limited to
whether the deferred sentence statute violates the Rhode
Island Constitution. The State contends that the deferred
sentence statute violates the Rhode Island Constitution's
separation of powers provision by infringing on the
State's authority to criminally inform an individual, as
well as its authority to dismiss criminal charges. (Tr. I at
6-7.) Specifically, the State asserts that the deferred
sentence statute unconstitutionally grants the Court the
authority to end the prosecution of a criminal case by
permitting the Court and a criminal defendant to enter into a
deferred sentence agreement without the State's consent.
Constitutional Powers of Government
V of the Rhode Island Constitution declares that "[t]he
powers of the government shall be distributed into three
separate and distinct departments: the legislative, executive
and judicial." R.I. Const. art. V. The distribution of
"governmental power among the three departments of
government indicates that the powers distributed to one
department cannot be exercised at all by another
department." In re Advisory Op. to the
Governor, 732 A.2d 55, 102 (R.I. 1999) (citing
Narragansett Indian Tribe v. State, 667 A.2d 280,
282 (R.I. 1995)).
powers and duties of the Rhode Island Attorney General fall
within the functions of the executive branch. R.I. Const.
art. IX, § 12. Section 42-9-4(a) of the Rhode Island
General Laws establishes the State's authority to
prosecute criminal offenses: "The attorney general shall
draw and present all informations and indictments, or other
legal or equitable process, against any offenders, as by law
required, and diligently, by a due course of law or equity,
prosecute them to final judgment and execution." Sec.
42-9-4(a). Our Supreme Court has stated: '"It is
well settled in this state that the Attorney General is the
only state official vested with prosecutorial
discretion.'" State v. Young, 941 A.2d 124,
128 (R.I. 2008) (quoting State v. Rollins, 116 R.I.
528, 533, 359 A.2d 315, 318 (1976)); see also State v.
Lead Indus. Ass'n, Inc., 951 A.2d 428, 473 n.45
(R.I. 2008) (quoting Orabona v. Linscott, 49 R.I.
443, 445, 144 A. 52, 53 (1928)) ('"Under the
Constitution and by long-established practice great power and
responsibility for the enforcement of the criminal laws are
lodged in the Attorney General."'); In re House
of Representatives (Special Prosecutor), 575
A.2d 176, 179 (R.I. 1990). Moreover, the power to dismiss
criminal cases rests solely with the State. See
Super. R. Crim. P. 48(a).
powers granted to the judicial branch are set forth in
article X, § 2 of our constitution:
"The supreme court shall have final revisory and
appellate jurisdiction upon all questions of law and equity.
It shall have power to issue prerogative writs, and shall
also have such other jurisdiction as may, from time to time,
be prescribed by law. A majority of its judges shall always
be necessary to constitute a quorum. The inferior courts
shall have such jurisdiction as may, from time to time, be
prescribed by law." R.I. Const. art. X, § 2.
Rhode Island Supreme Court '"has long recognized
that the Superior Court is statutory in origin and derives
its powers from statutes duly enacted by the
Legislature."' State v. Briggs, 934 A.2d
811, 815 (R.I. 2007) (quoting State v. DiStefano,
764 A.2d 1156, 1167-68 (R.I. 2000)). With respect to the
Court's sentencing authority, the General Assembly
prescribed that this Court "may, in its discretion,
select the kind of punishment to be imposed, and, if the
punishment is fine or imprisonment, its amount or term within
the limits prescribed by law . . . ." Sec. 12-19-2(a);
see also State v. Fortes, 114 R.I. 161, 173, 330
A.2d 404, 411 (1975) ("[T]he sentencing process in the
Superior Court involves an exercise of judicial discretion .
. . ."). Unlike the State, the Court does not maintain
the authority to dismiss a criminal case sua sponte.
State v. Strom, 941 A.2d 837, 842 (R.I. 2008)
(determining that the court "infringe[d] upon the
constitutional powers of the Attorney General . . . [b]y
prohibiting the . . . full prosecuti[on] [of] a felony
information because of a sua sponte
dismissal"); see also Young, 941 A.2d at 128
(finding that the trial justice could not dismiss information
in the absence of a proper motion and without making
our constitution vests the legislative authority in the
General Assembly to enact, amend, and repeal statutes. R.I.
Const. art VI, § 2. It is well settled that
'"legislative enactments of the General Assembly are
presumed to be valid and constitutional."'
Narragansett Indian Tribe v. State, 110 A.3d 1160,
1162 (R.I. 2015) (quoting State v. Faria, 947 A.2d
863, 867 (R.I. 2008)); Mackie v. State, 936 A.2d
588, 595 (R.I. 2007); see also 3 Sutherland
Statutory Construction § 59:8 (7th ed. 2008)
("When reviewing the constitutionality of a penal
statute, courts presume the statute is valid and that the
legislature has not acted unreasonably or arbitrarily in
enacting it."). Importantly, when the Legislature enacts
a statute that is clear and unambiguous, the Court
'"must interpret the statute literally and must give
the words of the statute their plain ...