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State v. Brown

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

January 23, 2018

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
ACEION BROWN

          Argued November 14, 2017

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

          Nancy L. Walker, deputy assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and Matthew W. Brodsky, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Keller, Bright and Mihalakos, Js.

          OPINION

          MIHALAKOS, J.

         The defendant, Aceion Brown, appeals from the judgment of the trial court denying his petition for a writ of error coram nobis. We conclude that, in the circumstances presented, the court lacked jurisdiction to consider the merits of the petition, and we do not reach the merits of his ineffective assistance of counsel claim. Because the court should have dismissed the petition, rather than having denied it, we reverse the judgment of the trial court only as to the form of the judgment and remand the case with direction to dismiss the petition for a writ of error coram nobis.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to our disposition of this appeal. The defendant is a native and citizen of Jamaica, and a permanent resident of the United States. He is the father of two children who are citizens of the United States. In December, 2011, the defendant pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell in violation of General Statutes § 21a-277 (b) and was sentenced to three years incarceration, execution suspended, and two of years probation. In April, 2013, the defendant was arrested again on multiple drug related charges.

         On May 22, 2013, the defendant, represented by counsel, entered a guilty plea, under the Alford doctrine, [1]to the crime of possession of more than four ounces of marijuana in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 2013) § 21a-279 (b) and admitted a violation of the probation imposed on his 2011 conviction. Prior to accepting his plea, the court, Lobo, J., asked, while canvassing the defendant, if he understood that if he was not a United States citizen, he ‘‘may face the consequence of removal, exclusion from readmission to the [United States] or denial of naturalization, pursuant to federal law, '' to which the defendant responded, ‘‘[y]es, sir.'' The court then accepted his plea and sentenced him to a term of incarceration of 364 days.

         The defendant completed his sentence on March 17, 2014. On the same day, the Department of Homeland Security served the defendant with a notice to appear, alleging that he was removable from the country on the basis of both his 2011 and 2013 convictions. Subsequently, on May 19, 2014, the immigration court ordered the removal of the defendant to Jamaica.

         On February 10, 2015, the self-represented defendant filed a petition for a writ of error coram nobis, in which he alleged, inter alia, that he received ineffective assistance from his trial counsel and that, consequently, he lacked knowledge of the nature and consequences of the subject charge.[2] On this ground, he requested that the judgment of conviction be opened and vacated.

         The court, Alexander, J., held a hearing on the petition on April 23, 2015. At the hearing, the court indicated to the parties that it was concerned that it lacked jurisdiction to entertain a petition for a writ of error coram nobis, stating ‘‘the trial court . . . would be without jurisdiction to [hear] a habeas claim. Those claims are handled by habeas courts . . . [s]o an ineffective assistance claim is a matter that is taken before a habeas court as opposed to the original trial court . . . .'' The court nevertheless proceeded to hear evidence on the merits of the petition. It reviewed a transcript of the defendant's plea proceeding, noting that the court had provided the defendant with the standard advisement regarding immigration consequences, and heard arguments from the defendant and the state on the merits of the petition. The defendant argued that he had not understood that serious immigration consequences, namely, that his 2013 conviction would render him deportable and permanently inadmissible to the United States, would result from his plea, and that his trial counsel's failure to advise him of these consequences constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. The state argued that the court should deny the petition on jurisdictional grounds because the defendant had adequate remedies under the law and could have filed a habeas petition, a petition for a new trial, a postsentencing motion to withdraw his guilty plea, or a direct appeal from his conviction. On August 18, 2015, the court issued a written memorandum of decision, in which it denied the defendant's petition on the merits, holding that the plea canvass did not violate General Statutes § 54-1j. This appeal followed.

         During the pendency of this appeal, the defendant filed a motion for articulation, which requested, inter alia, that the court specify whether it concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel raised in the petition. The court granted this motion in part, stating, ‘‘[y]es, the court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to hear a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel raised in a coram nobis petition because the defendant had habeas corpus relief available. State v. Stephenson, 154 Conn.App. 587, 592, 108 A.3d 1125 (2015).''

         The defendant's sole claim on appeal is that the court erred in denying his petition on jurisdictional grounds.[3]The defendant primarily argues that a writ of habeas corpus had been unavailable to him because he was not aware that his guilty plea would have adverse immigration consequences until after his period of incarceration had ended. In response, the state argues that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to issue the writ because the defendant had alternative legal remedies available to him, such as a writ of habeas corpus or a petition for anew trial, and that, pursuant to State v. Stephenson, supra, 154 Conn.App. 592, the relevant question is not whether the defendant took advantage of those remedies but, rather, whether he could have pursued them. We agree with the state that the court lacked jurisdiction to consider a petition for a writ of error coram nobis.

         We begin our analysis by setting forth the applicable standard of review and relevant legal principles. Our Supreme Court has long held that ‘‘because [a] determination regarding a trial court's subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law, our review is plenary. . . . [A] court lacks discretion to consider the merits of a case over which it is without jurisdiction . . . .'' ...


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