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State v. Saturno

Supreme Court of Connecticut

July 19, 2016

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
DONALD SATURNO

          Argued April 5, 2016.

          Lisa J. Steele, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

          Robert J. Scheinblum, senior assistant state’s attorney, with whom were Paul J. Ferencek, senior assistant state’s attorney, and, on the brief, Richard J. Colangelo, Jr., state’s attorney, for the appellee (state).

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

          OPINION

          EVELEIGH, J.

         The defendant, Donald Saturno, appeals from the judgments of conviction rendered by the trial court following his conditional pleas of nolo contendere, pursuant to General Statutes § 54-94a, [1] to one count of manufacturing a bomb in violation of General Statutes § 53-80a and one count of possession of child pornography in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-196d (a) (1). The defendant entered these pleas after the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress certain evidence discovered following the execution of an administrative search warrant at his apartment. On appeal, the defendant contends that the trial court improperly denied his motion to suppress because the administrative search warrant was invalid and improperly executed. Specifically, the defendant contends that the administrative search warrant was invalid because it was: (1) issued without authority; (2) not supported by probable cause; and (3) improperly issued during an ex parte proceeding. The defendant further contends that the search was unlawful because excessive force was used during its execution. We disagree with the defendant’s claims and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The record reveals the following undisputed facts and procedural history. The defendant lived in an apartment located in the basement of a building in the city of Stamford (city). That building was zoned and assessed by the city as a two-family residence. After receiving a complaint indicating that the building had several entry doors and three mailboxes, the city’s Department of Health and Social Services (health department)[2]attempted to conduct an inspection, but was refused entry by the defendant. After two additional attempts to inspect the building proved unsuccessful, the health department presented an application for an administrative search warrant (application) to a judge of the Superior Court. The application included an affidavit signed by two inspectors from the health department, Marjorie Beauchette and Renford Whynes, stating that they had probable cause to believe that an illegal apartment existed in the building in violation of § 146-34 (A) of the Stamford Code of Ordinances.[3] The application noted, in particular, the possibility of an illegal apartment in the basement. The Superior Court judge reviewed the application in an ex parte proceeding, determined that probable cause existed, and issued the administrative search warrant.

         Subsequently, pursuant to the health department’s standard policy, Beauchette scheduled a date for the execution of the administrative search warrant by a team comprised of various city officials[4] and two officers from the Stamford Police Department. During the inspection, the city officials observed that the first and second floors of the building contained a total of three apartments. In addition, the city officials noted numerous health, fire, and safety violations. Because the application alleged the potential existence of an illegal apartment in the basement, and because there was no apparent entrance to the basement from the interior of the building, the city officials searched for an exterior entrance. In the backyard, they discovered a locked, fenced area enclosing a staircase that led to a basement door. One of the police officers used a tool to break the lockon the fence, descended the stairs, and knocked on the basement door.

         After a considerable period of time, the defendant opened the basement door and identified himself as the property owner.[5] The police officers informed the defendant about the administrative search warrant and asked him to secure his dogs. The police officers conducted a cursory safety check of the threshold area of the basement and then permitted the city officials to enter the basement while the police officers waited outside. One of the city officials observed what he believed to be a pipe bomb and informed one of the police officers of what he had seen. After inspecting the object, the police officer evacuated the premises and contacted the bomb squad. Upon arrival, the bomb squad X-rayed the object and determined that it did not contain any explosive material, but did include hex nuts and other metallic material consistent with shrapnel. The bomb squad also conducted a protective sweep of the basement and observed items in plain view that were consistent with bomb making.

         Consequently, the police officers obtained a criminal search warrant to search the premises for items related to bomb making. Pursuant to this criminal search warrant, the police officers seized the suspected pipe bomb, three computers, and other items related to bomb making. Additionally, a second criminal search warrant was issued to search the hard drives of the seized computers, which resulted in the discovery of child pornography.[6]

         The defendant thereafter moved to suppress the seized items on the ground that an administrative search warrant does not authorize the entry of police officers into a private residence and that a criminal search warrant pursuant to General Statutes § 54-33a could not properly issue in this case. Following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court issued a ruling from the bench denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. In so ruling, the trial court concluded that the administrative search warrant in the present case satisfied the probable cause standard for a targeted administrative inspection and that the police officers had only a ‘‘passive’’ presence during the execution of the administrative search warrant.

