State v. Lutters

Decision Date20 July 2004
Docket Number(SC 16982).
Citation270 Conn. 198,853 A.2d 434
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Sullivan, C. J., and Borden, Norcott, Katz, Palmer, Vertefeuille and Zarella, Js.1



The sole issue presented by this appeal is whether a taxicab falls within the "place of business" exception to the offense of carrying a pistol without a permit contained in General Statutes § 29-35 (a).2 The defendant, John Lutters, was charged in a one count information with carrying a pistol without a permit in violation of § 29-35 (a). Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the information, claiming that, although he had possessed a handgun without a permit as alleged, he had done so while operating a taxicab in which he had a proprietary interest, and, therefore, his possession of the handgun without a permit was not prohibited by § 29-35 (a) because his taxicab constituted a place of business within the meaning of that exception to § 29-35 (a). The trial court granted the defendant's motion to dismiss and, with the permission of the trial court,3 the state appealed,4 claiming that the place of business exception of § 29-35 (a) does not apply to taxicabs. We agree with the state and, consequently, reverse the judgment of the trial court.

The following relevant facts are undisputed.5 At all times pertinent to this appeal, the defendant was a taxicab driver in the city of New Haven. When operating his taxicab, the defendant carried a handgun in a pack on his waist. The defendant did not obtain a permit for the handgun in accordance with General Statutes § 29-28(b).6 The defendant operated his taxicab under the auspices of Metro Taxi Company, Inc. (Metro Taxi).7

On June 15, 2001, at about 11 p.m., the defendant picked up a customer who, while attempting to rob him, stabbed the defendant in the neck. The defendant removed his handgun from the pack on his waist and shot and killed the assailant. The defendant then drove away from the scene and disconnected his two-way radio, which serves to track the location of his taxicab. Meanwhile, the New Haven police determined that a taxicab from Metro Taxi had been involved in the shooting and contacted the company. Initially, Metro Taxi was unable to locate the defendant. Eventually, however, the defendant contacted Metro Taxi and, when he was informed that the police were looking for him, he gave his location and waited for the police to arrive. When the police arrived at approximately 4:30 a.m. on June 16, 2001, the defendant advised them that his handgun was in the trunk of his taxicab.

The defendant was charged with carrying a pistol without a permit in violation of § 29-35(a). He thereafter moved to dismiss the charge, claiming that he was exempt from the permit requirement of § 29-28 (b) because his taxicab, in which he had a proprietary interest,8 was a place of business within the meaning of that exception to § 29-35 (a). In opposing the defendant's motion to dismiss, the state claimed that a taxicab is not a place of business within the meaning of § 29-35 (a). In support of its contention, the state placed particular reliance on General Statutes § 29-38,9 which, with exceptions not applicable to taxicabs, expressly prohibits, inter alia, the carrying of a pistol without a permit in any motor vehicle. Although the trial court acknowledged that the primary purpose of §§ 29-35(a) and 29-38 is to restrict the possession of unlicensed handguns in the public sphere, it nevertheless granted the defendant's motion to dismiss, concluding that, in light of the place of business exception of § 29-35 (a), the legislature necessarily had determined that the interest of a business proprietor in protecting his or her business premises outweighs the public interest in prohibiting the proprietor from possessing a handgun on his or her business premises without first obtaining a permit. The trial court further concluded that the defendant's taxicab fell within the place of business exception of § 29-35 (a) and, therefore, that the defendant's possession of a handgun without a permit while operating his taxicab did not constitute a violation of § 29-35 (a). Consequently, the trial court granted the defendant's motion to dismiss.10

With the permission of the trial court, the state filed this appeal. On appeal, the state maintains that the place of business exception of § 29-35(a) is inapplicable to taxicabs.

