State v. Deciccio

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Decision Date23 December 2014
Docket NumberSC 19104


SC 19104

Supreme Court of Connecticut

Argued October 23, 2013
December 23, 2014

Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Zarella, Eveleigh, McDonald, Espinosa and Vertefeuille, Js.

Michael Zariphes, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

Nancy L. Walker, special deputy assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, was Brian Kennedy, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

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PALMER, J. The defendant, Jason William DeCiccio, has an extensive weapons collection that includes a dirk knife and a police baton. A jury found him guilty of two counts of having a weapon in a motor vehicle, in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 2009) § 29-38 (a),1 for using his Jeep Cherokee (Jeep) to transport those items from his former residence in Connecticut to his new residence in Massachusetts. The defendant appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered by the trial court in accordance with the jury's verdict, contending, inter alia, that § 29-38 is unconstitutional as applied to his conduct in the present case. Specifically, he claims that § 29-38: (1) is impermissibly vague because the terms "dirk knife" and "police baton" are not defined with sufficient clarity; and (2) violates the second amendment to the United States constitution insofar as it precluded him from using a vehicle to transport those weapons for the purpose of moving from one residence to another. We conclude that § 29-38 is not unconstitutionally vague as applied to the facts of this case. We also conclude, however, first, that the possession of a dirk knife and a police baton in a person's home is protected by the second amendment and, second, that our statutory scheme, which categorically bars the transportation of those weapons by motor vehicle from a former residence to a new residence, impermissibly infringes on that constitutional right. Because the state acknowledges that the jury found that the defendant was transporting those weapons between residences when the police discovered them in his vehicle, his conviction cannot stand. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court.

The record reveals the following facts, which the jury reasonably could have found, and procedural history. In 2010, the United States Veterans Health Administration hired the defendant, a member of the United States Army and the Army National Guard who had served overseas in numerous locations and capacities, to work as a medical claims processor at a Veterans Administration (VA) hospital in Massachusetts. On July 22, 2010, the defendant was in the process of moving his belongings from his residence at his mother's home in the town of Clinton to his new residence, a room in a private home in Bolton, Massachusetts, that he had rented. While driving on West Main Street in Clinton, at approximately 4:30 p.m., the defendant's Jeep struck another sport utility vehicle that was stopped at a traffic light, causing that vehicle to strike the vehicle in front of it. The defendant then reversed his Jeep and drove into a parking lot located across the street from the accident scene. After emergency personnel arrived, the defendant, who could not recall his own name, informed police that he had suffered a head injury, and he appeared disoriented and combative.2 The defendant

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was subsequently transported by ambulance to Yale-New Haven Hospital (hospital), where he was admitted and treated for head injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

While assessing the damage to the defendant's Jeep, Gregory Matakaetis, a Clinton police officer who had responded to the accident, observed two machete knives in plain view in the back seat of the Jeep. Matakaetis also discovered an expandable police baton, a belt clip holder for the baton, a sword and holder, a large knife with a brass knuckle handle that had a depiction of a dragon on it (dragon knife), and a dirk knife. Matakaetis found a military dog tag, lead weights, and a black "duty bag" in the Jeep, as well. The defendant had kept all of these items as mementos of his military service overseas in Afghanistan, Germany, and Kosovo, and was in the process of moving them to his new residence in Massachusetts when he was involved in the automobile accident.

Following his release from the hospital, the state charged the defendant in a substitute information with six counts of having a weapon in a motor vehicle in violation of § 29-38 (a). Each count alleged the unlawful possession of one of the seized items, specifically, the police baton, the two machete knives, the dirk knife, the sword, and the dragon knife. The case was tried to a jury, which found the defendant guilty of unlawfully having the police baton and the dirk knife in his vehicle, and not guilty with respect to the other four counts.3 The trial court rendered a judgment of conviction in accordance with the jury's verdict and sentenced the defendant to a total effective sentence of three years imprisonment, execution suspended after fifteen months, and three years probation with special conditions. The trial court subsequently denied the defendant's postverdict motion for a judgment of acquittal, rejecting his claims that § 29-38 is unconstitutionally vague as applied and violates the second amendment. This appeal followed.4

On appeal, the defendant claims that § 29-38 is unconstitutionally vague as applied to the facts of the present case because he had inadequate notice that the weapons that formed the basis of his conviction fall within the proscription of that statutory provision. The defendant also contends that, as applied to his conduct, § 29-38 contravenes his second amendment right to bear arms because it afforded him no lawful means of transporting his dirk knife and police baton to his new residence, thereby effectively precluding him from possessing those weapons at his new residence. We reject the defendant's claim that § 29-38 is unconstitutionally vague. We agree, however, first, that the second amendment protects the defendant's right to possess the dirk knife and police baton in his home and, second, that the statute's complete ban on transporting those items

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between residences unduly burdens that right.5 The defendant's conviction, therefore, must be reversed.6


We begin with the defendant's contention that § 29-38 is unconstitutionally vague as applied, first, because the terms "dirk knife" and "police baton," which are not statutorily defined, do not otherwise have a sufficiently clear or definite meaning and, second, because § 29-38 is impermissibly ambiguous as to whether the moving exception of § 29-38 (b) (5) (D), which does not expressly include within its terms dirk knives and police batons, nevertheless extends to those items. We are not persuaded by either of the defendant's vagueness arguments.

Before addressing the merits of the defendant's claims, we set forth the legal principles applicable to those claims. "The determination of whether a statutory provision is unconstitutionally vague is a question of law over which we exercise de novo review. . . . In undertaking such review, we are mindful that [a] statute is not void for vagueness unless it clearly and unequivocally is unconstitutional, making every presumption in favor of its validity. . . . To demonstrate that [a statute] is unconstitutionally vague as applied to him, the [defendant] therefore must . . . demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that [he] had inadequate notice of what was prohibited or that [he was] the victim of arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. . . . [T]he void for vagueness doctrine embodies two central precepts: the right to fair warning of the effect of a governing statute . . . and the guarantee against standardless law enforcement. . . . If the meaning of a statute can be fairly ascertained a statute will not be void for vagueness since [m]any statutes will have some inherent vagueness, for [i]n most English words and phrases there lurk uncertainties." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Winot, 294 Conn. 753, 758-59, 988 A.2d 188 (2010). Moreover, an ambiguous statute will be saved from unconstitutional vagueness if the core meaning of the terms at issue may be elucidated from other sources, including other "statutes, published or unpublished court opinions in this state or from other jurisdictions, newspaper reports, television programs or other public information . . . ." State v. Scruggs, 279 Conn. 698, 719, 905 A.2d 24 (2006).

Finally, even though a statutory term that is susceptible to a number of differing interpretations may be impermissibly vague as applied to some situations, the term is not necessarily vague as applied in all cases; rather, whether the statute suffers from unconstitutional vagueness is a case-specific question, the resolution of which depends on the particular facts involved.

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See, e.g., State ex rel. Gregan v. Koczur, 287 Conn. 145, 156-57, 947 A.2d 282 (2008). Similarly, a term is not void for vagueness merely because it is not expressly defined in the relevant statutory scheme. State v. Jacob, 69 Conn. App. 666, 674, 798 A.2d 974 (2002). Thus, we must analyze the language and purpose of § 29-38 (a) to determine if it has a reasonably ascertainable, core meaning such that, as applied to the defendant's possession of the weapons at issue in the present case, he had...

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