         The defendant then entered pleas of nolo contendere to one count of manufacturing a bomb in violation of § 53-80a and one count of possession of child pornography in the first degree in violation of § 53a-196d (a) (1), conditioned on his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. See General Statutes § 54-94a. This appeal followed.[7] Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         At the outset, we set forth the standard of review. ‘‘[O]ur standard of review of a trial court’s findings and conclusions in connection with a motion to suppress is well defined. A finding of fact will not be disturbed unless it is clearly erroneous in view of the evidence and pleadings in the whole record . . . . [When] the legal conclusions of the court are challenged, [our review is plenary, and] we must determine whether they are legally and logically correct . . . .’’ (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Buckland, 313 Conn. 205, 212, 96 A.3d 1163 (2014), cert. denied, U.S., 135 S.Ct. 992, 190 L.Ed.2d 837 (2015). In the present case, neither the state nor the defendant challenges the factual findings of the trial court. Our review, therefore, is limited to a determination of whether the trial court’s legal conclusions-that the administrative search warrant was properly issued and that the subsequent search was properly executed-were legally and logically correct.

         Before addressing the merits of the parties’ claims, we begin by setting forth certain constitutional provisions relevant to regulatory inspections conducted pursuant to city ordinances. ‘‘The fourth amendment to the United States constitution, which is made applicable to the states through the fourteenth amendment . . . provides that [t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. . . . A search for purposes of the [f]ourth [a]mendment occurs when a reasonable expectation of privacy is infringed. . . . In Camara [v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523, 534, 87 S.Ct. 1727, 18 L.Ed.2d 930 (1967)], the United States Supreme Court held that the fourth amendment applies to searches and seizures in the civil as well as the criminal context. . . . Rejecting the notion that an individual’s fourth amendment protections are merely peripheral in the context of a regulatory inspection, the Supreme Court stated, [i]t is surely anomalous to say that the individual and his private property are fully protected by the [f]ourth [a]mendment only when the individual is suspected of criminal behavior. . . . Therefore, administrative searches of residences must comply with the fourth amendment.’’[8] (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Bozrah v. Chmurynski, 303 Conn. 676, 683–85, 36 A.3d 210 (2012).

         I

         The defendant first claims that the trial court improperly denied his motion to suppress the evidence that formed the basis for the charges against him because the Superior Court judge who issued the administrative search warrant lacked authority.[9] We disagree. A review of the provisions in chapter 368e of the General Statutes, which governs municipal health authorities, reveals that General Statutes § 19a-220 provides an enforcement mechanism for the health department.

         As a preliminary matter, we note that the defendant failed to raise this claim before the trial court. We, therefore, review his claim pursuant to State v. Golding, 213 Conn. 233, 239–40, 567 A.2d 823 (1989). ‘‘Under Golding, a defendant may prevail on an unpreserved claim only if the following conditions are met: (1) the record is adequate to review the alleged claim of error; (2) the claim is of constitutional magnitude alleging the violation of a fundamental right; (3) the alleged constitutional violation . . . exists and . . . deprived the defendant of a fair trial; and (4) if subject to harmless error analysis, the state has failed to demonstrate harmlessness of the alleged constitutional violation beyond a reasonable doubt.’’ (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Wright, 319 Conn. 684, 688, 127 A.3d 147 (2015); see In re Yasiel R., 317 Conn. 773, 781, 120 A.3d 1188 (2015) (modifying third prong of Golding). Because the record is adequate for review, and the defendant’s claim that the issuance of the administrative search warrant without authority violated his right against unreasonable searches and seizures is of constitutional magnitude, our inquiry focuses on whether the violation alleged by the defendant exists and deprived him of a fair trial.

         Section 19a-220 provides: ‘‘When any person refuses to obey a legal order given by a director of health, health committee or board of health, or endeavors to prevent it from being carried into effect, a judge of the Superior Court may issue his warrant to a proper officer or to an indifferent person, therein stating such order and requiring him to carry it into effect, and such officer or indifferent person shall execute the same.’’ (Emphasis added.)

