State v. Campbell

Decision Date15 December 1992
Docket NumberNo. 14130,14130
Citation617 A.2d 889,224 Conn. 168
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Patrick CAMPBELL.

Berdon, J., dissented with opinion.

Monte P. Radler, Asst. Public Defender, for the appellant (defendant).

Paul J. Ferencek, Assistant State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, were Eugene J. Callahan, State's Atty., and Bruce Hudock, Asst. State's Atty., for the appellee (state).


PETERS, Chief Justice.

The principal issue in this appeal is the constitutionality of General Statutes (Rev. to 1987) § 17-245, now codified as § 17a-567, 1 which requires a trial judge to follow the presentence report of the Whiting Forensic Institute 2 (Whiting or the institute) advising against commitment of a convicted defendant to the institute. The defendant, Patrick Campbell, was charged with two counts of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a. 3 The trial court, Dean, J., accepted his pleas of guilty to both counts under the Alford doctrine. 4 Prior to sentencing, the defendant successfully moved for a psychiatric examination by the Whiting staff, as provided for in General Statutes (Rev. to 1987) § 17-244, now codified as § 17a-566, 5 to determine his suitability for treatment at Whiting. The Whiting diagnostic unit's subsequent report advised against the defendant's commitment to Whiting and recommended a sentence in accordance with his conviction. The defendant filed a motion to correct on the ground that the commitment scheme in § 17-245 violated his constitutional rights. The trial court, Bingham, J., denied the motion, and sentenced the defendant to concurrent terms of imprisonment of forty-five years. The defendant appeals from the trial court's denial of the motion to correct. 6 We affirm.

According to the factual statement made by the state at the time the defendant pleaded guilty, the defendant killed his parents, Kenneth and Anna Mae Campbell, with a sledgehammer at their house in Darien on July 1, 1987. After killing them, the defendant took his parents' bodies to a wooded area behind the house, doused them with gasoline, and set them on fire.

Whiting undertook a psychiatric examination of the defendant in response to his motion for such an examination pursuant to § 17-244. In a preliminary diagnostic report, the courts diagnostic clinic of the department of mental health recommended that the examination pursuant to § 17-244(a) begin as soon as bed space at Whiting became available. Whiting examined the defendant from November 8, 1988, through January 17, 1989. After comprehensive psychological testing, medical examination, review of reports of previously conducted psychological and psychiatric evaluations, and behavioral observation, Whiting issued its recommendation. Whiting advised the court to sentence the defendant in accordance with his conviction and not to commit him to Whiting because, although he was "dangerous to himself and others," "[t]here is no evidence of psychosis."

Before the court acted on Whiting's recommendation, on May 19, 1989, the defendant filed a motion to correct, claiming that, insofar as § 17-245 precluded the trial court from rejecting the recommendation, the statute was unconstitutional and, therefore, "any disposition of the defendant's case ... would be illegal." Specifically, the defendant argued that § 17-245 violated: (1) the separation of powers provision of the Connecticut constitution; (2) the due process provisions of the Connecticut and United States constitutions; and (3) the equal protection provisions of the Connecticut and United States constitutions.

After an evidentiary hearing, the court denied the defendant's motion to challenge the recommendation of the Whiting report and to hold a further hearing to consider the validity of Whiting's conclusions. The court upheld the constitutionality of § 17-245, and construed that provision to preclude the further hearing sought by the defendant. The court then sentenced the defendant to a term of incarceration.

In this appeal, the defendant reiterates the constitutional claims that he raised in the trial court. He continues to challenge the validity of § 17-245 under the constitutional law of separation of powers, due process and equal protection. He does not, however, maintain that he has been deprived of a prisoner's right to receive mental health treatment. At stake here is solely his contention that he has a constitutional right to a judicial determination of whether, in lieu of incarceration, he should be committed to Whiting upon order of the trial judge at the time of sentencing, contrary to Whiting's recommendation.


In ruling on the constitutional challenge to § 17-245 raised in the defendant's motion to correct, the trial court interpreted § 17-245 to preclude a hearing on the accuracy of the Whiting report and to prohibit issuance of an order committing the defendant to Whiting in light of the report's recommendation against such commitment. Our inquiry must begin with whether § 17-245, properly construed, embodies such a restriction, because only if it does will we need to address the defendant's constitutional challenge to that provision. "Established wisdom counsels us to exercise self-restraint so as to eschew unnecessary determinations of constitutional questions." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) McConnell v. Beverly Enterprises-Connecticut, Inc., 209 Conn. 692, 706, 553 A.2d 596 (1989).

