State v. Holmes

Decision Date14 December 2021
Docket NumberAC 43632
Citation267 A.3d 348,209 Conn.App. 197
Parties STATE of Connecticut v. Evan Jaron HOLMES
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals

Evan J. Holmes, self-represented, the appellant (defendant).

Kathryn W. Bare, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, was Paul J. Narducci, state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

Moll, Alexander and Flynn, Js.

FLYNN, J.

The defendant,1 Evan Jaron Holmes, appeals from the judgment of the trial court dismissing in part and denying in part his motion to correct an illegal sentence. On appeal, the defendant claims that the court improperly determined (1) that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over his claim that the charging document listed multiple homicide offenses in violation of his federal constitutional right against double jeopardy and (2) that the sentencing court properly vacated the manslaughter conviction and sentenced him on the felony murder conviction. We conclude that the court properly dismissed in part and denied in part the defendant's motion to correct an illegal sentence and affirm its judgment.

The following factual scenario, which the jury reasonably could have found, is gleaned from the opinion of this court in the defendant's direct appeal affirming the judgment of conviction. See State v. Holmes , 176 Conn. App. 156, 169 A.3d 264 (2017), aff'd, 334 Conn. 202, 221 A.3d 407 (2019). At 4 a.m. on November 12, 2011, the defendant and another man forced entry into an apartment occupied by Todd Silva, with whom the defendant had a fight previously, and the victim, Jorge Rosa. Id., at 159–60, 169 A.3d 264. The defendant fired ten shots into the victim's body, who died within a few minutes due to his wounds. Id., at 160, 169 A.3d 264.

The jury found the defendant not guilty of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a (a), and guilty of the lesser included offense of manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-55 (a) (1) and 53a-55a. The jury also found the defendant guilty of felony murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54c, home invasion in violation of General Statutes § 53a-100aa (a) (2), conspiracy to commit home invasion in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-48 (a) and 53a-100aa, and burglary in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-101 (a) (1). The defendant elected to be tried by the court, Jongbloed, J., on a separate charge of criminal possession of a pistol or revolver in violation of General Statutes § 53a-217 and was found guilty. At the defendant's December 3, 2013 sentencing hearing, the court vacated the defendant's convictions for manslaughter and burglary on double jeopardy grounds and sentenced him to a total effective sentence of seventy years of incarceration.2

On August 26, 2019, the self-represented defendant filed his third motion to correct an illegal sentence pursuant to Practice Book § 43-22,3 which is the subject of this appeal.4 In his memorandum of law in support of the motion, the defendant argued that the trial court violated the protection of the federal constitution against double jeopardy when it (1) "simultaneously subjected and prosecuted the [defendant] for a slew of ‘mutually exclusive’ homicide offenses, that inevitably prejudiced the [defendant] in a plethora of ways" and (2) convicted and sentenced him "for the conduct of ‘murder’ " despite that he was acquitted of murder. The state filed an objection to the defendant's motion. After an October 9, 2019 hearing at which the defendant and the state presented arguments, the motion court, Strackbein, J., dismissed in part and denied in part the defendant's motion to correct in an October 11, 2019 memorandum of decision. The court determined that it did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the defendant's first claim, in which he alleged double jeopardy violations as a result of the trial court's improperly having permitted him to be charged with multiple homicide offenses when there had only been one death resulting from a "single alleged act." In dismissing the claim, the court reasoned that it attacked the charging document itself rather than the sentencing proceeding, which is impermissible in a motion to correct an illegal sentence. With respect to the defendant's second claim, the court reasoned that the sentencing court properly vacated his manslaughter conviction and sentenced him on his felony murder conviction, and denied that claim. The court further determined that the defendant's argument that his right to be free of double jeopardy was violated when he was acquitted of murder and found guilty of felony murder, although incorrect, was not a claim over which the court had subject matter jurisdiction because it attacked the underlying conviction and not the sentence itself. This appeal followed.

