State v. Madera

Decision Date17 December 1985
Citation198 Conn. 92,503 A.2d 136
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Israel MADERA.

John F. Murphy, Jr., with whom were Timothy S. Fisher, Frank F. Coulom, Jr., and, on brief, Susan C. Marks and Peter J. Ennis, Hartford, for appellant (defendant).

John M. Massameno, Asst. State's Atty., with whom were Walter H. Scanlon, Chief Asst. State's Atty., Michael E. O'Hare, Deputy Asst. State's Atty., and, on brief, John A. Connelly, State's Atty., and Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, Legal Intern, for appellee (state).


SHEA, Associate Justice.

The defendant has appealed from his conviction upon a conditional plea of nolo contendere to an indictment charging him with fourteen counts of arson murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54d, 1 one for each of the victims who died in the fire of an apartment building in Waterbury. The trial court imposed on each count the statutorily mandated sentence of life imprisonment without eligibility for parole and structured the sentences on the fourteen counts as consecutive or concurrent to result in an effective sentence of two consecutive life terms, 120 years of imprisonment pursuant to General Statutes § 53a-35b, without eligibility for parole. 2 The defendant has raised three claims of error: (1) the denial of his motion to suppress his statement to the police after he had been arrested at the scene of the fire; (2) the denial of his motion to dismiss which he based upon the claimed unconstitutionality of our arson murder statute, § 53a-54d, by virtue of its inclusion of reckless as well as intentional conduct as a sufficient basis to satisfy the "arson" element of the offense and (3) the imposition of two consecutive terms of life imprisonment. We reach only the third of those issues, because on the record before us the condition upon which the plea was entered, that the defendant obtain review by this court of the rulings upon his motions to suppress and to dismiss, cannot be fulfilled. Accordingly, we remand the case to the trial court with direction to vacate the plea and for further proceedings.

The state recited the following factual basis for the defendant's plea at the time it was accepted by the trial court: In the early morning hours of July 5, 1982, the defendant visited the apartment of his niece at 45-47 Prospect Street in Waterbury. The defendant argued with his niece concerning his drinking and also about a fire he had started, by his carelessness with a cigarette, on the couch in her apartment. After the defendant complied with her request to leave the apartment, he returned to borrow some matches. A short time later, the defendant set fire to some papers on the stairway of the building. Although the police and fire units of the city of Waterbury arrived on the scene quickly, the blaze had already consumed the building. The defendant was arrested at the scene of the fire at approximately 2 a.m. He was advised of his constitutional rights in English and asked if he understood them. The defendant replied that he did. The defendant was informed that he was under arrest and that he was accused of setting the fire. The defendant denied the accusation.

The defendant was then transported to the Waterbury police station and again advised of his constitutional rights. He continued, when questioned, to maintain his innocence. Following this second inquiry, he became ill and fell to the floor of his cell. He was taken to the emergency room at St. Mary's Hospital in Waterbury. The defendant's condition was diagnosed by a staff physician at the emergency room as an "anxiety reaction" and he was discharged from the hospital. The defendant was advised of his rights for the third time at approximately 9 a.m., and he again denied that he had set the fire. After spending the remainder of the day in his cell, he was summoned for further questioning at approximately 8 p.m. The defendant was again advised of his rights. He indicated that he understood them, and that he wished to make a statement, expressly waiving his right to have a lawyer present. Because the defendant had some difficulty describing the incident in English, a Spanish speaking officer was instructed to assist him. At this time he was advised of his rights in Spanish, and he once again indicated that he understood them. At approximately 8:30 p.m., the defendant confessed to starting the fire by igniting some papers on the apartment stairway. His entire statement was given in English. After the statement was transcribed, he signed it and also initialed an additional paragraph noting that the document had been read back to him in both Spanish and English. The defendant also signed a form acknowledging that he had waived his constitutional rights.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress his confession. At the hearing on the motion he claimed that the state had failed to meet its burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that he had effectively waived his Miranda 3 rights and that his confession was voluntary. In relation to those issues he presented psychiatric testimony concerning his mental condition. The trial court denied the motion. The defendant also filed a motion to dismiss the indictment claiming that the arson murder statute violates the federal constitution insofar as the arson which is an element of the crime of arson murder may be arson in either the second or third degree. He claimed that the statutorily mandated sentence would be disproportionate to the crime charged, violating the eighth amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss, concluding that the defendant's motion was premature because it was based upon the speculative assumption that any verdict in this case would be predicated on either second or third degree arson. On September 8, 1983, the defendant entered pleas of nolo contendere to each of the fourteen counts of arson murder, reserving his right to appeal the court's denial of his pretrial motions under General Statutes § 54-94a. 4


