Gaines v. Manson

Decision Date11 September 1984
Citation481 A.2d 1084,194 Conn. 510
PartiesPalmer GAINES v. John R. MANSON. Edward KEISER, Jr. v. John R. MANSON. Alphonzie PERRY v. John R. MANSON. Lawrence TAYLOR v. John R. MANSON. Donald WEST v. John R. MANSON. Willie BRASWELL v. Raymond LOPES. Donald DeFORGE v. Raymond LOPES.
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Shelley White, Hartford, with whom was Martha Stone, Hartford, for appellants (petitioners).

Carl J. Schuman, Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on brief, were Austin J. McGuigan, Chief State's Atty., and John Nazzaro, legal intern, for appellee (state).

Timothy S. Fisher, Hartford, filed a brief as amicus curiae.


PETERS, Associate Justice.

The principal issue in these consolidated cases is the extent of the petitioners' constitutional rights to timely prosecution of their appeals from their criminal convictions. Each petitioner, Palmer Gaines, Edward Keiser, Jr., Alphonzie Perry, Lawrence Taylor, Donald West, Willie Braswell and Donald DeForge, sought a writ of habeas corpus alleging that his continued incarceration was illegal because appeal of his state court conviction has been unreasonably and unjustifiably delayed by an overworked and overburdened public defender's office. The petitions claimed a violation of rights to due process, equal protection of the laws, and effective assistance of counsel, relying in each instance on relevant provisions of both the state and the federal constitutions. Conn. Const., art. I, §§ 8, 10 and 20; U.S. Const., amend. XIV. The trial court dismissed the petitions and each petitioner, upon the granting of a joint petition for certification, has appealed. We find error.

The underlying facts have been stipulated. Each of the petitioners has been convicted of a felony and was incarcerated at the time of the filing of his petition. Each had filed a timely application for waiver of fees, costs and expenses and appointment of counsel on appeal, which, upon approval by the trial court, resulted in the appointment of the office of the chief public defender to represent the petitioner upon appeal. Each has encountered substantial delays in the processing of his appeal by the public defender's office. The ages of the pending appeals, at the time of the trial court hearing, ranged from about two years to about four and one-half years. 1

The office of the chief public defender is the agency created by the state of Connecticut to represent indigent defendants on appeal. It is obligated to accept all court appointments to represent indigent defendants. Within the public defender's office, a staff of five attorneys in the legal services section has responsibility for a rising caseload of appeals. These five attorneys have had obligations for criminal appeals, excluding habeas corpus petitions, in 81 cases in 1979, 94 cases in 1980, 126 cases in 1982 and 190 cases in 1983. In order to deal fairly with all of the section's clients, 90 percent of whom are incarcerated, the section has a policy of preparing appellate briefs in chronological order based on the date of sentencing. The state of Connecticut has failed to provide a sufficient number of public defenders to handle the appeals of indigent criminal defendants in a timely fashion. 2

The trial court accepted as proven the stipulated facts about the substantial delays encountered by the petitioners in the determination of their appeals. Nonetheless, the court concluded that the petitioners had failed to establish a violation of their constitutional rights. They failed to establish a denial of due process, the court held, because they failed to prove, as Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 530, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 2191, 33 L.Ed.2d 101 (1972), requires, either their meaningful assertion of their right to a speedy appeal or their prejudice from the passage of time. They failed to establish a denial of equal protection, the court found, because they did not prove that the delays attributable to their representation by public rather than by private counsel had in any way infringed upon the adequacy of their opportunity to present their claims for appellate review. Finally, they failed to establish a denial of effective assistance of appellate counsel, the court concluded, because the quality of their representation by the public defender's office was excellent and because they had failed to make a showing of prejudice attributable to the delays they were encountering. For these reasons, the trial court dismissed the petitions for habeas corpus.

On their appeal, the petitioners assign as error each of these rulings on their constitutional claims. In addition, the petitioners claim that the trial court erred in failing to consider whether the petitioners were entitled to a remedy other than reversal of their convictions and discharge from custody. Because we agree with this final claim, we hold that the trial court erred in dismissing the writs of all of the petitioners except Braswell and DeForge, whose cases have become moot by virtue of the hearing of their appeals. 3 Accurate Forging Corporation v. U.A.W. Local No. 1017, 189 Conn. 24, 26, 453 A.2d 769 (1983); Waterbury Hospital v. Connecticut Health Care Associates, 186 Conn. 247, 249, 440 A.2d 310 (1982).


