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Reynolds v. Commissioner of Correction

Supreme Court of Connecticut

June 28, 2016

RICHARD REYNOLDS
v.
COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION

          Argued April 29, 2015

          John Holdridge, with whom was Paula Mangini Montonye, for the appellant (petitioner).

          Harry Weller, senior assistant state’s attorney, with whom were Cynthia S. Serafini, senior assistant state’s attorney, and, on the brief, Maureen Platt, state’s attorney, and Brenda L. Hans and Elizabeth Tanaka, assistant state’s attorneys, for the appellee (respondent).

          Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Zarella, Eveleigh, McDonald, Espinosa and Robinson, Js.

          OPINION

          EVELEIGH, J.

         The petitioner, Richard Reynolds, appeals from the denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging his sentence of death under General Statutes (Rev. to 1991) § 53a-46a and his underlying conviction for a capital felony under General Statutes (Rev. to 1991) § 53a-54b (1).[1] The petitioner was convicted by a three judge panel and sentenced to death by a jury for the murder of a municipal police officer, Walter Williams, Jr., in the early morning hours of December 18, 1992. On direct appeal, this court affirmed the petitioner’s conviction and sentence. State v. Reynolds, 264 Conn. 1, 836 A.2d 224 (2003), cert. denied, 541 U.S. 908, 124 S.Ct. 1614, 158 L.Ed.2d 254 (2004). The facts relating to the petitioner’s crime, his conviction, and his sentence are set forth in greater detail in our decision in his direct appeal. Id., 18–24. After we issued our decision in the petitioner’s direct appeal, the petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus claiming, among other things, his criminal trial and appellate counsel rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance by failing to raise or sufficiently present a plethora of claims during the criminal proceedings. After an evidentiary hearing, the habeas court rejected each of the petitioner’s claims and rendered judgment denying the petition. The habeas court granted certification to appeal from its judgment pursuant to General Statutes § 52-470 (g) and the petitioner appealed to the Appellate Court. The petitioner later filed a motion to transfer the appeal to this court, which we granted. See General Statutes § 51-199 (c); Practice Book § 65-2.

         On appeal, the petitioner raises thirteen separate issues with the habeas court’s decision. Most of the issues concern his death sentence, but a few relate to his capital felony conviction.[2] We note at the outset that, in light of our decisions in State v. Santiago, 318 Conn. 1, 112 A.3d 1 (2015), and State v. Peeler, 321 Conn. 375, A.3d (2016), the petitioner’s death sentence can no longer stand. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the habeas court with respect to the petitioner’s sentence. Three claims remain regarding the underlying capital felony conviction: (1) that the criminal trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear the charges; (2) that his criminal trial counsel rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance during the guilt phase of the petitioner’s trial; and (3) that international law precludes his conviction for a capital felony. We reject each of these claims and affirm the judgment of the habeas court with respect to the petitioner’s underlying conviction.

         I

         The petitioner first claims that the substitute long form information charging him with a capital felony failed to describe each and every element of the offense charged, thus depriving the trial court of subject matter jurisdiction. The state initially charged the petitioner with a short form information alleging that he committed the offense of capital felony in the city of Waterbury on or about December 18, 1992, in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 1991) § 53a-54b (1). The petitioner later filed a motion for a bill of particulars asking for more information about the nature of the charge. The state filed a substitute long form information in response. The long form information alleged that the petitioner ‘‘did commit the crime of [capital felony] in violation of Connecticut General Statutes [Rev. to 1991] § 53a-54b (1) in that on or about [December 18, 1992], at approximately [4 a.m.], at or near the intersection of Orange and Ward Streets [in] Waterbury . . . the [petitioner] did commit [murder] of a member of a local police department, to wit: [Officer Williams] of the Waterbury . . . Police Department.’’ The parties agree that the long form information did not allege that Officer Williams was acting within the scope of his duties at the time of the offense, one of the elements of a capital felony under (Rev. to 1991) § 53a-54b (1).

