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State v. Ward

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

October 29, 2019

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
JEFFREY K. WARD

          Argued February 11, 2019

         Procedural History

         Substitute information charging the defendant with the crimes of manslaughter in the first degree and assault in the first degree, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford, where the defendant was presented to the court, Alexander, J., on pleas of guilty; judgment of guilty; thereafter, the court, Dewey, J., dismissed the defendant's motion to correct an illegal sentence, and the defendant appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Aimee Lynn Mahon, assigned counsel, with whom was Temmy Ann Miller, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

          Sarah Hanna, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and John F. Fahey, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Alvord, Sheldon and Moll, Js. [*]

          OPINION

          MOLL, J.

         The defendant, Jeffrey K. Ward, appeals from the judgment of the trial court dismissing his motion to correct a sentence imposed in an illegal manner (motion to correct).On appeal, the defendant claims that the court erred in (1) adjudicating the motion to correct, rather than referring the motion to the sentencing court, and (2) concluding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the motion to correct.[1] We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of the appeal. On June 25, 2012, pursuant to a plea agreement, the defendant pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-55 (a) (1) and assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-59 (a) (1) in connection with an incident that had occurred at a motel in Enfield on September 29, 2011. After canvassing the defendant, the trial court, Alexander, J., accepted the defendant's guilty pleas. On July 23, 2012, following a sentencing hearing, Judge Alexander sentenced the defendant to a period of twenty years of incarceration on the count of manslaughter in the first degree and five years of incarceration on the count of assault in the first degree, to run consecutively to the sentence on the count of manslaughter in the first degree, for a total effective sentence of twenty-five years of incarceration, as agreed to by the parties.[2] The defendant did not appeal from his conviction.

         On November3, 2016, pursuant to Practice Book§ 43-22, the defendant filed the motion to correct, accompanied by a memorandum of law and exhibits. Specifically, the defendant contended that his sentence was imposed in an illegal manner on the grounds that (1) he had been incompetent at the time of sentencing and (2) the sentencing court had failed to order, sua sponte, that a competency evaluation and hearing be conducted pursuant to General Statutes § 54-56d before the defendant's sentencing on the basis of information known to the sentencing court.

         On November 17, 2016, the trial court, Dewey, J., held a hearing on the motion to correct. At the outset of the hearing, the state argued that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the motion to correct, contending that the defendant's claims should be raised by way of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. In addition, the state argued that the record did not demonstrate that the defendant's sentence was imposed in an illegal manner. The defendant argued that the court had subject matter jurisdiction over the motion to correct because his alleged incompetence at the time of sentencing and the sentencing court's failure to order, sua sponte, that a competency evaluation and hearing be conducted before sentencing were germane to the legality of the manner in which his sentence was imposed. Following argument, the court reserved its decision regarding jurisdiction and heard the parties on the merits of the motion to correct. On March 7, 2017, the court issued a memorandum of decision dismissing the motion to correct for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. This appeal followed. Additional facts and procedural history will be set forth as necessary.

         I

         We first address the defendant's claim that Judge Dewey erred in hearing and ruling on the motion to correct, rather than referring the motion to correct to Judge Alexander, the sentencing judge. Specifically, the defendant asserts that due process[3] required the motion to correct to be adjudicated by Judge Alexander, who, as the sentencing judge, had observed and interacted with the defendant, was familiar with the defendant and his mental health issues, and was better situated to consider the issues raised in the motion to correct. We are not persuaded.

         As a preliminary matter, the defendant concedes that this claim is unpreserved;[4] he argues, however, that his unpreserved claim is reviewable pursuant to State v. Golding, 213 Conn. 233, 239-40, 567 A.2d 823 (1989), as modified by In re Yasiel R., 317 Conn. 773, 781, 120 A.3d 1188 (2015). Under Golding, ‘‘a defendant can prevail on a claim of constitutional error not preserved at trial only if all of the following conditions are met: (1) the record is adequate to review the alleged claim of error; (2) the claim is of constitutional magnitude alleging the violation of a fundamental right; (3) the alleged constitutional violation . . . exists and . . . deprived the defendant of a fair trial; and (4) if subject to harmless error analysis, the state has failed to demonstrate harmlessness of the alleged constitutional violation beyond a reasonable doubt. In the absence of any one of these conditions, the defendant's claim will fail.'' (Emphasis in original; footnote omitted.) State v. Golding, supra, 239-40. ‘‘The first two steps in the Golding analysis address the reviewability of the claim, while the last two steps involve the merits of the claim.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Jerrell R., 187 Conn.App. 537, 543, 202 A.3d 1044, cert. denied, 331 Conn. 918, 204 A.3d 1160 (2019).