The issue raised by the state's claim is one of statutory interpretation, and, therefore, our review is plenary. E.g., Segal v. Segal, 264 Conn. 498, 506, 823 A.2d 1208 (2003). "The meaning of a statute shall, in the first instance, be ascertained from the text of the statute itself and its relationship to other statutes. If, after examining such text and considering such relationship, the meaning of such text is plain and unambiguous and does not yield absurd or unworkable results, extratextual evidence of the meaning of the statute shall not be considered." Public Acts 2003, No. 03-154, § 1. When a statute is not plain and unambiguous, however, as in the present case, "we [also] 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, and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter [for interpretive guidance]."11 (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Nizzardo v. State Traffic Commission, 259 Conn. 131, 141, 788 A.2d 1158 (2002).

Special rules govern our review of penal statutes. "We have long held that [c]riminal statutes are not to be read more broadly than their language plainly requires . . . . Thus, we begin with the proposition that [c]ourts must avoid imposing criminal liability where the legislature has not expressly so intended. . . and ambiguities are ordinarily to be resolved in favor of the defendant. . . . In other words, penal statutes are to be construed strictly and not extended by implication to create liability which no language of the act purports to create. . . . [T]his does not mean [however] that every criminal statute must be given the narrowest possible meaning in complete disregard of the purpose of the legislature. . . . No rule of construction. . . requires that a penal statute be strained and distorted in order to exclude conduct clearly intended to be within its scope—nor does any rule require that the act be given the narrowest meaning. It is sufficient if the words are given their fair meaning in accord with the evident intent of [the legislature]. . . . The rule that terms in a statute are to be assigned their ordinary meaning, unless context dictates otherwise . . . also guides our interpretive inquiry." (Citations omitted; emphasis in original; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Scott, 256 Conn. 517, 531-32, 779 A.2d 702 (2001). With these principles in mind, we turn to the merits of the state's claim that the trial court improperly construed the term "place of business" in § 29-35 (a) to include taxicabs.

The state maintains that the trial court failed to consider that term in its proper statutory context and, in particular, in relation to the provisions of § 29-38 (a), which expressly prohibit, inter alia, a person from transporting, without a permit, a pistol or revolver in a motor vehicle. The state asserts that the more specific provisions of § 29-38 (a) necessarily inform our understanding of the more general provisions of § 29-35 (a). The state further notes that §§ 29-35 (a) and 29-38 (b) exempt certain occupations from the permit requirement otherwise applicable to the possession of handguns and that, notably, the occupation of taxicab driver is not included among them. The state also maintains that the trial court's interpretation of § 29-35 (a) is inconsistent with the legislative purpose underlying that statutory provision and § 29-38, namely, to prohibit the possession of unregistered handguns in the public arena generally and in motor vehicles specifically. Finally, the state claims that the trial court's statutory interpretation leads to the bizarre result that a taxicab driver is free to carry a pistol without a permit in his taxicab even though, under § 29-38, he is prohibited from carrying certain less dangerous weapons in his taxicab, such as brass knuckles or a BB gun. For the reasons advanced by the state, we agree that a taxicab is not a place of business within the meaning of § 29-35 (a).

As in all cases of statutory analysis, we begin with the pertinent statutory language. General Statutes § 29-35 (a) provides in relevant part: "No person shall carry any pistol or revolver upon one's person, except when such person is within the dwelling house or place of business of such person, without a permit to carry the same issued as provided in section 29-28. . . ." Although the word "place," like virtually all words, has different connotations, we are persuaded that the term "place of business" implies a particular or fixed location and not merely a type of chattel. In other words, we generally think of a motor vehicle as mobile personal property that, at any point in time, occupies a particular place but that is not, itself, a place. Even in circumstances in which a motor vehicle is integral to one's business, we usually do not refer to that motor vehicle as the place where that business is located. Thus, as we noted in State v. Vickers, 260 Conn. 219, 796 A.2d 502 (2002), one's place of business is "the premises in which the business one owns or controls is located. . . ." Id., 225. A motor vehicle generally is not considered the premises in which a business is located.12

Consideration of the term "place of business" within the broader context of § 29-35 (a) as a whole bolsters our conclusion that the place of business exception includes...

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