State v. Burns, No. 15294

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtBefore PETERS; PETERS
Citation670 A.2d 851,236 Conn. 18
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Charles J. BURNS.
Decision Date06 February 1996
Docket NumberNo. 15294

Page 851

670 A.2d 851
236 Conn. 18
STATE of Connecticut
v.
Charles J. BURNS.
No. 15294.
Supreme Court of Connecticut.
Argued Nov. 30, 1995.
Decided Feb. 6, 1996.

[236 Conn. 19] James A. Killen, Assistant State's Attorney, with whom, on the brief, were James E. Thomas, State's Attorney, and Alfred Baldwin, Assistant State's Attorney, for appellant (State).

Donald D. Dakers, Special Public Defender, with whom, on the brief, was David B. Bachman, Special Public Defender, for appellee (defendant).

Before PETERS, C.J., and BORDEN, NORCOTT, KATZ and PALMER, JJ.

PETERS, Chief Justice.

The sole issue in this certified appeal is whether General Statutes § 14-227a(h)(3), 1 which imposes enhanced penalties on a third time violator of the laws against the operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs, is triggered by the occurrence of a third violation within [236 Conn. 20] five years of a prior conviction, or by the occurrence of a third conviction within that five year period. The defendant, Charles J. Burns, was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(1) and with being a third time offender of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs in violation of § 14-227a(h)(3). 2 After a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs. The trial court denied his subsequent motion to dismiss the charge of being a third time offender. The defendant then entered a plea of nolo contendere to that charge, conditioned on his right to take an appeal pursuant to General Statutes § 54-94a and Practice Book § 4003. 3

Page 853

[236 Conn. 21] The Appellate Court reversed the judgment of the trial court. State v. Burns, 38 Conn.App. 8, 658 A.2d 163 (1995). We granted the state's petition for certification, limited to the issue of whether a third conviction, as opposed to a third violation, must occur within the five year period set forth in § 14-227a(h) in order to apply the third time offender penalty in that provision. 4 We reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court.

As the Appellate Court observed, "[t]he facts underlying this appeal are not in dispute. On July 20, 1993, the defendant was arrested and charged with reckless driving and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of liquor or drugs. On March 1, 1994, the state filed an amended second part of the information, charging the defendant as a third time offender subject to the enhanced penalties of § 14-227a(h)(3).

"On March 14, 1994, a jury found the defendant guilty of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of liquor or drugs. The defendant moved to dismiss the amended second part of the information against him on March 23, 1994. In support of this motion, the defendant alleged that his prior convictions occurred on October 13 and 28, 1988, and that both convictions, therefore, had occurred more than five years before his present conviction." Id. at 10-11, 658 A.2d 163.

The trial court denied the defendant's motion to dismiss because it construed § 14-227a(h)(3) to impose enhanced penalties whenever a third violation, rather than a third conviction, occurs within the five year period. Finding no ambiguity in the statutory language, [236 Conn. 22] the trial court reasoned that interpreting the five year period as running to the date of a third conviction would be inconsistent with the statute's legislative history and would lead to bizarre consequences that the legislature could not have intended. The Appellate Court concluded to the contrary on the basis of its determination that § 14-227a(h)(3) "expressly and unambiguously ... requires the five year period to run from conviction to conviction." Id., 12. We granted the state's petition for certification to resolve this important issue of statutory construction.

The state claims that the language of § 14-227a(h)(3) unambiguously indicates that a third violation must occur within five years of a prior conviction. In the alternative, the state claims that, if we were to conclude that the statutory language is ambiguous, then the legislative history of § 14-227a(h)(3) supports its interpretation and an alternate construction of the statute would lead to bizarre results that the legislature could not have intended.

The defendant claims, to the contrary, that the language of § 14-227a(h)(3) unambiguously indicates that a third conviction must occur within the five year period. In the alternative, the defendant claims that if we were to conclude that § 14-227a(h)(3) is ambiguous, then the rule of lenity would require us to interpret the statute in his favor. We agree with the state.