I

The defendant first challenges the decision of the motion court that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to review his first claim in his motion to correct that the charging document listed multiple homicide offenses in violation of his federal constitutional right against double jeopardy. He argues that "[r]ather than commit to a single theory as to the commission of an alleged offense—to ensure that they are given their one and only, full and fair, opportunity to convict—prosecutors can now circumvent the double jeopardy clause and subject defendants to literally all of the different statutes pertaining to an alleged offense; only to later have to ‘remedy’ the violation by vacating all of the ‘unlawful’ convictions with the foresight that should the defendant prevail on a postconviction challenge to the seated conviction, the state can simply ‘resurrect’ one of its violative convictions." The state counters that the court properly dismissed this claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. We agree with the state.

We begin with our standard of review and relevant legal principles. "[J]urisdiction involves the authority of a court to adjudicate the type of controversy presented by the action before it." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Alexander , 269 Conn. 107, 112, 847 A.2d 970 (2004). "[B]ecause [a] determination regarding a trial court's subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law, our review is plenary." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id.

"[I]t is axiomatic that [t]he judicial authority may at any time correct an illegal sentence or other illegal disposition, or it may correct a sentence imposed in an illegal manner ...." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Francis , 322 Conn. 247, 259, 140 A.3d 927 (2016) ; see Practice Book § 43-22. "A motion to correct an illegal sentence under Practice Book § 43-22 constitutes a narrow exception to the general rule that, once a defendant's sentence has begun, the authority of the sentencing court to modify that sentence terminates." State v. Casiano , 282 Conn. 614, 624, 922 A.2d 1065 (2007). "In order for the court to have jurisdiction over a motion to correct an illegal sentence after the sentence has been executed, the sentencing proceeding, and not the trial leading to the conviction, must be the subject of the attack." State v. Lawrence , 281 Conn. 147, 158, 913 A.2d 428 (2007).

"[A]n illegal sentence is essentially one [that] ... exceeds the relevant statutory maximum limits, violates a defendant's right against double jeopardy, is ambiguous, or is internally contradictory. ... In accordance with this summary, Connecticut courts have considered four categories of claims pursuant to [Practice Book] § 43-22. The first category has addressed whether the sentence was within the permissible range for the crimes charged. ... The second category has considered violations of the prohibition against double jeopardy. ... The third category has involved claims pertaining to the computation of the length of the sentence and the question of consecutive or concurrent prison time. ... The fourth category has involved questions as to which sentencing statute was applicable." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Smith , 338 Conn. 54, 60, 256 A.3d 615 (2021).

It is useful to state what the defendant's first claim is not about. He did not claim in his motion to correct that the fifty-eight years to which he was sentenced for felony murder exceeds the statutory maximum limit for felony murder of sixty years, that his total effective sentence was computed improperly, that the sentence was ambiguous or internally contradictory or imposed in any way in an illegal manner, or that he was deprived of his right to due process during the sentencing hearing, but rather he argued that his right against double jeopardy was violated because the state charged him with felony murder despite that he was also charged with both murder and manslaughter with a firearm. In his own words, the defendant argued in his motion to correct that his right to not be subject to double jeopardy was violated when the state charged him with "a slew of ‘mutually exclusive’ homicide offenses ...." Although this claim purportedly pertains to double jeopardy, which can be raised in a motion to correct, the claim actually attacks the proceedings leading up to the conviction, namely, the charging document itself, and not the sentence or sentencing proceeding. Simply put, our law is clear that motions to correct an illegal sentence that attack the conviction or the proceedings leading up to the conviction are not within the trial court's jurisdiction on a motion to correct an illegal sentence. See, e.g., State v. Lawrence , supra, 281 Conn. at 158, 913 A.2d 428. Because the defendant's claim does exactly that—it attacks the proceeding leading up to the underlying conviction and not the sentence or the sentencing proceeding—it does not fall within the purview of the categories of claims permitted to be raised in a motion to correct an illegal sentence pursuant to Practice Book § 43-22. See ...

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    ...as to which sentencing statute was applicable." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Holmes , 209 Conn. App. 197, 202–203, 267 A.3d 348 (2021), cert. denied, 342 Conn. 909, 271 A.3d 663 (2022). The jurisdictional issue raised by the state requires us to "consider ......
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