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James v. Commissioner of Correction

Supreme Court of Connecticut

October 17, 2017

LATONE JAMES
v.
COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION

          Argued March 30, 2017

          Judie L. Marshall, with whom, on the brief, was Walter C. Bansley IV, for the appellant (petitioner).

          Madeline A. Melchionne, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were George Jepsen, attorney general, and Terrence M. O'Neill, assistant attorney general, for the appellee (respondent).

          Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Eveleigh, McDonald, Espinosa, Robinson and Vertefeuille, Js. [*]

         Syllabus

         Pursuant to statute (§ 18-98d [a] [1]), an offender may receive credit for presentence confinement, except that ‘‘(A) each day of presentence confinement shall be counted only once for the purpose of reducing all sentences imposed after such presentence confinement; and (B) [such credit] shall only apply to a person for whom the existence of a mittimus, an inability to obtain bail or the denial of bail is the sole reason for such person's presentence confinement . . . .''

         The petitioner, who had been convicted of felony murder and robbery in the first degree, appealed from the denial of his amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus, asserting, inter alia, that the respondent, the Commissioner of Correction, had improperly calculated the applicable presentence confinement credit.

         The petitioner, who had been held in lieu of bond on multiple charges following his arrest, was tried and convicted of robbery The trial court declared a mistrial on the remaining charges, including the felony murder charge, and sentenced the petitioner to twenty years of imprisonment on the robbery conviction The respondent subsequently credited the robbery sentence for the petitioner's presentence confinement in accordance with § 18-98d (a) (1) On retrial of the felony murder charge, the petitioner filed a motion to dismiss that charge on the ground that the prosecution violated the constitutional protection against double jeopardy The trial court denied that motion, the petitioner appealed, and this court upheld the denial of that motion Thereafter, the petitioner was convicted of felony murder and sentenced to fifty years imprisonment, which was to be served concurrently with the robbery sentence The respondent declined to apply any presentence confinement credit to the felony murder sentence under § 18-98d (a) (1), concluding that any credit for confinement before the imposition of the robbery sentence had already been applied and that any confinement thereafter was for the purpose of serving that existing sentence The petitioner subsequently filed a habeas petition challenging the respondent's method of calculation, which the habeas court denied From the habeas court's judgment, the petitioner, on the granting of certification, appealed Held that the respondent's calculation of the presentence confinement credit applicable to the petitioner's felony murder sentence was incorrect: § 18-98d (a) (1) (A) required the transfer of the petitioner's presentence confinement credit from the earlier imposed robbery sentence to the later imposed, concur

rent felony murder sentence when the two sentences merged into one effective sentence under one docket number, in light of the ambiguity created by the relationship of § 18-98d to other statutes, the legislative history surrounding its enactment, as well as that of its predecessor statutes, and the legislature's perceived intent; moreover, the petitioner was entitled to presentence confinement credit for the period of time he was pursuing his double jeopardy claim because the denial of such a credit under § 18-98d (a) (1) (B) would have impermissibly burdened the assertion of a constitutional right, and, accordingly, to avoid invalidation of § 18-98d, this court adopted, by way of judicial gloss, a requirement that a person serving a term of imprisonment who exercises his constitutional right to pursue a double jeopardy claim on a charge for which the sentence may run concurrently shall be entitled, under § 18-98d, to a corresponding reduction in any sentence subsequently imposed. (Two justices dissenting in one opinion)

         Procedural History

         Amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Tolland and tried to the court, Oliver, J., judgment denying the petition, from which the petitioner, on the granting of certification, appealed. Reversed in part; judgment directed; further proceedings.

          OPINION

          EVELEIGH, J.

         The sole issue in this appeal is whether the calculation of presentence confinement credit should be adjusted for concurrent sentences imposed under one docket number but on different dates. The petitioner, Latone James, appeals from the denial of his amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which alleged, inter alia, that the calculation of his presentence confinement credit was incorrect. The respondent, the Commissioner of Correction, claims that it calculated the petitioner's presentence confinement credit pursuant to General Statutes § 18-98d (a) (1)[1] and the framework provided by this court in Harris v. Commissioner of Correction, 271 Conn. 808, 860 A.2d 715 (2004). We agree with the petitioner and, accordingly, reverse the judgment of the habeas court in part.

         The record discloses the following facts and procedural history. The petitioner was arrested and charged, under Docket No. CR-95-0235106, [2] with one count of robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 1995) § 53a-134 (a) (2), two counts of assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 1995) § 53a-59, and one count of felony murder in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 1995) § 53a-54c. On March 3, 1995, the petitioner was held in lieu of bond on these charges. Following trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on the charge of robbery in the first degree and the trial court declared a mistrial as to the remaining charges. On December 13, 1996, the petitioner was sentenced to twenty years of imprisonment for robbery in the first degree. From the date the trial court imposed bond to the date of sentencing on the robbery conviction, the petitioner was held in the respondent's custody for a total of 651 days. The respondent, accordingly, credited 651 days of presentence confinement to the petitioner's robbery sentence.

         The petitioner was retried before a jury on the charge of felony murder under Docket No. CR-95-0235106. See footnote 2 of this opinion. The petitioner had originally moved to dismiss this charge on the ground that retrial violated the prohibition against double jeopardy contained within the fifth amendment to the United States constitution.[3] See footnote 13 of this opinion. The trial court denied that motion, the petitioner appealed, and this court affirmed. State v. James, 247 Conn. 662, 673- 74, 725 A.2d 316 (1999).