         At the outset, in response to a question raised by the state in its appellate brief, we note that the defendant's unpreserved claim does not fall within the ambit of those cases that stand for the proposition that a defendant is not entitled to Golding review of an unpreserved claim challenging the legality of a sentence that was not raised by way of a motion to correct an illegal sentence. See, e.g., State v. Gang Jin, 179 Conn.App. 185, 195-96, 179 A.3d 266 (2018). Here, the unpreserved claim at issue concerns the actions of Judge Dewey in not referring the motion to correct to Judge Alexander, as opposed to the legality of the sentence imposed by Judge Alexander, and, thus, Golding review may be available. See Mozell v. Commissioner of Correction, 291 Conn. 62, 67 n.2, 967 A.2d 41 (2009) (rejecting respondent's argument that Golding review inapplicable in all circumstances arising from appeal from judgment of habeas court and concluding that Golding review may be available to challenge certain actions of habeas court); see also State v. White, 182 Conn.App. 656, 673-74, 191 A.3d 172 (concluding that defendant's unpreserved claim, that trial court erred by not recusing itself from hearing merits of motion to correct illegal sentence, failed under third prong of Golding), cert. denied, 330 Conn. 924, 194 A.3d 291 (2018).

         The defendant's unpreserved claim, that, as a matter of law, the sentencing court was the only judicial authority permitted to decide the motion to correct, meets the first two prongs of Golding and, therefore, is reviewable. Turning to the first prong of Golding, we conclude that the record is adequate to review the defendant's claim of error. With respect to the second prong of Golding, the defendant's due process claim is of constitutional magnitude. See State v. Battle, 192 Conn.App. 128, 144, A.3d (2019) (claim that defendant's right to due process was violated because sentencing court did not act on motion to correct illegal sentence was of constitutional magnitude).

         Although the defendant's due process claim is review-able, we conclude that the claim does not satisfy the third prong of Golding in light of this court's recent decision in State v. Battle, supra, 192 Conn.App. 146-47, wherein this court concluded that due process does not require the sentencing court to hear and adjudicate a defendant's motion to correct an illegal sentence or a sentence imposed in an illegal manner.

         In Battle, this court observed that the current version of Practice Book § 43-22[5] ‘‘does not limit the ‘judicial authority' empowered to correct an illegal sentence or a sentence imposed in an illegal manner to the sentencing court.'' Id., 145. This court further observed that there was no appellate authority ‘‘holding that a defendant's motion to correct an illegal sentence or a sentence imposed in an illegal manner must be heard and adjudicated by the particular judge who imposed the sentence.'' (Emphasis in original.) Id. Ultimately, this court concluded: ‘‘Due process does not mandate that a motion to correct an illegal sentence or a sentence imposed in an illegal manner be heard by the judge whom the defendant prefers or who has the greatest familiarity with the defendant. Due process seeks to assure a defendant a fair trial, not a perfect one.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 146-47.

         The defendant's due process claim is controlled by Battle. Accordingly, we conclude that the defendant in the present case did not suffer a due process violation and, therefore, his claim fails under the third prong of Golding.[6]

         II

         We now turn to the defendant's claim that the court erred in dismissing the motion to correct for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Specifically, the defendant asserts that the court misconstrued his claim in the motion to correct, which led the court to conclude erroneously that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the motion to correct. He contends that he raised a colorable claim contesting the legality of the manner in which his sentence was imposed, thereby invoking the court's subject matter jurisdiction. Although we agree with the defendant that the court's analysis in dismissing the motion to correct was flawed, we nevertheless conclude that the defendant failed to present a colorable claim that his sentence was imposed in an illegal manner, and, thus, the court properly dismissed the motion to correct for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         We begin by setting forth the relevant standard of review and legal principles that guide our analysis of the defendant's claim. ‘‘Because the defendant's [claim] pertain[s] to the subject matter jurisdiction of the trial court, [it] . . . ...


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