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Staples v. Palten

Supreme Court of Connecticut

March 13, 1990

Jules STAPLES
v.
Paul M. PALTEN et al.

Argued Dec. 12, 1989.

Page 98

Michael S. Wagner, Sp. Public Defender, for appellant (petitioner).

Mitchell S. Brody, Asst. State's Atty., for the appellees (respondents).

Before PETERS, C.J., and ARTHUR H. HEALEY, SHEA, CALLAHAN and GLASS, JJ.

[214 Conn. 196] GLASS, Associate Justice.

On April 14, 1988, the petitioner, Jules Staples, pursuant to a substitute information, pleaded guilty to assault on a police officer, in violation of General Statutes § 53a-167c, and admitted he had violated his parole. No agreement as to sentencing, however, existed between the state and the petitioner. On June 27, 1988, the court, Steinberg, J., imposed a total effective sentence of ten years, execution suspended after six years, and five years probation. Pursuant to General Statutes § 51-195, [1] the petitioner filed an application for review of his sentence Before the Sentence Review Division of the Superior Court. On January 24, [214 Conn. 197] 1989, the Sentence Review Division dismissed the petitioner's application on the ground that he had entered a "plea agreement" within the meaning of § 51-195, and, therefore, the Sentence Review Division lacked jurisdiction to hear his application.

The petitioner has brought this writ of error claiming that the Sentence Review Division [2] erred in declaring that the definition of a "plea agreement," for the purposes of § 51-195, includes a plea of guilty that is entered with no agreement as to a specific sentence. The petitioner, therefore, maintains that this court should set aside the Sentence Review Division's judgment of dismissal, and order it to rehear his application for review.

Section 51-195 mandates that sentence review [3] shall be available to any person receiving a sentence of confinement[214 Conn. 198] of

Page 99

three years or more, "except in any case in which a different sentence could not have been imposed or in any case in which the sentence or commitment imposed resulted from the court's acceptance of a plea agreement or in any case in which the sentence imposed was for a lesser term than was proposed in a plea agreement." (Emphasis added.) The petitioner argues that his agreement simply to plead guilty, absent an agreement as to a specific sentence, does not fall within the "plea agreement" exception of § 51-195. We agree.

The state argues, however, that the petitioner did enter into a "plea agreement" for the purposes of [214 Conn. 199] § 51-195. Specifically, the state contends that the petitioner entered a plea agreement whereby he received a reduction in the charges against him in consideration of his agreeing to be sentenced to a particular range of years. Section 51-195 mandates, however, that the sentence that is imposed must result from the court's acceptance of a plea agreement, and we discern no such causal connection between the specific sentence received by the petitioner and his agreement simply to plead guilty.

Although "plea agreement" is not defined in § 51-195, the principles of statutory construction dictate that "plea agreement," as used in § 51-195, means an agreement entailing a sentence of a specific term of years. First, " '[w]hen a statute creates an exception to a general rule, it is to be construed strictly and its language is not to be extended beyond its evident intent.' Bickart v. Sanditz, 105 Conn. 766, 772, 136 A. 580 [1927]; Willoughby v. New Haven, 123 Conn. 446, 454, 197 A. 85 [1937]." Kulis v. Moll, 172 Conn. 104, 110, 374 A.2d 133 (1976); see Conservation Commission v. Price, 193 Conn. 414, 424, 479 A.2d 187 (1984); Aaron v. Conservation Commission, 183 Conn. 532, 549, 441 A.2d 30 (1981). Second, a " 'remedial' statute is to be construed in favor of those whom it was intended to protect." Wagner Seed Co. v. Bush, 709 F.Supp. 249, 252 (D.D.C.1989); see E.E.O.C. v. Pattin-Marion, A Div. of Eastern Co., 588 F.Supp. 41, 45 (S.D.Ill.1984); State v. Avcollie, 174 Conn. 100, 110-11, 384 A.2d 315 (1977); Hartford Fire Ins. Co. v. Brown, 164 Conn. 497, 503, 325 A.2d 228 (1973).

In addition, under the maxim of "noscitur a sociis," the meaning of a particular word or phrase in a statute is ascertained by reference to those words or phrases with which it is associated. See Schreiber v. Burlington Northern, Inc., 472 U.S. 1, 8, 105 S.Ct. 2458, 2462, 86 L.Ed.2d 1 (1985); General Electric Co. v. [214 Conn. 200] Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission, 583 F.2d 61, 65 (2d Cir.1978); United States v. LaBrecque, 419 F.Supp. 430, 434 (D.N.J.1976). In Owen of Georgia, Inc. v. Shelby County, 648 F.2d 1084, 1092 (1981), the

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Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals further elucidated this principle stating that " 'noscitur a sociis' ... acknowledges that general and specific words are associated with and take color from each other, restricting general words to a sense ... less general." Therefore, in ascertaining the meaning of "plea agreement" in § 51-195, we must look to the other two listed exceptions. In particular, § 51-195 also excepts "any case in which a different sentence could not have been imposed" or "any case in which the sentence imposed was for a lesser term than was proposed in a plea agreement." It is clear that these two exceptions contemplate sentences of specific terms of years, and not sentences that simply entail a range of years.

Therefore, given the result of the application of "noscitur a sociis," and given the fact that the "plea agreement" exception is to be construed liberally in favor of its intended beneficiary, we hold that "plea agreement" for the purposes of § 51-195 means an agreement encompassing a sentence of a specific term of years. [4] Thus, even if the state is correct in asserting[214 Conn. 201] that the petitioner received a reduction in the charges against him in consideration of his agreeing to be sentenced to a particular range of years, this would still not constitute ...


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