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Cornelius v. Commissioner of Correction

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

August 9, 2016

CHARLES CORNELIUS
v.
COMMISSIONEROF CORRECTION

          Argued April 12, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Tolland, Oliver, J.

          Eric M. Creizman, pro hac vice, with whom were Brittany B. Paz and, on the brief, Norman A. Pattis and Melissa Madrigal, pro hac vice, for the appellant (petitioner).

          Kathleen A. Campbell, certified legal intern, with whom were StevenR. Strom, assistant attorney general, and, on the brief, George Jepsen, attorney general, for the appellee (respondent).

          Sheldon, Prescott and Harper, Js.

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM.

          The petitioner, Charles Cornelius, appeals from the judgment of the habeas court denying his petition for a writ of habeas corpus, in which he alleged that the respondent, the Commissioner of Correction, improperly rescinded risk reduction earned credits (RREC) that he had accumulated while he was incarcerated, on the basis of his alleged affiliation with a security risk group (SRG), namely, the Aryan Brotherhood. The respondent argues that the petitioner's claim is moot because he has completed his state sentence, and thus that there is no practical relief that this court can afford him. We agree with the respondent that the petitioner's claim is moot, and thus we dismiss the petitioner's appeal.

         The following procedural history is relevant to the petitioner's claim on appeal. On August 10, 2004, the petitioner entered guilty pleas to three charges: one count of attempted manufacture of a bomb in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-49 and 53-80a; and two counts of possession of an assault weapon in violation of General Statutes § 53-202c. On December 17, 2004, he was sentenced on those charges to a total term of incarceration of twenty-five years, execution suspended after twelve years, followed by ten years of special parole. On January 4, 2011, the petitioner's sentence was modified to ten years and six months incarceration, followed by ten years of special parole.

         On November 18, 2004, the petitioner was sentenced to a term of incarceration of eighteen months in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, in United States v. Cornelius, United States District Court, Docket No. 3:04-CR-127 (CFD) (D. Conn. November 18, 2004), after being convicted of importing or manufacturing firearms and fraud with identification documents. These federal charges arose from the same incident that underlay his state charges. His federal sentence was ordered to run consecutively to his state sentence.

         On June 20, 2014, the petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that he was being unlawfully confined because the respondent had improperly rescinded 456 days of good time credit that he had accumulated under the RREC program while serving his state sentence.[1] The petitioner alleged that he was improperly determined to be a member of the prison and street gang known as the Aryan Brotherhood, which had been designated as an SRG. Upon being designated an SRG member, the petitioner was sanctioned by the loss of 456 days of RREC as well as by a prohibition from earning prospective credit.

         On January 20, 2015, and February 4, 2015, the habeas court held a two day trial. On March 10, 2015, the habeas court denied the petition for a writ of habeas corpus on the grounds that the petitioner's right to due process had not been violated by the respondent's rescission of the petitioner's RREC and that the rescission was supported by sufficient evidence. On March 20, 2015, the petitioner filed a petition for certification to appeal to this court, which was granted. On April 8, 2015, the petitioner timely filed this appeal.

         On May 20, 2015, the petitioner completed his state term of incarceration and was transferred to the custody of the United States Marshals Service, for delivery to the Federal Bureau of Prisons to begin serving his consecutive eighteen month federal sentence.

         The respondent claims that the petitioner's challenge to the rescission of his RREC is moot because he has completed his state sentence and is no longer in state custody. "[A]n actual controversy must exist not only at the time the appeal is taken, but also throughout the pendency of the appeal. . . . When, during the pendency of an appeal, events have occurred that preclude an appellate court from granting any practical relief through its disposition of the merits, a case has become moot." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Putman v. Kennedy, 279 Conn. 162, 169, 900 A.2d 1256 (2006).

         Although the petitioner has completed his state term of incarceration, he argues that the collateral consequences exception to the mootness doctrine applies to his challenge to the rescission of the RREC that he had accumulated while serving his state sentence because if we rule in his favor on that challenge, the extra time he would thereby be found to have served on his state sentence due to the improper rescission could be credited against his current federal sentence. "[U]nder this court's long-standing mootness jurisprudence . . . despite developments during the pendency of an appeal that would otherwise render a claim moot, the court may retain jurisdiction when a litigant shows that there is a reasonable possibility that prejudicial collateral consequences will occur. . . . [T]o invoke successfully the collateral consequences doctrme, the litigant must show that there is a reasonable possibility that prejudicial collateral consequences will occur. Accordingly, the litigant must establish these consequences by more than mere conjecture, but need not demonstrate that these consequences are more probable than not. This standard provides the necessary limitations on justiciability underlying the mootness doctrine ...


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