         The use of the term ‘‘his warrant’’ necessarily implies that an administrative search warrant was contemplated by the legislature as a means of enforcing public health ordinances. The term ‘‘his warrant’’ is not defined in this statute or related provisions. ‘‘In the absence of a definition of terms in the statute itself, [w]e may presume . . . that the legislature intended [a word] to have its ordinary meaning in the English language, as gleaned from the context of its use. . . . Under such circumstances, it is appropriate to look to the common understanding of the term as expressed in a dictionary.’’ (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Studer v. Studer, 320 Conn. 483, 488, 131 A.3d 240 (2016).

         The term ‘‘warrant’’ is defined with substantial similarity in a number of dictionaries. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (2002) defines ‘‘warrant’’ as, inter alia, ‘‘a precept or writ issued by a . . . magistrate authorizing an officer to make an arrest, a seizure, or a search or to do other acts incident to the administration of justice . . . .’’ See also Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th Ed. 2011) (same). The American Heritage College Dictionary (4th Ed. 2002) similarly defines ‘‘warrant’’ as, inter alia, a ‘‘judicial writ authorizing an officer to make a search, seizure, or arrest or to execute a judgment . . . .’’ Applying the dictionary definition of ‘‘warrant’’ indicates that the legislature intended § 19a-220 to authorize the issuance of an administrative search warrant for suspected violations of local ordinances pertaining to the protection of public health.

         The defendant nevertheless claims that § 19a-220 does not authorize an administrative search warrant. The defendant asserts that, unlike General Statutes§ 29-305, [10] which the Appellate Court has concluded authorizes the issuance of administrative search warrants for a suspected violation of a municipal fire code, § 19a-220 does not specifically reference a right of inspection or of entry onto private property. See State v. Burke, 23 Conn.App. 528, 529–32, 582 A.2d 915 (1990) (concluding that General Statutes [Rev. to 1987] § 29-305 was constitutional as applied to inspection for fire code violations conducted by local fire marshal pursuant to administrative search warrant), cert. denied, 218 Conn. 906, 588 A.2d 1383 (1991); see also Rutka v. Meriden, 145 Conn.App. 202, 211 n.9, 75 A.3d 722 (2013). We are not persuaded.

         The promulgation and enforcement of local health ordinances constitute a valid exercise of the state’s police power. See DeMello v. Plainville, 170 Conn. 675, 678–79, 368 A.2d 71 (1976). This court has previously explained that ‘‘[t]he abatement of nuisances and the enforcement of the public health code by municipal health officials . . . [is] authorized by [what is now § 19a–220] . . . . The promulgation of public health . . . codes and the regulation and abatement of uses of property and nuisances [that] threaten the health and safety of the general public constitute legitimate subjects for the exercise of the state’s police power. This power comprehends a system of internal regulation . . . to enable people to live together in close association, preserving to each his individual rights and privileges but so controlling them that their enjoyment is reasonably consistent with the enjoyment of like rights and privileges by others.’’ (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id. ‘‘The police power regulates the use of property or impairs the rights in property, because the free exercise of these rights is detrimental to public interest.’’ (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 679.

         This court has, therefore, recognized that the promulgation of municipal health and safety ordinances is a proper exercise of the state’s police powers. We conclude that § 19a-220 codifies that police power. When read in conjunction with the aforementioned dictionary definitions, § 19a-220 expressly authorizes a judge of the Superior Court to issue an administrative search warrant and requires ‘‘a proper officer’’ or ‘‘indifferent person’’ to ‘‘carry’’ that warrant ‘‘into effect’’ and ‘‘execute the same.’’ This explicit grant of authority amounts to a recognition of the state’s inherent police power to protect the health and safety of the public and provides an enforcement mechanism for the same.

