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State v. Laslett

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Hartford, Hartford, Geographical Area 14

November 2, 2015

State of Connecticut
v.
Julia Nicole Laslett

Filed Date November 3, 2015

ARTICULATION OF DECISION

Tammy D. Geathers, J.

Presently before the court are the defendant's requests for (i) a reconsideration of its October 9, 2015, decision, which denied the defendant's motion to open judgment or to change plea; and in the alternative (ii) an articulation of the basis for the court's denial of the motion to open judgment or to change plea. The court will not reconsider its decision, but provides the following articulation of decision to address the court's reasoning for denying the defendant's motion to open judgment or to change plea.

I

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On August 8, 2015, the defendant received a ticket for underage drinking pursuant to General Statutes § 30-89 while at a concert in Hartford. The defendant paid the $136 fine associated with this ticket. Subsequent to her payment of the fine, the defendant received notice from the Department of Motor Vehicles on September 21, 2015, that her motor vehicle operator's license would be suspended for a period of thirty days. That notice indicated that the defendant's suspension would become effective on October 21, 2015.

On October 9, 2015, the defendant filed a motion to open judgment or to change plea, indicating that (i) there are mitigating circumstances and facts surrounding the incident which led to the defendant receiving the ticket, (ii) the defendant was wholly unaware of the consequences and restrictions that could be imposed after paying the ticket, namely, the suspension of her license, and (iii) the defendant believed that she was doing the right thing by simply paying the fine. This court denied the defendant's motion on October 9, 2015. On October 21, 2015, the defendant made a motion for reconsideration and, in the alternative, requested that the court provide an articulation of the basis for the court's denial of her motion to open judgment or to change plea.

II

DISCUSSION

A. Motion to Open Judgment

" Apart from legislation pertaining to specific findings, such as divorce or foreclosure . . . there is no statute in this state defining the power of a court to open or modify or vacate its judgments. The common law applies . . . It is true that where a court has the power to open a judgment, its action in doing so represents the exercise of legal discretion." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Lyons, 4 Conn.Cir.Ct. 412, 416, 233 A.2d 705 (1967); see also State v. Florence, 23 Conn.Supp. 176, 1 Conn.Cir.Ct. 161, 163, 178 A.2d 862 (1961) (" Authorities are agreed that a recorded judgment may be vacated or set aside during the term at which it was rendered, substantially at the discretion of the court").

The defendant requests that this court open the judgment against her because of (i) the alleged mitigating facts and circumstances surrounding her receipt of the ticket for underage drinking, (ii) she was unaware of the collateral consequences of her paying the fine, namely, that her license could be suspended by the department of motor vehicles for thirty days, and (iii) the defendant believed that she was doing the right thing by paying the fine.

General Statutes § 30-89(b) states in relevant part that " [a]ny minor who possesses any alcoholic liquor . . . (2) in any other public or private location, shall, for a first offense, have committed an infraction . . ." General Statutes § 51-164n(c) states in relevant part that " [i]f any person who is alleged to have committed an infraction . . . elects to pay the fine and any additional fees or costs established for such infraction . . . he shall send payment, by mail or otherwise, to the Centralized Infractions Bureau, made payable to the 'clerk of the Superior Court.' Such payment shall be considered a plea of nolo contendere and shall be inadmissible in any proceeding, civil or criminal, to establish the conduct of the person . . ." (Emphasis added.) Similarly, Practice Book § 44-25 states in relevant part that " [a]ny resident of Connecticut . . . who is charged with any infraction or with any violation which is payable by mail pursuant to statute may pay the penalty, either by mail or in person, to the centralized infractions bureau at the address set forth on the complaint on or before the answer date designated in the complaint or, if the case is pending at a court location, may pay the penalty by mail or in person at such court location. The payment of the fine shall be considered a plea of nolo contendere and shall be inadmissible in any proceeding, criminal or civil, to establish the conduct of the person making such payment, except for any administrative sanctions imposed by the commissioner of motor vehicles pursuant to title 14 of the General Statutes." (Emphasis added.)

Under these circumstances, the plain language of the governing statutes and rules of practice indicate that the defendant's payment of a fine is simply considered a plea of nolo contendere. See State v. Wahab, 122 Conn.App. 537, 543-44, 2 A.3d 7, cert. denied, 298 Conn. 918, 4 A.3d 1230 (2010) (" Thus, the text of [§ 51-164n(c)] suggests that the payment of the fine is simply a plea, rather than the entry of a final judgment, and the statute is otherwise barren of any insight regarding what would constitute a final judgment in these circumstances"). See also State v. Begley, 122 Conn.App. 546, 547 n.2, 2 A.3d 1 (2010) (" [W]e use the term 'judgment' cautiously in this context . . . Accordingly, because we did not reach that issue in Wahab or in this case, our references to the defendants' respective motions to open judgments should not be construed as our imprimatur that there were judgments to be opened in these cases"). Notwithstanding the allegations asserted in the defendant's October 9, 2015 motion to open judgment, the statutes and rules of practice at issue fail to clearly articulate what would constitute a final judgment ...


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