         On August 5, 1999, while the petitioner was imprisoned for robbery, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on the felony murder charge. On August 13, 1999, the petitioner was sentenced to fifty years of imprisonment for felony murder, to run concurrently with his prior robbery sentence. The petitioner spent 973 days in the respondent's custody from the date he was sentenced for robbery to the date sentenced for felony murder. In total, the petitioner spent 1624 days in the respondent's custody from the date of he was held in lieu of bond on Docket No. CR95-0235106 to the date he was sentenced for felony murder.

         The respondent did not apply any presentence confinement credit to the petitioner's felony murder sentence, except for one day of credit pursuant to § 18-98d (a) (2) (B).[4] The petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus challenging, inter alia, the respondent's method of calculation. Specifically, the petitioner claimed that the 651 days of credit that had been applied to the robbery sentence should be transferred to the felony murder sentence. The petitioner further claimed that the 973 days he spent imprisoned for the robbery sentence should be credited to his felony murder sentence. After hearing testimony, the habeas court denied the petition. This appeal followed.[5]

         The respondent asserts that the 651 days of presentence confinement credit are not applicable to the felony murder sentence. The respondent relies on the language of § 18-98d (a) (1) and this court's decision in Harris, wherein this court concluded that presentence confinement credit can be applied only once and cannot be used to reduce a concurrent sentence that is imposed at a later date. Harris v. Commissioner of Correction, supra, 271 Conn. 822-23. The respondent also claims that the 973 days the petitioner spent incarcerated during the retrial on the felony murder charge could not be claimed as presentence confinement credit because § 18-98d (a) (1) (B) limits application of the credit to those people whose sole reason for being confined is the ‘‘existence of a mittimus, an inability to obtain bail or the denial of bail . . . .'' Because the petitioner was confined not due to any of those reasons, but because he was serving a sentence for robbery, the respondent claims that § 18-98d (a) (1) does not apply.

         We begin our analysis with a discussion of the appropriate standard of review. ‘‘Although a habeas court's findings of fact are reviewed under a clearly erroneous standard of review, questions of law are subject to plenary review.'' Tyson v. Commissioner of Correction, 261 Conn. 806, 816, 808 A.2d 653 (2002), cert. denied, 538 U.S. 1005, 123 S.Ct. 1914, 155 L.Ed.2d 836 (2003); see also Kaddah v. Commissioner of Correction, 324 Conn. 548, 559, 153 A.3d 1233 (2017). The parties do not dispute any of the material facts, and we are asked solely to determine the proper construction of § 18-98d (a) (1).

         Therefore, this case presents a question of statutory construction, an issue of law over which we exercise plenary review. Cales v. Office of Victim Services, 319 Conn. 697, 701, 127 A.3d 154 (2015). In determining the meaning of a statute, we look first to the text of the statute and its relationship to other statutes. General Statutes § 1-2z. If the text of the statute is not plain and unambiguous, we may consider extratextual sources of information such as the statute's ‘‘legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, and to its relationship to existing legislation and [common-law] principles governing the same general subject matter . . . .'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Doe v. Boy Scouts of America Corp., 323 Conn. 303, 332, 147 A.3d 104 (2016). Our fundamental objective is to ascertain the legislature's intent. Id.

         We begin by examining the statutory text. Section 18-98d governs the crediting of presentence confinement time to prisoners. Section 18-98d (a) (1) provides in relevant part: ‘‘[a]ny person who is confined to a community correctional center or a correctional institution for an offense committed on or after July 1, 1981, under a mittimus or because such person is unable to obtain bail or is denied bail shall, if subsequently imprisoned, earn a reduction of such person's sentence equal to the number of days which such person spent in such facility from the time such person was placed in presentence confinement to the time such person began serving the term of imprisonment imposed; provided (A) each day of presentence confinement shall be counted only once for the purpose of reducing all sentences imposed after such presentence confinement; and (B) the provisions of this section shall only apply to a person for whom the existence of a mittimus, an inability to obtain bail or the denial of bail is the sole reason for such person's presentence confinement, except that if a person is serving a term of imprisonment at the same time such person is in presentence confinement on another charge and the conviction for such imprisonment is reversed on appeal, such person shall be entitled, in any sentence subsequently imposed, to a reduction based on such presentence confinement in accordance with the provisions of this section. . . .''

         Although the petitioner is asserting a general challenge to his presentence confinement credit, the challenge can be split into two separate claims. The first claim is that the 651 days of presentence confinement credit originally applied to the robbery sentence should be transferred to the felony murder sentence. The second claim is that the 973 days he spent in prison serving his sentence for robbery should be converted to presentence confinement credit and applied to his felony murder sentence. We address each of these claims in turn.

         Whether the 651 days the petitioner was confined while awaiting his first trial, and which was applied to his robbery sentence, can also be applied to the felony murder sentence implicates § 18-98d (a) (1) (A). Section 18-98d (a) (1) (A) provides that ‘‘each day of presentence confinement shall be counted only once for the purpose of reducing all sentences imposed after such presentence confinement . . . .'' (Emphasis added.)

         The plain language of this section, therefore, appears to prohibit the application of the 651 days to the petitioner's sentence for felony murder because it has already been counted for the purpose of reducing his robbery sentence.

         The petitioner asserts that if the mistrial had not occurred, ‘‘all sentences'' for the crimes of robbery and felony murder would have been imposed at once and the 651 days would have been credited toward the sentences for both robbery and felony murder. Because of the mistrial, however, only the robbery sentence was imposed after the petitioner's initial trial, and, by the time he was sentenced for felony murder, the 651 days had already been counted once. The text of § 18-98d does not provide a definition of ‘‘all sentences imposed.'' The use of the ...


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