State v. Bradley

Decision Date05 October 2021
Docket NumberSC 20450
Citation266 A.3d 823,341 Conn. 72
Parties STATE of Connecticut v. William Hyde BRADLEY
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Naomi T. Fetterman, for the appellant (defendant).

James M. Ralls, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Michael A. Gailor, state's attorney, and Russell Zentner, supervisory assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

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

McDONALD, J.

Today we are called on to decide whether a defendant has standing to assert a violation of his right to due process based on his conviction under a statute that he claims is unconstitutional. The twist in that otherwise straightforward question is that the defendant, who is Caucasian, claims that Connecticut's statute criminalizing the sale of marijuana violates the equal protection clause of the United States constitution because it was enacted to discriminate against African Americans1 and Mexican Americans.

The defendant, William Hyde Bradley, appeals from the judgment of the Appellate Court affirming the trial court's judgments following his conditional pleas of nolo contendere to charges of sale of a controlled substance and violation of probation.

The defendant's principal claim on appeal is that the Appellate Court incorrectly concluded that he lacked standing to argue that his conviction for sale of a controlled substance in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 2017) § 21a-277 (b)2 violated his due process rights because he was convicted under an unconstitutional statute. Specifically, he contends that the Appellate Court erroneously held that a defendant cannot bring a constitutional challenge, in his individual capacity, based on an alleged violation of others’ equal protection rights. Because the defendant cannot meet the requirements to establish classical aggrievement, we affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court. Accordingly, we do not reach the merits of the defendant's equal protection claim in this appeal.

The Appellate Court's decision sets forth the facts and procedural history; see State v. Bradley , 195 Conn. App. 36, 38–41, 223 A.3d 62 (2019) ; which we summarize in relevant part. In 2017, while the defendant was serving a sentence of probation for a prior conviction of possession of marijuana with intent to sell, probation officers conducting a visit at the defendant's home discovered marijuana in the defendant's possession. Consequently, the state charged the defendant, in two separate informations, with one count of sale of a controlled substance in violation of § 21a-277 (b), and with one count of violation of probation in violation of General Statutes § 53a-32.3

Relevant to this case, the defendant subsequently filed motions to dismiss, arguing, among other things, that the state's criminalization of the sale of marijuana was based on a racially discriminatory motive and, therefore, violated the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment to the United States constitution and the equal protection guarantees under article first, § 20, of the Connecticut constitution, as amended. Following a hearing on the defendant's motions, the trial court ordered the parties to file supplemental memoranda of law regarding the issue of standing. In particular, the court ordered the parties to address whether the defendant, who the trial court found to be Caucasian, could raise an equal protection claim on the ground that the legislature's purpose in enacting a law criminalizing the sale of marijuana was to discriminate against members of a minority group of which the defendant was not a member.4

In his supplemental memoranda in support of his motions to dismiss, the defendant argued that his prosecution under § 21a-277 (b) violated his due process right not to be convicted under an unconstitutional statute. Although the defendant conceded that he is not a member of a minority group that the statute was allegedly enacted to discriminate against, he claimed that he had standing to pursue this challenge in his individual capacity, arguing that he is aggrieved by the application of an unconstitutional law.

The trial court agreed with the defendant, reasoning that a party need not be a member of the class discriminated against in order to have standing to challenge an allegedly unconstitutional statute. The court noted that, because the defendant was charged—and could be convicted—under the challenged statute, he established classical aggrievement consistent with our holding in State v. Long , 268 Conn. 508, 533, 847 A.2d 862, cert. denied, 543 U.S. 969, 125 S. Ct. 424, 160 L. Ed. 2d 340 (2004). Ultimately, however, the trial court denied the defendant's motions to dismiss on the merits, finding that the defendant could not prove that the legislature's purpose in enacting the law criminalizing the sale of marijuana was to discriminate against African Americans or Mexican Americans.

