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State v. Nathaniel S.

Supreme Court of Connecticut

September 27, 2016

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
NATHANIEL S.[*]

          Argued May 2, 2016

          Kathryn W. Bare, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, was Maureen Platt, state's attorney, for the appellant (state).

          Alice Osedach, assistant public defender, for the appellee (defendant).

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

          OPINION

          McDONALD, J.

         A person convicted of a class A or class B felony on the regular criminal docket of the Superior Court may be subject to a lengthy mandatory minimum sentence and may suffer various adverse consequences attendant to a felony conviction. By contrast, a child adjudicated a delinquent on the juvenile docket for committing that same offense is subject to at most four years confinement at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School and is spared many of those attendant consequences. Our juvenile justice statutory scheme requires the automatic transfer of certain cases involving children who have been charged with the commission of a class A or class B felony from the docket for juvenile matters to the regular criminal docket. In 2015, the legislature amended the juvenile transfer statute to increase the age of a child whose case was subject to an automatic transfer by one year, to fifteen years old. Public Acts 2015, No. 15-183, § 1 (P.A. 15-183, or act), codified at General Statutes (Supp. 2016) § 46b-127 (a) (1). Prior to this amendment, the court was required to transfer a case from the juvenile docket to the regular criminal docket in which a child, such as the defendant, Nathaniel S., had been charged with the commission of certain felonies and had attained the age of fourteen years prior to the commission of such offenses. See General Statutes (Rev. to 2011) § 46b-127 (a) (1). The question presented by this reserved question of law is whether that amendment applies retroactively, so that the case of a child who has been charged with committing a class A or class B felony prior to the enactment of P.A. 15-183, and whose case already has been transferred to the regular criminal docket, should now have his case transferred back to the juvenile docket. We conclude that the legislature intended that P.A. 15-183 apply retroactively and, accordingly, we answer the reserved question in the affirmative.

         The parties agree on the relevant procedural facts. By juvenile arrest warrant dated August 14, 2012, the defendant was charged with, among other crimes, sexual assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 2011) § 53a-70 (a) (2), a class A felony, and risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 2011) § 53-21 (a) (2), a class B felony, for acts allegedly committed in early May, 2012. The defendant was fourteen years old at the time of the alleged crimes. On August 4, 2014, the defendant's case was automatically transferred from the juvenile docket of the Superior Court to the regular criminal docket pursuant to General Statutes (Rev. to 2011) § 46b-127 (a) (1). Both at the time of the alleged crimes and at the time of transfer, the transfer statute provided in relevant part: ‘‘The court shall automatically transfer from the docket for juvenile matters to the regular criminal docket of the Superior Court the case of any child charged with the commission of . . . a class A or B felony . . . provided such offense was committed after such child attained the age of fourteen years . . . .'' General Statutes (Rev. to 2011) § 46b-127 (a) (1).

         On October 1, 2015, while the defendant's case was pending on the regular criminal docket, P.A. 15-183 took effect. Among other things, the act amended § 46b-127 (a) (1) by raising the age of defendants whose cases are subject to automatic transfer from the juvenile docket to the regular criminal docket from fourteen years to fifteen years. See P.A. 15-183, § 1. In response, the state and the defendant jointly requested that the trial court reserve the following question of law for the advice of this court pursuant to General Statutes § 52-235 (a) and Practice Book § 73-1: ‘‘Does [P.A. 15-183] apply to the defendant, who is charged with committing [c]lass A and B felonies when he was fourteen years old and had not yet reached the age of fifteen, whose case was transferred to the regular criminal docket of the Superior Court prior to [the act's] effective date, but whose case has not yet been adjudicated and will be adjudicated now that [P.A.] 15-183 has taken effect?'' The trial court, Fasano, J., granted the request.

         The following principles govern our resolution of the reserved question. With respect to criminal statutes, a statute is said to have retroactive application if it applies to crimes allegedly committed prior to its date of enactment. Robinson v. Commissioner of Correction, 258 Conn. 830, 836 n.7, 786 A.2d 1107 (2002). Whether a new statute is to be applied retroactively or only prospectively presents a question of statutory interpretation over which we exercise plenary review. Walsh v. Jodoin, 283 Conn. 187, 195, 925 A.2d 1086 (2007). The question is one of legislative intent and is governed by well established rules of statutory construction. Id.

         Several rules of presumed legislative intent govern our retroactivity analysis. Pursuant to those rules, our first task is to determine whether a statute is substantive or procedural in nature. In re Daniel H., 237 Conn. 364, 373, 678 A.2d 462 (1996). ‘‘[Although] there is no precise definition of either [substantive or procedural law], it is generally agreed that a substantive law creates, defines and regulates rights while a procedural law prescribes the methods of enforcing such rights or obtaining redress.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) D'Eramo v. Smith, 273 Conn. 610, 621, 872 A.2d 408 (2005).

         If a statute is substantive, then our analysis is controlled by General Statutes § 55-3, which provides: ‘‘No provision of the general statutes, not previously contained in the statutes of the state, which imposes any new obligation on any person or corporation, shall be construed to have retrospective effect.'' ‘‘[W]e have uniformly interpreted § 55-3 as a rule of presumed legislative intent that statutes affecting substantive rights shall apply prospectively only. . . . [I]n the absence of any clear expression of legislative intent to the contrary [changes to statutes that create or impose substantive new obligations are therefore] presumptively prospective.''[1] (Citation omitted; footnote omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Walsh v. Jodoin, supra, 283 Conn. 195-96.

         By contrast, ‘‘[p]rocedural statutes have been traditionally viewed as affecting remedies, not substantive rights, and therefore leave the preexisting scheme intact. . . . [Accordingly] we have presumed that procedural . . . statutes are intended to apply retroactively absent a clear expression of legislative intent to the contrary . . . .''[2] Id., 196. ‘‘We have noted, however, that a procedural statute will not be applied retroactively if considerations of good sense and justice dictate that it not be so applied.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Narayan v. Narayan, 305 Conn. 394, 403, 46 A.3d 90 (2012). Because, in the absence of clear statutory guidance, these default rules provide a conclusive expression of the presumed intent of the legislature, it rarely will be necessary to consult legislative history or other extratextual sources to ascertain the legislative intent with respect to retroactivity. See State v. Kalil, 314 Conn. 529, 558-59, 107 A.3d 343 (2014).

         Turning our attention to the present case, the parties agree that P.A. 15-183 has both procedural and substantive elements. The defendant, however, contends that the act is primarily procedural in nature and, therefore, presumptively retroactive in its application, whereas the state characterizes the act as having significant substantive effects and, therefore, is presumptively prospective in its application. We agree with the defendant.

         There is no doubt that the amended statute, on its face, dictates only a procedure-automatic transfer- for adjudicating the cases of certain children accused of committing class A or class B felonies. For that reason, in State v.Kelley, 206 Conn. 323, 332, 537 A.2d 483 (1988), this court characterized the juvenile transfer statute as akin to a change of venue and, ‘‘by its nature, procedural.'' The only change effectuated by P.A. 15-183 is to narrow the class of persons to whom this procedure applies. A child who had only attained the age of fourteen when he allegedly committed such crimes is no longer subject to automatic transfer to the regular criminal docket pursuant to General Statutes ...


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