         Contrary to the defendant’s contention, the absence of express language concerning a right of inspection or entry does not justify the inference that § 19a-220 does not authorize the issuance of administrative search warrants. In fact, an examination of related statutes reveals that General Statutes § 19a-207[11] authorizes the city to adopt ordinances to promote the health and well-being of the public, so long as those ordinances do not frustrate the achievement of the state’s objectives in this field. Pursuant to this authority, the city authorized the health department to inspect residential properties located within the city in order to ensure that they are maintained in accordance with the city’s housing code. See Stamford Code of Ordinances, c. 146, art. I, §§ 146-5 and 146-6.[12] Therefore, we conclude that the health department has the statutory authority, pursuant to § 19a-207, to adopt regulations requiring the inspection of residential properties for violations of the city’s housing code, and that § 19a-220 provides the means for the enforcement of the health department’s inspection orders.

         Lastly, the defendant contends that if § 19a-220 applies, the statutory language contemplates the issuance of a restraining order, rather than an administrative search warrant.[13] We disagree.

         The defendant’s interpretation is contrary to the plain language of § 19a-220. There is nothing in the language of the statute to indicate that the legislature intended to restrict the scope of § 19a-220 to the issuance of restraining orders. Instead, the term ‘‘his warrant’’ supports the conclusion that the legislature intended § 19a-220 to constitute a broad grant of authority to the judges of the Superior Court, a grant that reasonably includes the power to issue administrative search warrants as a means of enforcing local housing ordinances.[14] It seems logical to believe that the legislature intended to authorize city officials to take reasonable steps, such as obtaining an administrative search warrant, to fulfill their inspection obligations under the city’s ordinances. We conclude that the plain language of § 19a-220 authorizes the issuance of an administrative search warrant for suspected violations of local ordinances pertaining to the protection of public health when a property owner or occupant refuses to obey an order of inspection given by the health department.[15]

         In the present case, the health department sent two notices of inspection to the listed property owner in accordance with the standards set forth in § 146-5 of the Stamford Code of Ordinances and was refused entry onto the premises on the scheduled inspection dates. Because the property owner and the defendant failed to obey the health department’s order of inspection, the trial court had the authority pursuant to General Statutes § 19a-220 to issue an administrative search warrant to carry out the health department’s order. Accordingly, we conclude that the defendant has failed to satisfy Golding’s third prong and that, therefore, his constitutional claim must fail.

         II

         The defendant next contends that, even if this court were to conclude that § 19a-220 provides authority for the issuance of an administrative search warrant, the warrant in the present case was invalid because the Superior Court judge that issued it failed to apply the proper legal standard. Specifically, the defendant contends that an application for an administrative search warrant that targets a particular property must satisfy a standard of probable cause ‘‘more rigor[ous] than would be applied to a search warrant . . . in a criminal proceeding.’’[16] We are not persuaded.

         This court has previously decided the standard of probable cause that is applicable to administrative inspections that target a particular property. In Bozrah v. Chmurynski, supra, 303 Conn. 687–88, this court declined to apply the ‘‘diluted probable cause standard for administrative searches’’ set forth in Camara v. Municipal Court, supra, 387 U.S. 538–39, [17] to a zoning inspection that targeted a single property in response to a complaint regarding that property and adopted the traditional standard of probable cause used in criminal cases. This court explained that Camara’s ‘‘relaxed showing of probable cause was limited to routine and area wide inspections and does not necessarily extend to all administrative searches, including those prompted by individual complaints singling out a particular dwelling.’’ (Emphasis in original.) Bozrah v. Chmurynski, supra, 688. This court further reasoned that ‘‘a targeted administrative search demands a more particularized showing of probable cause than the relaxed version in Camara in order to properly safeguard citizens from rash and unreasonable interferences with privacy and from unfounded charges while simultaneously providing fair leeway for enforcing the law in the community’s protection.’’ (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 692. Thus, this court held that ‘‘before a court may issue an order permitting a zoning enforcement officer to enter and search a particular property, there must be a preliminary showing of facts within the knowledge of the zoning officer and of which that officer has reasonably trustworthy information that are sufficient to cause a reasonable person to believe that conditions constituting a violation of the zoning ordinances are present on the subject property.’’ Id., 692–93.

         Bozrah clearly controls the standard of probable cause to be applied in the present case. As in Bozrah, the inspection in the present case was made in response to a complaint, rather than in the course of a periodic or area inspection program, and it targeted a specific property. The defendant has failed to cite, and our research has not revealed, any legal authority requiring a higher standard of ...


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