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Griffin v. Commissioner of Correction

Supreme Court of Connecticut

August 23, 2019

TIMOTHY GRIFFIN
v.
COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION

          Argued January 17, 2019

         Procedural History

         Amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Tolland, where the court, Sferrazza, J., denied the petitioner's motion for summary judgment, granted the respondent's motion for summary judgment and rendered judgment denying the petition, from which the petitioner, on the granting of certification, appealed.

          John C. Drapp III, assigned counsel, for the appellant (petitioner).

          Matthew A. Weiner, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were John C. Smriga, state's attorney, and Emily D. Trudeau, assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (respondent).

          Robinson, C. J., and Palmer, McDonald, D'Auria, Mullins, Kahn and Ecker, Js.

          OPINION

          KAHN, J.

         The issue presented in this appeal[1] is whether the transfer of a fourteen year old defendant's case to the regular criminal docket and his subsequent sentence of forty years imprisonment violate the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment enshrined in the dual due process provisions of the constitution of Connecticut, article first, §§ 8 and 9. The petitioner, Timothy Griffin, appeals from the judgment of the habeas court rendered in favor of the respondent, the Commissioner of Correction. The petitioner argues that Connecticut's ‘‘standards of decency'' regarding acceptable punishments for children who engage in criminal conduct have evolved. That evolution, the petitioner contends, has rendered both the transfer of a fourteen year old defendant's case to the regular criminal docket and the resultant sentencing as an adult unconstitutional, in violation of the state prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.[2] The respondent claims that, because recent statutory modifications to the juvenile justice system do not reflect changes in contemporary standards of decency, the habeas court properly granted the respondent's motion for summary judgment. The respondent specifically cites to No. 15-183 of the 2015 Public Acts (P.A. 15-183), which, inter alia, raised to fifteen years the age of a child whose case is subject to transfer to the regular criminal docket from the docket for juvenile matters, and to No. 15-84 of the 2015 Public Acts (P.A. 15-84), which makes certain individuals eligible for parole. We agree that recent statutory changes to the juvenile justice system-which significantly limit, but do not entirely prohibit, the transfer of a fourteen year old defendant's case to the regular criminal docket-do not evidence a change in contemporary standards of decency for purposes of the constitutional claim raised by the petitioner in the present case. We also conclude that, because the petitioner is eligible for parole pursuant to P.A. 15-84, his forty year sentence complies with established constitutional safeguards. Therefore, we affirm the judgment of the habeas court.

         The record reveals the following relevant facts and procedural history. In December, 1997, the then fourteen year old petitioner was arrested in connection with the murder of a grocery store owner during an armed robbery. The petitioner and an accomplice donned masks and entered the grocery store, where the petitioner shot and killed the store owner. The perpetrators then emptied the cash register and fled. Afterward, the petitioner ‘‘bragg[ed] about shooting the owner of the store . . . .'' At the time of the crime, the petitioner had been removed from the normal school curriculum, placed on juvenile probation, and required to wear an electronic bracelet to monitor his location because, allegedly, he had assaulted a teacher. The petitioner's case was automatically transferred to the regular criminal docket pursuant to General Statutes (Rev. to 1997) § 46b-127 (a). In 1999, he entered open guilty pleas to felony murder in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 1997) § 53a-54c and conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-48 and 53a-134 (a) (2). He received a total effective sentence of forty years imprisonment. At that time, the petitioner was not granted the possibility of eligibility for parole.

         In the petitioner's first habeas action in 2007, the habeas court found that the petitioner failed to prove that his pleas had not been entered knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily but rendered judgment in his favor on his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel and restored his right to file for sentence review. In a per curiam decision, this court affirmed the judgment of the habeas court. Griffin v. Commissioner of Correction, 292 Conn. 591, 597, 973 A.2d 1271 (2009). Subsequently, upon the petitioner's application for review, the Sentence Review Division of the Superior Court found that the sentence imposed was ‘‘neither inappropriate [nor] disproportionate.'' State v. Griffin, Docket No. CR-97-135279, 2010 WL 1794692, *2 (Conn. Super. February 23, 2010).

         After filing and then withdrawing a second habeas petition, the petitioner filed the petition for a writ of habeas corpus that is the subject of this appeal.[3] The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment, and the habeas court granted the respondent's motion.[4] The habeas court then granted the petitioner's petition for certification to appeal in September, 2017. See General Statutes § 52-470 (g). This appeal followed.

         This appeal presents issues of constitutional interpretation and statutory construction, which are matters of law subject to our plenary review. See, e.g., General Statutes § 1-2z; Tannone v. Amica Mutual Ins. Co., 329 Conn. 665, 671, 189 A.3d 99 (2018); Honulik v. Greenwich, 293 Conn. 698, 710, 980 A.2d 880 (2009). Summary judgment shall be granted if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Practice Book § 17-49; see also Rodriguez v. Testa, 296 Conn. 1, 6-7, 993 A.2d 955 (2010). The party moving for summary judgment has the burden of showing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. See, e.g., Rodriguez v. Testa, supra, 6-7.

         I

         We first consider whether the passage of P.A. 15-183 establishes that contemporary standards of decency have evolved, such that it is unconstitutional to transfer the case of a fourteen year old defendant from the docket for juvenile matters to the regular criminal docket under any set of circumstances. In advancing this claim, the petitioner effectively asks this court to apply P.A. 15-183 retroactively to all persons currently serving an adult length sentence for a crime committed at fourteen years of age. We decline to do so.

         In 2015, the legislature passed P.A. 15-183, which, among other things, as a general rule, raised the age of a child whose case can be transferred from the docket for juvenile matters to the regular criminal docket from fourteen years to fifteen years. See General Statutes § 46b-127 (a). Shortly thereafter, this court concluded that P.A. 15-183 applied retroactively to pending cases. See State v. Nathaniel S., 323 Conn. 290, 292-93, 146 A.3d 988 (2016). We explicitly stated, however, that P.A. 15-183 did not apply to cases that had reached final judgment, concluding that ‘‘we perceive no absurdity in the fact that retroactive application of the act will affect pending cases but not those that already have reached a final judgment, as this will be true of most retroactive amendments to procedural rules.'' Id., 300. That conclusion, of course, would apply in the context of a habeas petition, which collaterally attacks a final judgment.

         At about the same time as the enactment of P.A. 15-183 and our conclusion in Nathaniel S., we held, in a death penalty case, that a statute could apply retroactively-even to cases that had reached final judgment- if society's standards of decency had evolved so that a previously constitutionally valid criminal punishment now violated the state constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. See State v. Santiago, 318 Conn. 1, 118-19, 139-40, 122 A.3d 1 (2015). In Santiago, the defendant was found guilty of capital felony for a murder committed in December, 2000, and was sentenced to death. Id., 10-11. During the appeals process, our legislature passed No. 12-5 of the 2012 Public Acts (P.A. 12-5), which prospectively banned the death penalty in all cases. See General Statutes §§ 53a-35a, 53a-45, 53a-46a, 53a-46b and 53a-54a; State v. Santiago, supra, 11-12. The defendant sought review of whether, ‘‘although his crimes were committed prior to the effective date of [P.A. 12-5], that legislation nevertheless represent[ed] a fundamental change in the contemporary standard[s] of decency in Connecticut . . . rendering the death penalty now cruel and unusual punishment . . . .'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Santiago, supra, 12. In light of the passage of P.A. 12-5, this court reexamined the constitutionality of the death penalty pursuant to the state constitution, focusing on the principle that, ‘‘in ...


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