         According to the petitioner, the state’s failure to allege every element of the capital felony offense deprived the trial court of subject matter jurisdiction over that charge, thus rendering his conviction and resulting sentence invalid. In response, the respondent, the Commissioner of Correction, asserts that the petitioner did not preserve this issue for our review because he failed to raise this claim before the habeas court, preventing him from raising it for the first time in this appeal. The respondent also argues that the petitioner’s claim, even if raised, cannot overcome the procedural hurdles required to mount a collateral attack on the subject matter jurisdiction of the original trial court.[3]We do not address the respondent’s arguments about whether the petitioner is procedurally barred from presenting this collateral attack because, assuming for the sake of argument that we could properly review his claim, which presents a question of law; Stepney Pond Estates, Ltd. v. Monroe, 260 Conn. 406, 417, 797 A.2d 494 (2002); its merits are so obviously lacking that we have no trouble rejecting it out of hand.

         An information need not allege every element of an offense to invoke the Superior Court’s criminal jurisdiction-it need only allege the statutory citation or name of the offense, along with the date and place the alleged offense occurred.[4] See, e.g., State v. Commins, 276 Conn. 503, 513–14, 886 A.2d 824 (2005) (rejecting subject matter jurisdiction challenge when information failed to allege element of offense because it was ‘‘sufficient for the state to set out in the information the statutory name of the crime with which the defendant is charged’’ [internal quotation marks omitted]), overruled on other grounds by State v. Elson, 311 Conn. 726, 754, 91 A.3d 862 (2014); State v. Crosswell, 223 Conn. 243, 265, 612 A.2d 1174 (1992) (‘‘[i]t is settled law that the original information, because it set forth by name and statutory reference the crime with which the defendant was charged, was sufficient to invoke the jurisdiction of the court’’); State v. Alston, 141 Conn.App. 719, 732, 62 A.3d 586 (‘‘an information that states the exact section and subsection of the statute under which a defendant is charged, as well as the time and place of the alleged unlawful event, is sufficient to charge a defendant with such offense’’), cert. denied, 308 Conn. 943, 66 A.3d 884 (2013); State v. Reed, 55 Conn.App. 170, 176–77, 740 A.2d 383 (‘‘The long form information . . . provided the defendant with the exact section and subsection of the statute under which he was charged. . . . Because the information was adequate, we conclude that the trial court had jurisdiction over this matter.’’), cert. denied, 251 Conn. 921, 742 A.2d 361 (1999); State v. Walton, 34 Conn.App. 223, 227, 641 A.2d 391 (‘‘The original short form information set forth the crimes with which the defendant was charged by name and statutory references. The information was sufficient, therefore, to invoke the jurisdiction of the court.’’), cert. denied, 230 Conn. 902, 644 A.2d 916 (1994); see also State v. Vlahos, 138 Conn.App. 379, 385, 51 A.3d 1173 (2012) (information sufficiently charged offense when it ‘‘provide[d] the defendant with the statutory section under which he was charged as well as the time and place of the incident’’), cert. denied, 308 Conn. 913, 61 A.3d 1101 (2013); State v. Akande, 111 Conn.App. 596, 603, 960 A.2d 1045 (2008) (same), aff’d, 299 Conn. 551, 11 A.3d 140 (2011).

         Once the state files an information with the required allegations, the Superior Court’s criminal jurisdiction is invoked and any claim the information lacks enough factual detail to allow the defendant to prepare a defense goes to the sufficiency of the notice given to the defendant. See, e.g., State v. Alston, supra, 141 Conn.App. 730–31. The petitioner has not claimed in the present case that a lack of factual detail in the informations prevented him from preparing a defense;[5] he claims only that the trial court lacked jurisdiction.

         It follows from our case law that the trial court in the present case had jurisdiction to hear the capital felony charge against the petitioner. The state filed a short form information charging the petitioner with a capital felony and included the statutory citation for the alleged offense and the date and place the offense allegedly occurred. Nothing more was required to invoke the trial court’s jurisdiction. The fact that the substitute long form information contained additional factual allegations relating to some, but not all, of the elements of the crime had no impact on the trial court’s jurisdiction. State v. Crosswell, supra, 223 Conn. 264–66; State v. Walton, supra, 34 Conn.App. 227–28. The petitioner further contends that, under the common law, failure to allege every element of a crime rendered an information defective, citing to this court’s decisions in State v. Tyrrell, 100 Conn. 101, 122 A. 924 (1923), State v. Keena, 63 Conn. 329, 28 A. 522 (1893), and State v. Costello, 62 Conn. 128, 25 A. 477 (1892). These cases do not, however, discuss whether the alleged defects in the information rendered the trial court without subject matter jurisdiction to hear the charges. More importantly, whatever this court may have held in ...


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