Assessment of the petitioners' remedial rights must begin with an overview of their substantive claims. These claims, constitutional in nature, are derived from their statutory right of appeal. General Statutes § 54-95. 4 Although there is no constitutional right of appeal; Abney v. United States, 431 U.S. 651, 656, 97 S.Ct. 2034, 2038, 52 L.Ed.2d 651 (1977); the right to appeal, once granted, invokes so significant a protection of liberty that it must be made available to all persons convicted of crimes. Ross v. Moffitt, 417 U.S. 600, 607, 94 S.Ct. 2437, 2442, 41 L.Ed.2d 341 (1974); Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 441, 82 S.Ct. 917, 918, 8 L.Ed.2d 21 (1962); Nance v. United States, 422 F.2d 590, 592 (7th Cir.1970). "In the exercise of such a right, invidious discriminations, such as between rich and poor, implicate constitutional guaranties of due process and equal protection of the laws. Douglas v. California, 372 U.S. 353, 355, 83 S.Ct. 814 , 9 L.Ed.2d 811, reh. denied, 373 U.S. 905, 83 S.Ct. 1288, 10 L.Ed.2d 200 (1963); Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12, 18, 76 S.Ct. 585 , 100 L.Ed. 891 (1956)[; Allen v. Warden, 31 Conn.Sup. 459, 463-64, 334 A.2d 488 (1975) ]. Since the state has established an appellate forum, 'these avenues must be kept free of unreasoned distinctions that can only impede open and equal access to the courts.' Rinaldi v. Yeager, 384 U.S. 305, 310, 86 S.Ct. 1497 [1500], 16 L.Ed.2d 577 (1966); see Blackledge v. Perry, 417 U.S. 21, 25, 94 S.Ct. 2098 [2101], 40 L.Ed.2d 628 (1974); Chaffin v. Stynchcombe, 412 U.S. 17, 24 n. 11, 93 S.Ct. 1977 [1981 n. 11], 36 L.Ed.2d 714 (1973)." D'Amico v. Manson, 193 Conn. 144, 147, 476 A.2d 543 (1984); State v. Files, 183 Conn. 586, 588-89, 441 A.2d 27 (1981); Staton v. Warden, 175 Conn. 328, 333-34, 398 A.2d 1176 (1978).

The petitioners correctly relied on writs of habeas corpus to raise their constitutional claims. Although collateral attacks on criminal judgments are generally disfavored, the writ of habeas corpus "holds an honored position in our jurisprudence ... [as] a bulwark against convictions that violate 'fundamental fairness.' " Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 126, 102 S.Ct. 1558, 1570, 71 L.Ed.2d 783, reh. denied, 456 U.S. 1001, 102 S.Ct. 2286, 73 L.Ed.2d 1296, and reh. denied, 457 U.S. 1141, 102 S.Ct. 2976, 73 L.Ed.2d 1361 (1982); Hammond v. Lenfest, 398 F.2d 705, 710-11 (2d Cir.1968).

In the adjudication of petitions for habeas corpus, the remedies available to a court depend upon the constitutional rights that are being vindicated. When the issue is denial of a right to a speedy trial under article first, § 8, of the Connecticut constitution, or amendments six and fourteen to the United States constitution, the petitioner who proves his claim is entitled to the extreme remedy of dismissal of the criminal charges against him. Practice Book § 815(7); 5 General Statutes § 54-82d. 6 Strunk v. United States, 412 U.S. 434, 438-40, 93 S.Ct. 2260, 2262-63, 37 L.Ed.2d 56 (1973); McCarthy v. Manson, 554 F.Supp. 1275, 1278 (D.Conn.1982), aff'd, 714 F.2d 234 (2d Cir.1983); State v. McCarthy, 179 Conn. 1, 9, 425 A.2d 924 (1979). When the issue is appellate delay, which invokes the constitutional guaranties of due process and equal protection, 7 a trial court's choice of remedies is not so constrained. Proof of unconstitutional impairment of the right to appeal empowers a court to fashion an order conditionally discharging the petitioner or otherwise fashioning the appropriate relief, short of immediate release, to which the petitioner may be entitled. In such a case, the court is "not confronted with the dilemma ... of having to choose between ordering an absolute discharge of the prisoner and denying him all relief." Dowd v. United States ex rel. Cook, 340 U.S. 206, 209-10, 71 S.Ct. 262, 263-64, 95 L.Ed. 215 (1951). Under the identical language of the federal and state habeas corpus statutes, 28 U.S.C. § 2243 8 and General Statutes § 52-470, 9 the court has power, in any habeas corpus proceeding, to dispose of the case "as law and justice require." Fredericks v. Reincke, 152 Conn. 501, 506-507, 208 A.2d 756 (1965). See also Williams, petitioner, 378 Mass. 623, 627-28, 393 N.E.2d 353 (1979). 10

In accordance with these well established principles, each of the petitioners in the cases now before us sought two forms of relief, an order that the petitioner be "immediately released" and an order for "such other and further relief as justice requires." In their post-trial and their reply briefs, the petitioners emphasized their claim to an immediate discharge as the appropriate relief for the constitutional...

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