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State v. Bennett

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 15, 2018

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
ERICK BENNETT

          Argued Date: February 6, 2018

         Procedural History

         Information charging the defendant with the crime of murder, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Haven and tried to the jury before B. Fischer, J.; verdict and judgment of guilty, from which the defendant appealed to the Supreme Court, which affirmed the judgment; thereafter, the court, Clifford, J., rendered judgment dismissing the defendant's motions to dismiss, and dismissing in part and denying in part the defendant's motion to correct an illegal sentence, from which the defendant appealed. Affirmed.

          Erick Bennett, self-represented, the appellant (defendant).

          Lisa A. Riggione, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Patrick J. Griffin, state's attorney, and Mary Elizabeth Baran, former senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Sheldon, Elgo and Shaban, Js.

          OPINION

          SHELDON, J.

          The defendant, Erick Bennett was found guilty by a jury on the charge of murder on June 29, 2011, and was later sentenced on that charge, on August 26, 2011, to a term of fifty years imprisonment. He now appeals from the subsequent judgment of the trial court dismissing three postjudgment motions to dismiss the information on which he was convicted of murder, and dismissing in part and denying in part his contemporaneous motion to correct an illegal sentence in relation to the sentence imposed on him for that offense, which he filed and prosecuted during the pendency of his ultimately unsuccessful direct appeal. State v. Bennett, 324 Conn. 744, 155 A.3d 188 (2017). We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         In March, 2016, more than four years after he was sentenced, as aforesaid, for murder, the defendant filed three motions to dismiss the information under which he was convicted of that offense. In his first motion to dismiss, which he titled "Motion Challenging Original Subject Matter Jurisdiction, " the defendant alleged that the original trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over his murder prosecution because the warrant under which he was arrested was based on evidence seized illegally pursuant to an invalid and illegally executed search and seizure warrant. In his second motion to dismiss, he alleged that the state had violated his right to a fair trial by obtaining without a warrant, and later using against him at trial, detailed information concerning his trial strategy, which its agents had recorded on twenty-two CDs of his telephone conversations with others while he was in jail awaiting trial. In his third motion to dismiss, he alleged that the state had violated his rights to due process and a fair trial under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963), by failing to disclose to him or his counsel exculpatory information concerning the arrest of the state medical examiner who had performed the autopsy on the victim in his murder case. On July 6, 2016, the defendant also filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence, [1] which he later amended on July 28, 2016.[2]

         The trial court, Clifford, J., heard argument on the foregoing motions, then ruled on them from the bench, on August 4, 2016. Initially addressing the defendant's three motions to dismiss, the court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction over such motions because they did not fall within any of the narrow exceptions to the general common-law rule that a trial court loses jurisdiction over a criminal case after the defendant has begun to serve his sentence therein.[3] Accordingly, it ordered that each such motion be dismissed. Then, addressing the defendant's amended motion to correct an illegal sentence, the court first noted that, although a trial court retains jurisdiction over a criminal case, after the defendant has begun to serve his sentence in that case, to decide a proper motion to correct, under Practice Book § 43-22, in which the defendant challenges either the legality of his sentence or the legality of the manner in which that sentence was imposed, it has no jurisdiction under that rule to adjudicate any challenge to the legality of the underlying conviction on which the challenged sentence was imposed. To the extent that the motion to correct challenged the legality of the underlying conviction, the court ordered that that motion, like the defendant's three postjudgment motions to dismiss, must also be dismissed. Finally, the court turned to the one claim raised in the defendant's motion to correct over which it found that it had jurisdiction, to wit: that the trial court, in passing sentence on the defendant, had improperly relied on inaccurate information concerning his criminal record. The court rejected that claim on the merits, finding that the defendant had not proved either that materially inaccurate information had been presented to the trial court in relation to his sentencing for murder or that the court had relied on such information in imposing sentence on him. With respect to that final aspect of the defendant's motion to correct, the court ordered that the motion be denied.[4] This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         I

         The defendant's first claim on appeal is that the trial court erred in dismissing[5] his first postjudgment motion to dismiss challenging the original trial court's subject matter jurisdiction over his murder prosecution. We conclude that the court correctly determined that it lacked jurisdiction over this motion, and thus affirm its judgment dismissing the motion.

          "We have long held that because [a] determination regarding a trial court's subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law, our review is plenary." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Brundage, 320 Conn. 740, 747, 135 A.3d 697 (2016).

          "It is well established that under the common law a trial court has the discretionary power to modify or vacate a criminal judgment before the sentence has been executed. . . . This is so because the court loses jurisdiction over the case when the defendant is committed to the custody of the commissioner of correction and begins serving the sentence . . . . There are a limited number of circumstances in which the legislature has conferred on the trial courts continuing jurisdiction to act on their judgments after the commencement of sentence. . . . See, e.g., General Statutes §§ 53a-29 through 53a-34 (permitting trial court to modify terms of probation after sentence is imposed); General Statutes § 52-270 (granting jurisdiction to trial court to hear petition for a new trial after execution of original sentence has commenced); General Statutes § 53a-39 (allowing trial court to modify sentences of less than three years provided hearing is held and good cause shown). . . . Without a legislative or constitutional grant of continuing jurisdiction, however, the trial court lacks jurisdiction to modify its judgment." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Turner v. State, 172 Conn.App. 352, 366, 160 A.3d 398 (2017).

         On appeal, the defendant reiterates the claims he made before the trial court, arguing that a search and seizure warrant issued for his house and vehicle on July 11, 2009, was not executed and evidence obtained on the basis of the warrant (two pieces of screws from a knife, which had blood like substances on them and were found in the defendant's car) was "fraudulently fabricated." He thus alleges that the arrest warrant based on the evidence seized was invalid and the jurisdiction of the original trial court was "infect[ed] . . . ." In his appeal, the defendant additionally claims that his conviction was not final and his docket number was still open pursuant to Practice Book § 62-4.[6] He argues that because a challenge to a court's original subject matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time, citing to Practice Book § 10-33, and the power of a court to vacatea judgment due to fraud is "inherent and independent of statutory provisions authorizing the opening of judgment[s], " citing to Kenworthy v. Kenworthy, 180 Conn. 129, 131, 429 A.2d 837 (1980), the trial court did have jurisdiction to review his motion to dismiss and abused its discretion by dismissing the motion.[7] We are not persuaded.

         Following his conviction, the defendant was sentenced in August, 2011. His motion does not raise an issue over which the trial court has jurisdiction beyond his sentencing date, and therefore, the trial court properly dismissed his motion.

         II

         The defendant's second claim on appeal is that the trial court erred in dismissing his second postjudgment motion to dismiss for alleged "failure to disclose, and theft of [his] trial strategy." As set forth in part I of this opinion, because the defendant's motion challenges the legality of his underlying conviction without falling within any of the narrow exceptions to the general common-law rule that a trial court loses jurisdiction over a criminal case after the defendant has begun to serve his sentence therein, the court properly dismissed the motion for lack of jurisdiction.

         III

         The defendant's third claim on appeal is that the trial court erred in dismissing his third postjudgment motion to dismiss for failure to disclose Brady[8] materials. As set forth in part I of this opinion, because the defendant's motion challenges the legality of his underlying conviction without falling within any of the narrow exceptions to the general common-law rule that a trial court loses jurisdiction over a criminal case ...


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