Our interpretation of § 14-227a(h)(3) "is guided by well established principles of statutory construction. Statutory construction is a question of law and therefore our review is plenary.... [O]ur fundamental objective is to ascertain and give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature.... In seeking to discern that intent, we look to the words of the statute itself, to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, [236 Conn. 23] and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Spears, 234 Conn. 78, 86-

Page 854

87, 662 A.2d 80 (1995); Murchison v. Civil Service Commission, 234 Conn. 35, 45, 660 A.2d 850 (1995); State v. Metz, 230 Conn. 400, 409, 645 A.2d 965 (1994). If "a statute is capable of two constructions, one that is rational and effective in accomplishing the evident legislative object, and the other leading to 'bizarre results' destructive of that purpose, the former should prevail." State v. Williams, 206 Conn. 203, 210, 536 A.2d 583 (1988). Nonetheless, "unless a contrary interpretation would frustrate an evident legislative intent, criminal statutes are governed by the fundamental principle that such statutes are strictly construed against the state." State v. Ross, 230 Conn. 183, 200, 646 A.2d 1318 (1994), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 1133, 130 L.Ed.2d 1095 (1995); see State v. Anderson, 227 Conn. 518, 527, 631 A.2d 1149 (1993); State v. Russell, 218 Conn. 273, 278, 588 A.2d 1376 (1991).

After reviewing the language of § 14-227a(h)(3), we conclude that the statute does not unambiguously dictate whether the five year period that is the predicate for an enhanced penalty runs from a prior conviction to a third violation or from...

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63 practice notes
  • Castagno v. Wholean, No. 15409
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • November 26, 1996
    ...845 (1996); see Metropolitan District Commission v. AFSCME, Council 4, Local 184, 237 Conn. 114, 120, 676 A.2d 825 (1996); State v. Burns, 236 Conn. 18, 22-23, 670 A.2d 851 (1996); State v. Spears, 234 Conn. 78, 86-87, 662 A.2d 80, cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 116 S.Ct. 565, 133 L.Ed.2d 490......
  • Hall v. Gilbert and Bennett Mfg. Co., Inc., No. SC
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • June 3, 1997
    ...and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter." State v. Burns, 236 Conn. 18, 22-23, 670 A.2d 851 We acknowledge that the text of § 31-301b does not contain language requiring a final judgment in order for a party to appe......
  • State v. Ledbetter, Nos. 13306
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • May 21, 1996
    ..." '[O]ur fundamental objective is to ascertain and give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature.' " State v. Burns, 236 Conn. 18, 22, 670 A.2d 851 (1996), quoting State v. Spears, 234 Conn. 78, 86-87, 662 A.2d 80 (1995). " 'It is axiomatic that, where the statutory language is clea......
  • Keeney v. Town of Old Saybrook, No. 15205
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • May 21, 1996
    ...and common law principles governing the same subject matter." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Burns, 236 Conn. 18, 22-23, 670 A.2d 851 (1996); HUD/Barbour-Waverly v. Wilson, 235 Conn. 650, 656, 668 A.2d 1309 (1995). "Environmental statutes, considered remedia......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
63 cases
  • Castagno v. Wholean, No. 15409
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • November 26, 1996
    ...845 (1996); see Metropolitan District Commission v. AFSCME, Council 4, Local 184, 237 Conn. 114, 120, 676 A.2d 825 (1996); State v. Burns, 236 Conn. 18, 22-23, 670 A.2d 851 (1996); State v. Spears, 234 Conn. 78, 86-87, 662 A.2d 80, cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 116 S.Ct. 565, 133 L.Ed.2d 490......
  • Hall v. Gilbert and Bennett Mfg. Co., Inc., No. SC
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • June 3, 1997
    ...and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter." State v. Burns, 236 Conn. 18, 22-23, 670 A.2d 851 We acknowledge that the text of § 31-301b does not contain language requiring a final judgment in order for a party to appe......
  • State v. Ledbetter, Nos. 13306
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • May 21, 1996
    ..." '[O]ur fundamental objective is to ascertain and give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature.' " State v. Burns, 236 Conn. 18, 22, 670 A.2d 851 (1996), quoting State v. Spears, 234 Conn. 78, 86-87, 662 A.2d 80 (1995). " 'It is axiomatic that, where the statutory language is clea......
  • Keeney v. Town of Old Saybrook, No. 15205
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • May 21, 1996
    ...and common law principles governing the same subject matter." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Burns, 236 Conn. 18, 22-23, 670 A.2d 851 (1996); HUD/Barbour-Waverly v. Wilson, 235 Conn. 650, 656, 668 A.2d 1309 (1995). "Environmental statutes, considered remedia......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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