As a general rule, an unconditional plea of guilty or nolo contendere, 5 intelligently and voluntarily made, operates as a waiver of all nonjurisdictional defects and bars the later assertion of constitutional challenges to pretrial proceedings. Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U.S. 258, 267, 93 S.Ct. 1602, 1608, 36 L.Ed.2d 235 (1973); Parker v. North Carolina, 397 U.S. 790, 90 S.Ct. 1458, 25 L.Ed.2d 785 (1970); McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 90 S.Ct. 1441, 25 L.Ed.2d 763 (1970); Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 757, 90 S.Ct. 1463, 1473-74, 25 L.Ed.2d 747 (1970); State v. Martin, 197 Conn. 17, 25, 495 A.2d 1028 (1985); Consiglio v. Warden, 160 Conn. 151, 166, 276 A.2d 773 (1970). Therefore, only those issues fully disclosed in the record which relate either to the exercise of jurisdiction 6 by the court or to the voluntary and intelligent nature of the plea are ordinarily appealable after a plea of guilty or nolo contendere. Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 243, 89 S.Ct. 1709, 23 L.Ed.2d 274 (1969); State v. Godek, 182 Conn. 353, 357, 438 A.2d 114 (1980), cert. denied, 450 U.S. 1031, 101 S.Ct. 1741, 68 L.Ed.2d 226 (1981); see also Practice Book § 712.

The legislature in 1982 altered the broad waiver of constitutional rights implicit in a plea of guilty or nolo contendere. Public Acts 1982, No. 82-17. General Statutes § 54-94a allows a defendant to enter a plea of nolo contendere, conditional on the right to take an appeal from the trial court's denial of a motion to suppress evidence based on an unreasonable search and seizure, or from the denial of a motion to dismiss. See State v. Martin, supra, 197 Conn. 25 n. 12, 495 A.2d 1028; State v. Ross, 189 Conn. 42, 50 n. 4, 454 A.2d 266 (1983); State v. Satti, 2 Conn.App. 219, 222, 477 A.2d 144 (1984). The defendant entered his plea under this statute. The record reveals that neither the trial court nor the state had any objection to this procedure.

The threshold question on this appeal is whether the issues reserved for review by this court are within the ambit of § 54-94a. The defendant reserved two claims, one relating to the voluntariness of his confession, the other attacking the constitutionality of the arson murder statute. Clearly, the former is not within the purview of the statute. Under § 54-94a, an appeal is permitted from the denial of a motion to suppress "evidence based on an unreasonable search and seizure" only. The defendant in this case argues that his confession was illegally obtained because his lack of facility with the English language, as well as his alleged mental impairment, made it impossible for him to relinquish his rights effectively. Such a basis for a motion to suppress, implicating the fifth and sixth amendments, is not included in the statutory language allowing appeals only from the denial of a motion to suppress evidence obtained from an illegal search or seizure in violation of the fourth amendment. Moreover, there is nothing in the legislative history of the statute that would suggest such an intention. 7

The question remains whether we should exercise our inherent supervisory authority over the administration of justice; State v. Cohane, 193 Conn. 474, 479 A.2d 763, cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 105 S.Ct. 397, 83 L.Ed.2d 331 (1984), citing United States v. Butler, 567 F.2d 885, 893 (9th Cir.1978); and adopt a procedure that would allow criminal defendants to enter pleas based upon conditions other than those specified in § 54-94a.

Prior to the advent in 1983 of federal rule of criminal procedure 11(a)(2), 8 which allows a conditional plea of guilty or nolo contendere with a reservation of the right to appeal rulings on "any specified pretrial motion," the federal courts were divided on the permissibility of such a plea. 9 (Emphasis added.)...

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