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State v. Baker

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

September 6, 2016

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
JAMES BAKER

          Argued April 14, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Danbury, Carroll, J. [judgment]; Wenzel, J. [motion to correct illegal sentence]; Roraback, J. [motion to correct illegal sentence].

          Deborah G. Stevenson, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

          Jacob L. McChesney, special deputy assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Stephen J. Sedensky III, state's attorney, and Sean P. McGuinness, assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Alvord, Mullins and Pellegrino, Js.

          OPINION

          MULLINS, J.

         The defendant, James Baker, appeals from the judgment of the trial court denying his motion to correct an illegal sentence filed pursuant to Practice Book § 43-22.[1] After pleading guilty under the Alford doctrine[2] to possessing a weapon or dangerous instrument in a correctional institution in violation of General Statutes § 53a-174a (a), [3] the defendant was sentenced to eighteen months of imprisonment. The defendant claims on appeal that the trial court (1) improperly denied his motion to correct the eighteen month sentence because the sentence violates the double jeopardy clause[4] of the federal[5] constitution, and (2) abused its discretion by excluding evidence that was relevant to the disposition of the motion to correct. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.[6]

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. On February 16, 1999, the defendant, who was an inmate at the Garner Correctional Institution, was involved in a physical altercation with other inmates. At the time of the altercation, the defendant was serving a thirty-two year sentence of imprisonment for two 1994 murder convictions. Department of Correction (department) officers observed the defendant attempt to assault another inmate by charging at the inmate with a sharp object in his hand. Department officers ordered the defendant to drop the object, but the defendant ignored their commands and charged at several other inmates with the object in his hand. After suppressing the altercation, department officers recovered the sharp object and determined that it was a shank that had been fabricated from white cloth, masking tape, and two metal prongs.

         On the same day of the incident, department investigators interviewed the defendant, who pleaded guilty in a department administrative proceeding to three violations of prison policy: (1) impeding order; (2) contraband (dangerous instrument); and (3) fighting. Department officials then imposed the following disciplinary sanctions on the defendant: (1) three disciplinary reports; (2) loss of 120 days of statutory good time credit; (3) loss of commissary privileges for ninety days; (4) loss of visits for sixty days; (5) confinement to quarters for thirty days; (6) punitive segregation for seven days; (7) loss of telephone privileges for forty days; and (8) loss of mail privileges for sixty days. Furthermore, sometime in March or April of 1999, after determining that the defendant was a security risk, the department transferred him to the maximum security prison at Northern Correctional Institution (Northern). The defendant was incarcerated at Northern for approximately one year.

         On April 28, 1999, the state charged the defendant with one count of possessing a weapon or dangerous instrument in a correctional institution in violation of § 53a-174a (a). On October 13, 1999, the defendant pleaded guilty to that charge. The court sentenced the defendant to a period of eighteen months of incarceration to run consecutive to the sentence he already was serving for his previous murder convictions.

         On August 9, 2013, the defendant filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence, which was amended on August 29, 2013 (amended motion). In the amended motion, the defendant asserted that the eighteen month sentence of incarceration violated the double jeopardy protections of the state and federal constitutions because the sentence and department sanctions constituted multiple punishments for the same offense. The defendant listed fourteen items that he alleged the department had imposed as administrative sanctions for his conduct in the 1999 prison incident. The first eight items were set forth previously in this opinion. The remaining six items related to (1) the defendant's transfer to Northern and (2) the effect of the eighteen month sentence on the defendant's ability to enter a halfway house.

         Following an evidentiary hearing on the amended motion, the trial court, Roraback, J., denied the defendant's motion. The court concluded that the eighteen month sentence was not imposed in violation of the defendant's protections against double jeopardy. In particular, the court ruled that the department sanctions were not ‘‘grossly disproportionate to the government's interest in maintaining prison order and discipline.'' Thereafter, the defendant filed a motion to reargue the matter, which the court granted. The court, however, affirmed its original ruling and denied the relief requested by the defendant. The court reiterated that the department sanctions did not violate the double jeopardy clause because they were not grossly disproportionate to the government's remedial interest in maintaining order and discipline. This appeal followed. Additional facts will be provided as necessary.

         I

         In his first claim, the defendant asserts that the trial court erred in denying the amended motion because the eighteen month sentence of imprisonment violates his constitutional right against double jeopardy. Specifically, he argues that imposing this sentence after the department already had sanctioned him violated the double jeopardy clause's prohibition on imposing multiple criminal punishments for the same offense. The state responds that, because the department sanctions did not constitute criminal punishment, the double jeopardy clause did not preclude the court from imposing the eighteen month sentence. We agree with the state and conclude that trial court properly denied the defendant's amended motion.

         We begin with the standard of review and relevant legal principles. ‘‘Ordinarily, a claim that the trial court improperly denied a defendant's motion to correct an illegal sentence is reviewed pursuant to the abuse of discretion standard.'' State v. Tabone, 279 Conn. 527, 534, 902 A.2d 1058 (2006). A double jeopardy claim, however, ‘‘presents a question of law, over which our review is plenary.'' State v. Burnell, 290 Conn. 634, 642, 966 A.2d 168 (2009). ‘‘[C]laims of double jeopardy involving multiple punishments present a question of law to which we afford plenary review.'' State v. Tabone, 292 Conn. 417, 439, 973 A.2d 74 (2009). ‘‘Because the issue of whether an administrative sanction constitutes punishment for purposes of double jeopardy is a question of law, [our] review [is] de novo.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Duke, 48 Conn.App. 71, 74, 708 A.2d 583, cert. denied, 244 Conn. 911, 713 A.2d 829 (1998).

         Practice Book § 43-22 provides that ‘‘[t]he judicial authority may at any time correct an illegal sentence or other illegal disposition, or it may correct a sentence imposed in an illegal manner or any other disposition made in an illegal manner.'' Accordingly, ‘‘the trial court and this court, on appeal, have the power, at any time, to correct a sentence that is illegal.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Constantopolous, 68 Conn.App. 879, 882, 793 A.2d 278, cert. denied, 260 Conn. 927, 798 A.2d 971 (2002). ‘‘An illegal sentence is essentially one which either exceeds the relevant statutory maximum limits, violates a defendant's right against double jeopardy, is ambiguous, or is internally contradictory.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. McNellis, 15 Conn.App. 416, 443-44, 546 A.2d 292, cert. denied, 209 Conn. 809, 548 A.2d 441 (1988).

         The double jeopardy clause of the fifth amendment to the federal constitution provides in relevant part that no person shall ‘‘be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb . . . .'' The double jeopardy clause guarantees three specific protections: ‘‘It protects against a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal. It protects against a second prosecution for the same offense after conviction. And it protects against multiple punishments for the same offense.'' (Footnotes omitted.) North Carolina v.Pearce, 395 U.S. 711, 717, 89 S.Ct. 2072, 23 L.Ed.2d 656 (1969), overruled on other grounds by Alabama v.Smith, 49 ...


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