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State v. Lima

Supreme Court of Connecticut

May 16, 2017

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
EVANDRO P. LIMA

          Argued November 9, 2016

          Vishal K. Garg, for the appellant (defendant).

          James M. Ralls III, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Maureen T. Platt, state's attorney, and John J. Davenport, supervisory assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

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

          OPINION

          PALMER, J.

         The defendant, Evandro P. Lima, appeals[1] from the judgment of the trial court, which denied his motion to vacate his guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit larceny in the third degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-124 and 53a-48. The defendant claims that the trial court abused its discretion in denying that motion because, under General Statutes § 54-1j (a), [2] the court was required but failed to ask the defendant whether he had spoken with counsel about the possible immigration consequences of pleading guilty before accepting the plea offer. We disagree with the defendant that the trial court improperly failed to inquire of the defendant whether he had consulted with counsel about the possible immigration consequences of his guilty plea because the defendant expressly acknowledged that he understood those consequences, which is all that was required for purposes of § 54-1j (a). We therefore affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following undisputed facts and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this appeal. The defendant entered a plea of guilty under the Alford doctrine[3] to conspiracy to commit larceny in the third degree after he and a friend took an automobile worth approximately $10, 000 from a dealership for a test drive and never returned it. During the plea canvass, when the court asked the defendant whether he had discussed with his attorney the case and his decision to plead guilty, he answered in the affirmative. The defendant also responded in the affirmative when the court asked him whether he understood that, if he was not a citizen, his conviction could result in his ‘‘removal from the United States, exclusion from readmission or denial of naturalization . . . .'' At the conclusion of the plea canvass, the trial court also asked the assistant state's attorney and defense counsel whether there was any reason why the court should not accept the defendant's plea, and both responded that they were not aware of any such reason. Following the plea canvass, the court sentenced the defendant to one year of incarceration.

         Thereafter, pursuant to § 54-1j (a) and (c), the defendant filed a motion to vacate his guilty plea, claiming that the trial court improperly failed to determine whether he had spoken to defense counsel about the possible immigration consequences of pleading guilty before the court accepted the defendant's plea. The trial court denied the defendant's motion, concluding that § 54-1j (a) contains no requirement that the court ask the defendant whether he had discussed with counsel the possible immigration consequences of pleading guilty; rather, it requires the court to ask only whether he understood that pleading guilty could have such consequences. Under the trial court's reading of the statute, only if the defendant had answered the court's question in the negative was it obligated to conduct an additional inquiry.

         The defendant claims on appeal that § 54-1j (a) is ambiguous as to whether the trial court was required to make an express inquiry of the defendant to determine whether he had discussed with counsel the possible immigration consequences of pleading guilty. The defendant contends that this ambiguity arises from the fact that, although the statute provides that the trial court must allow a defendant time to discuss with counsel those possible consequences of his plea if he has not already done so, it is silent as to the manner in which the trial court is to determine whether such a discussion had taken place. According to the defendant, two possibilities exist. The first is that, before accepting the defendant's plea, the court must ask the defendant directly whether he has discussed the immigration consequences of the plea with his attorney. The second is that the court may ascertain whether such a discussion had taken place when it asks the defendant whether he understands that his plea could carry with it certain adverse immigration consequences because, if the defendant has not previously discussed that issue with counsel, he will respond to the court's inquiry in the negative. The defendant further maintains that, in light of this ambiguity, this court may consult extratextual evidence of the statute's meaning, such as its legislative history, prior judicial decisions and the laws of other states, which, according to the defendant, support his reading of the statute.[4]

         As in all cases of statutory interpretation, we begin our analysis with the pertinent statutory language. Section 54-1j (a) provides that the court shall not accept a guilty plea without first addressing the defendant personally to ensure that he fully understands that, if he is not a United States citizen, his conviction may have certain enumerated immigration consequences under federal law, and, further, if the defendant has not discussed these possible consequences with his attorney, the court shall permit him to do so before accepting his plea offer. Section 54-1j (c) provides that, if the court fails to comply with the requirements of subsection (a), and the defendant can demonstrate that his conviction may have one of the enumerated immigration consequences, the court, upon motion of the defendant within three years of the plea, shall vacate the judgment and permit the defendant to withdraw his guilty plea and enter a plea of not guilty.