Thereafter, the defendant entered pleas of nolo contendere to the charges of sale of a controlled substance and violation of probation, conditioned on preserving his right to appeal from the conviction of sale of a controlled substance and finding of violation of probation based on the trial court's denial of his motions to dismiss. The trial court sentenced the defendant for his conviction of sale of a controlled substance to an unconditional discharge, and, on his violation of probation, the defendant's probation was revoked, and he was sentenced to a term of five and one-half years of incarceration, execution suspended, and two years of probation.

The defendant appealed from the judgments to the Appellate Court, claiming that the trial court improperly denied his motions to dismiss. State v. Bradley , supra, 195 Conn. App. at 41, 223 A.3d 62. The defendant again argued that Connecticut's statute criminalizing the sale of marijuana violates the equal protection clause of the United States constitution. Id. The defendant did not, however, challenge the trial court's denial of his alternative equal protection claim under the Connecticut constitution.

Id. The Appellate Court subsequently affirmed the judgments of the trial court on the alternative ground that the defendant lacked standing to assert his claim. Id. at 59, 223 A.3d 62.

Thereafter, the defendant filed a petition for certification to appeal, which we granted, limited to the following two issues: (1) "Did the Appellate Court correctly conclude that the defendant did not have standing to raise a due process challenge to his prosecution under a criminal statute, namely, [§ 21a-277 (b)], that he claims was enacted for the purpose of discriminating against minority groups to which he does not belong?" And (2) "[i]f the answer to the first question is ‘no,’ was § 21a-277 (b) enacted for the purpose of discriminating against African Americans and/or Mexican Americans?" State v. Bradley , 334 Conn. 925, 223 A.3d 379 (2020).

On appeal to this court, the defendant maintains that he has standing to challenge his conviction of sale of a controlled substance in violation of § 21a-277 (b) on the ground that it violates his right to due process. Specifically, the defendant contends that the statute criminalizing the sale of marijuana violates the equal protection clause of the United States constitution because it was enacted for the purpose of discriminating against African Americans and Mexican Americans, and, consequently, the statute is unconstitutional. The defendant argues that—regardless of the challenger's own race or ethnicity—every person has a right to be free from conviction under an unconstitutional statute. Thus, the defendant contends that the application of § 21a-277 (b) to him, as a basis for his conviction, violates his due process rights. On this basis, the defendant argues that he has established classical aggrievement as articulated by this court in State v. Long , supra, 268 Conn. at 531–32, 847 A.2d 862, because he has been "specially and injuriously affected" by the application of § 21a-277 (b), insofar as he has been charged, prosecuted, and convicted under the statute. (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id. at 532, 847 A.2d 862.

The state disagrees and contends that the Appellate Court correctly concluded that the defendant lacked standing to claim that § 21a-277 (b) violates the equal protection rights of minorities because the defendant is not a member of a minority class. Specifically, the state claims that the defendant cites no authority for the proposition that there is a "due process right not to be prosecuted under a statute [that] violates the equal protection rights of others ...." It also contends that the defendant has not been aggrieved by the legislature's enactment of a law that allegedly discriminates against African Americans and Mexican Americans. Finally, the state contends that, "[although] the defendant, and indeed the state, share the concern of ‘all members of the community as a whole’ in preventing discrimination, the defendant cannot demonstrate a ‘specific, personal and legal interest in [the subject matter of the challenged action],’ " as required to demonstrate classical aggrievement under State v. Long , supra, 268 Conn. at 531, 847 A.2d 862. We agree with the state.

We begin our analysis with the standard of review and relevant legal principles. "The issue of standing implicates the trial court's subject matter jurisdiction and therefore presents a threshold issue for our determination." New Hartford v. Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority , 291 Conn. 511, 518, 970 A.2d 583 (2009). "Because a determination regarding the trial court's subject matter jurisdiction raises a question of law, our review is plenary." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Wilcox v. Webster Ins., Inc. , 294 Conn. 206, 214, 982 A.2d 1053 (2009).

"Standing is the legal right to set judicial machinery in motion. One cannot rightfully invoke the jurisdiction of ...

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