The trial court looked to the specific language of § 17-245 to support its conclusion that the statute prohibits judicial supervision of a Whiting recommendation against commitment for treatment of a convicted criminal defendant. The pertinent statutory language distinguishes sharply between recommendations for commitment to Whiting and recommendations against commitment to Whiting. A recommendation for confinement at Whiting requires a further judicial hearing and authorizes the trial court thereafter either to sentence the defendant in accordance with the conviction or to order him committed to Whiting. 7 By contrast, a recommendation against confinement at Whiting and for sentencing in accordance with a conviction requires that "the defendant shall be returned directly to the court for disposition." General Statutes (Rev. to 1987) § 17-245(a). Subsection (c) of § 17-245 provides explicitly that "no court may order [confinement in Whiting] if the report does not recommend confinement at the institute." In light of these categorical legislative directives, we agree with the trial court's construction of § 17-245(a). See State v. Davis, 190 Conn. 327, 343, 461 A.2d 947, cert. denied, 464 U.S. 938, 104 S.Ct. 350, 78 L.Ed.2d 315 (1983).


In light of our construction of § 17-245, we now proceed to the defendant's constitutional attacks on § 17-245. A party challenging the constitutionality of a statute bears the heavy burden of establishing its unconstitutionality beyond a reasonable doubt. Perry v. Perry, 222 Conn. 799, 810, 611 A.2d 400 (1992); Connecticut Building Wrecking Co. v. Carothers, 218 Conn. 580, 590, 590 A.2d 447 (1991); Bartholomew v. Schweizer, 217 Conn. 671, 675, 587 A.2d 1014 (1991); Zapata v. Burns, 207 Conn. 496, 508, 542 A.2d 700 (1988). The court will indulge in every presumption in favor of the statute's constitutionality and, when interpreting a statute, will search for an effective and constitutional construction that reasonably accords with the legislature's underlying intent. Bartholomew v. Schweizer, supra, at 675-76, 587 A.2d 1014.


The defendant's first constitutional challenge alleges that § 17-245 violates the separation of powers provisions of the constitution of Connecticut, articles second and fifth. 8 His separation of powers argument has two components: (1) § 17-245 impermissibly withholds sentencing discretion from the judiciary, and instead places that discretion in the executive branch; and (2) § 17-245 impermissibly delegates a legislative function to the executive branch by vesting Whiting with the authority to determine, without guidelines and without the possibility of review, what it means to "require custody, care and treatment." We disagree with both arguments.

Because the powers of the three branches of government inevitably overlap, this court has "consistently held that the doctrine of the separation of powers cannot be applied rigidly"; Bartholomew v. Schweizer, supra, at 676, 587 A.2d 1014; Adams v. Rubinow, 157 Conn. 150, 155, 251 A.2d 49 (1968); and has "refused to find constitutional impropriety in a statute simply because it affects the judicial function...." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Bartholomew v. Schweizer, supra; Heslin v. Connecticut Law Clinic of Trantolo & Trantolo, 190 Conn. 510, 522, 461 A.2d 938 (1983). "A statute violates the constitutional mandate for a separate judicial magistracy only if it represents an effort by the legislature to exercise a power which lies exclusively under the control of the courts...." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Bartholomew v. Schweizer, supra.

In accordance with these principles, a two part inquiry has emerged to evaluate the constitutionality of a statute that is alleged to violate separation of powers principles by impermissibly infringing on the judicial authority. See University of Connecticut Chapter, AAUP v. Governor, 200 Conn. 386, 394-95, 512 A.2d 152 (1986); Heslin v. Connecticut Law Clinic of Trantolo & Trantolo, supra, 522, 461 A.2d 938; State v. Darden, 171 Conn. 677, 679, 372 A.2d 99 (1976). A statute will be held unconstitutional on those grounds if: (1) it governs subject matter that not only falls within the judicial power, but also lies exclusively within judicial control; or (2) it significantly interferes with the orderly functioning of the Superior Court's judicial role....

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