         Thus, by its terms, ‘‘[§] 54-1j (a) permits a court to accept a defendant's plea only if the court conducts a plea canvass during which . . . (1) the court personally addresses the defendant and (2) the court determines that the defendant understands fully the possible immigration consequences that may result from entering a plea.'' State v. James, 139 Conn.App. 308, 313, 57 A.3d 366 (2012). The defendant maintains, however, that § 54-1j imposes a third requirement, namely, that the trial court must inquire directly of the defendant as to whether he has discussed with counsel the possible immigration consequences of pleading guilty. In the defendant's view, this requirement inheres in the language directing the court to allow the defendant the opportunity to have such a discussion if he has not already done so.

         As the defendant acknowledges, however, the Appellate Court rejected this very argument in State v. James, supra, 139 Conn.App. 313-14, concluding that § 54-1j (a), by its plain terms, does not require that the trial court determine whether the defendant has discussed with counsel the possible immigration consequences of a guilty plea. Although acknowledging that an attorney has a well established and independent duty to advise a client about those possible consequences of pleading guilty; id., 313 n.1; the Appellate Court rejected the contention that § 54-1j (a) was a source of that duty, stating in relevant part: ‘‘We do not read [§ 54-1j (a)] . . . as requiring defense counsel to advise the defendant of the possible immigration consequences of entering a plea[5] or as requiring that the court specifically inquire as to whether defense counsel advised the defendant of the possible immigration consequences of entering a plea. Rather, we read [the] conditional language [at issue] to direct the court, before accepting a plea, to provide the defendant an opportunity to discuss with defense counsel the possible immigration consequences of entering a plea if the court is made aware that the defendant has not [previously] discussed those immigration consequences with defense counsel.'' (Footnote altered.) Id., 313-14.

         We agree with the Appellate Court that § 54-1j (a) does not purport to require the trial court to inquire directly of the defendant as to whether he has spoken with counsel about the possible immigration consequences of pleading guilty before the court accepts the defendant's guilty plea. Well established rules of statutory construction compel this conclusion, chief among them the bedrock principle that the legislature is fully capable of enacting legislation consistent with its intent, particularly in the area of criminal procedure. See, e.g., State v. Fernando A., 294 Conn. 1, 101, 981 A.2d 427 (2009) (Palmer, J., dissenting in part) (‘‘[a] review of other criminal procedure statutes demonstrates that, when the legislature has desired to impose specific requirements on the conduct of a pretrial hearing, it has said so explicitly'' [internal quotation marks omitted]); Fedus v. Planning & Zoning Commission, 278 Conn. 751, 771 n.17, 900 A.2d 1 (2006) (legislature knows how to enact legislation consistent with its intent). Thus, we may assume that, if the legislature had intended to require the trial court to determine that the defendant had discussed with counsel the possible immigration consequences of pleading guilty, it would have indicated such an intent explicitly, in the same manner that it directed the trial court to determine that the defendant fully understood those consequences. ‘‘It is not the province of this court, under the guise of statutory interpretation, to legislate such a policy, even if we were to agree with the [defendant] that it is a better policy than the one endorsed by the legislature as reflected in its statutory language.'' DiLieto v. County Obstetrics & Gynecology Group, P.C., 316 Conn. 790, 803-804, 114 A.3d 1181 (2015); see also State v. Whiteman, 204 Conn. 98, 103, 526 A.2d 869 (1987) (‘‘[i]t is not the function of courts to read into clearly expressed legislation provisions [that] do not find expression in its words'' [internal quotation marks omitted]).

         Our interpretation finds support in the fact that, under subsection (c) of § 54-1j, a conviction may be vacated only ‘‘[i]f the court fail[ed] to address the defendant personally [to] determine that [he] fully understands the possible consequences of [his] plea, as required in subsection (a) of [§ 54-1j] . . . .'' Once again, we may presume that, if the legislature had ...


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