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State v. Delgado

Supreme Court of Connecticut

December 27, 2016


          Argued September 12, 2016

          Jennifer B. Smith, for the appellant (defendant).

          Melissa Patterson, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and John F. Fahey and Michele C. Lukban, senior assistant state's attorneys, for the appellee (state).

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


          PALMER, J.

          Under recent changes to juvenile sentencing law, a court may not sentence a juvenile who has been convicted of murder to life imprisonment without parole unless the court considers mitigating factors associated with the juvenile's young age at the time of the crime. In the present appeal, we must determine how these changes in juvenile sentencing law impact individuals who were sentenced before the changes occurred. The defendant, Melvin Delgado, was sentenced to sixty-five years imprisonment without parole in 1996 for crimes that he committed when he was sixteen years old. Although he is now eligible for parole following the passage of No. 15-84 of the 2015 Public Acts (P.A. 15-84), [1] he filed a motion to correct his allegedly illegal sentence, claiming that he is entitled to be resentenced because the judge who sentenced him failed to consider youth related mitigating factors. The trial court rejected the defendant's claim and dismissed his motion to correct, and the defendant has appealed to this court. We affirm the trial court's dismissal of the motion to correct.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to the present appeal. The defendant was convicted of accessory to murder in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-54a and 53a-8, and commission of a class A, B or C felony with a firearm in violation of General Statutes § 53-202k. On December 16, 1996, the trial court, Corrigan, J., rendered judgment sentencing the defendant to a total effective sentence of sixty-five years imprisonment without parole. On appeal, this court affirmed the judgment with respect to the murder conviction but vacated the judgment with respect to the weapons charge. State v. Delgado, 247 Conn. 616, 634, 725 A.2d 306 (1999). The facts underlying the defendant's conviction are set forth in that decision.[2]

         In 2014, the defendant filed a motion to correct his sentence pursuant to Practice Book § 43-22, [3] contending that a prison term that is equivalent to life imprisonment without parole constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the eighth amendment to the United States constitution and article first, §§ 8 and 9, of the Connecticut constitution.[4] The defendant further argued that his sentence was illegal because he had not been given a meaningful opportunity for release from prison, and that the sentence had been imposed in an illegal manner because he was not afforded an individualized sentencing hearing at which the court could consider specific mitigating factors associated with his young age at the time of the crime of which he was convicted. The trial court, Alexander, J., did not reach the merits of the motion to correct but dismissed the motion for lack of jurisdiction, from which dismissal the defendant now appeals.



         Before turning to the defendant's claims, we consider recent changes to juvenile sentencing law that guide our analysis. As this court explained in State v. Riley, 315 Conn. 637, 110 A.3d 1205 (2015), cert. denied, U.S., 136 S.Ct. 1361, 194 L.Ed.2d 376 (2016), three United States Supreme Court cases have ‘‘fundamentally altered the legal landscape for the sentencing of juvenile offenders to comport with the ban on cruel and unusual punishment under the eighth amendment to the federal constitution. The court first barred capital punishment for all juvenile offenders; Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 575, 125 S.Ct. 1183, 161 L.Ed.2d 1 (2005); and then barred life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for juvenile nonhomicide offenders. Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48');">560 U.S. 48, [82], 130 S.Ct. 2011, 176 L.Ed.2d 825 (2010). Most recently, in Miller v. Alabama, U.S., 132 S.Ct. 2455, 2460, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012), the court held that mandatory sentencing schemes that impose a term of life imprisonment without parole on juvenile homicide offenders, thus precluding consideration of the offender's youth as mitigating against such a severe punishment, violate the principle of proportionate punishment under the eighth amendment.'' (Footnote omitted.) State v. Riley, supra, 640. The holding in Miller ‘‘flows from the basic precept of justice that punishment for crime should be graduated and proportioned to both the offender and the offense.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Miller v. Alabama, supra, 2463.[5]

         In Riley, this court characterized Miller as standing for two propositions: ‘‘(1) that a lesser sentence than life without parole must be available for a juvenile offender; and (2) that the sentencer must consider age related evidence as mitigation when deciding whether to irrevocably sentence juvenile offenders to a [term of life imprisonment, or its equivalent, without parole].'' State v. Riley, supra, 315 Conn. 653. This court therefore concluded that ‘‘the dictates set forth in Miller may be violated even when the sentencing authority has discretion to impose a lesser sentence than life without parole if it fails to give due weight to evidence that Miller deemed constitutionally significant before determining that such a severe punishment is appropriate.'' Id. Because the record in Riley ‘‘[did] not clearly reflect that the court considered and gave mitigating weight to the defendant's youth and its hallmark features when considering whether to impose the functional equivalent to life imprisonment without parole, '' we concluded that the defendant in Riley was entitled to a new sentencing proceeding. Id., 660-61.

         Several months after Riley was decided, this court concluded that the required sentencing considerations identified in Miller applied retroactively in collateral proceedings. Casiano v. Commissioner of Correction, 317 Conn. 52, 62, 115 A.3d 1031 (2015), cert. denied sub nom. Semple v. Casiano, U.S., 136 S.Ct. 1364, 194 L.Ed.2d 376 (2016). During the same time frame, the Connecticut legislature enacted P.A. 15-84. Section 1 of P.A. 15-84, codified at General Statutes (Supp. 2016) § 54-125a, ensures that all juveniles who are sentenced to more than ten years imprisonment are eligible for parole. Section 2 of P.A. 15-84, codified as amended at General Statutes (Supp. 2016) § 54-91g, requires a sentencing judge to consider a juvenile's age and any youth related mitigating factors before imposing a sentence following a juvenile's conviction of any class A or class B felony.

         Subsequently, the United States Supreme Court decided Montgomery v. Louisiana, U.S., 136 S.Ct. 718, 736, 193 L.Ed.2d 599 (2016), in which the court concluded that Miller, in prohibiting a mandatory life sentence without parole for juvenile offenders, had set forth a substantive rule of constitutional law that applied retroactively in cases on collateral review. In Montgomery, the petitioner, Henry Montgomery, was found ‘‘ ‘guilty without capital punishment' ''; id., 725; in connection with a murder he had committed when he was seventeen years old, and which carried an automatic sentence of life without parole. Id., 725-26. The United States Supreme Court, after concluding that Miller announced a substantive rule of law, noted that ‘‘[g]iving Miller retroactive effect . . . does not require [s]tates to relitigate sentences, let alone convictions, in every case [in which] a juvenile offender received mandatory life without parole. A [s]tate may remedy a Miller violation by permitting juvenile homicide offenders to be considered for parole, rather than by resen-tencing them. . . . Allowing those offenders to be considered for parole ensures that juveniles whose crimes reflected only transient immaturity-and who have since matured-will not be forced to serve a disproportionate sentence in violation of the [e]ighth [a]mendment. . . . Those prisoners who have shown an inability to reform will continue to serve life sentences. The opportunity for release will be afforded to those who demonstrate the truth of Miller's central intuition-that children who commit even heinous crimes are capable of change.'' (Citation omitted.) Id., 736.

         Most recently, the Appellate Court considered the impact of P.A. 15-84 and concluded that, ‘‘for juvenile offenders who were entitled to be, but were not, sentenced with consideration of the mitigating factors of youth as required by Miller, [an opportunity for parole under P.A. 15-84] offers a constitutionally adequate remedy under the eighth amendment to those who qualify for parole under its provisions.'' State v. Williams-Bey, 167 Conn.App. 744, 763, 144 A.3d 467 (2016). ...

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