State v. Miller

Decision Date24 August 1993
Docket NumberNo. 14634,14634
Citation227 Conn. 363,630 A.2d 1315
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
Parties, 62 USLW 2174 STATE of Connecticut v. Jonathan L. MILLER.

Ronald T. Murphy, Sp. Public Defender, for appellant-appellee (defendant).

Leon F. Dalbec, Jr., Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, were John M. Bailey, Chief State's Atty., and Edward Narus, Asst. State's Atty., for appellee-appellant (state).


PETERS, Chief Justice.

The principal issue in this appeal is whether the state constitution prohibits a warrantless automobile search supported by probable cause but conducted while the automobile is impounded at a police station. The defendant, Jonathan L. Miller, was charged with criminal possession of a weapon in violation of General Statutes § 53a-217. 1 The trial court, Damiani, J., rendered a judgment of conviction upon the defendant's plea of nolo contendere; see General Statutes § 54-94a; 2 which was conditional upon his right to appeal the denial by the trial court, Miano, J., of his motion to suppress evidence obtained during his arrest and the search and seizure of his automobile. On the defendant's appeal, the Appellate Court reversed the trial court's judgment on the ground that the search of the defendant's automobile had violated article first, § 7, 3 of the Connecticut constitution. State v. Miller, 29 Conn.App. 207, 614 A.2d 1229 (1992). The Appellate Court rejected, however, the defendant's claim that he was entitled to suppression of evidence that had allegedly been obtained through unconstitutionally extraterritorial conduct by the West Hartford police in Hartford. We subsequently granted the defendant's and the state's petitions for certification to appeal from the judgment of the Appellate Court, and we now affirm. 4

The relevant facts are reported in the decision of the Appellate Court. 5 State v. Miller, supra, at 209-11, 614 A.2d 1229. On March 17, 1990, three men allegedly robbed a supermarket in West Hartford. Id., at 209, 614 A.2d 1229. Witnesses observed two of the three alleged robbers flee the scene in a light gray Chrysler automobile with Connecticut license plate identification 428GFK. Id., at 209-10, 614 A.2d 1229. Shortly thereafter, the witnesses reported this information to the West Hartford police, who discovered that the automobile was registered to the defendant, whose address is 41 Arlington Street in Hartford. Id., at 210, 614 A.2d 1229. Police officers from West Hartford and Hartford then went to Arlington Street to apprehend the defendant, but neither he nor his automobile was present at that location. Id.

Three West Hartford police officers, including detective Jay St. Jacques, remained at Arlington Street in unmarked police cars parked at both ends of the street. At the request of St. Jacques, all other police cars left the area. Id.

About forty minutes later, a light gray Chrysler drove down Arlington Street. St. Jacques followed the automobile until it stopped. When the driver, who was the defendant, exited the automobile, St. Jacques shone his high beam lights on him, drew a weapon and identified himself as a police officer. Id. As the defendant attempted to reenter the automobile and start it, additional West Hartford police officers arrived. They removed the defendant from the automobile and patted him down, but discovered no incriminating evidence. Id., at 210-11, 614 A.2d 1229. After the officers had handcuffed the defendant and placed him in the back seat of one of the West Hartford police cars, St. Jacques retrieved the keys to the Chrysler from the defendant's pocket. St. Jacques unlocked the defendant's automobile and searched the passenger compartment, but discovered no incriminating evidence. Id., at 211, 614 A.2d 1229.

The witnesses subsequently positively identified the defendant as one of the alleged robbers, and the police transported him to the West Hartford police station. The defendant's automobile was towed to the West Hartford police department garage, where the police secured it and conducted a warrantless search, which revealed a .357 Smith and Wesson revolver in the trunk. Id.

The state charged the defendant with criminal possession of a weapon, in violation of § 53a-217. 6 The defendant moved to suppress evidence, including the gun recovered from his automobile's trunk. In support of his motion, the defendant argued that the gun was the fruit of an illegal search and seizure of the automobile and of an illegal arrest. The trial court, Miano, J., denied the motion. The trial court, Damiani, J., subsequently rendered a judgment of conviction upon the defendant's conditional plea of nolo contendere.

Pursuant to § 54-94a, the defendant appealed from the judgment of conviction to the Appellate Court claiming that (1) the West Hartford police had acted outside their territorial jurisdiction by performing an investigation, stake out, Terry 7 stop and warrantless seizure 8 of the defendant's automobile in Hartford, and (2) the warrantless search of the defendant's automobile at the West Hartford police garage was not justified by any exception to the warrant requirement and thereby violated the fourth amendment of the United States constitution and article first, § 7, of the Connecticut constitution. 9 Although the Appellate Court rejected the defendant's first claim, it reversed the judgment of the trial court on the ground that article first, § 7, of the Connecticut constitution prohibits the warrantless search of an automobile that has been impounded at a police garage.

In this certified appeal, both the defendant and the state take issue with the decision of the Appellate Court. The defendant contends that article tenth, § 1, article first, § 7, and article first, § 9, of the Connecticut constitution prohibit municipal police from conducting an extraterritorial investigation, stake out, Terry stop or warrantless seizure. The defendant asserts, therefore, that the Appellate Court improperly affirmed the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress on that ground. The state argues that the warrantless search of the defendant's automobile, while it was impounded at the West Hartford police station, was valid under article first, § 7, of the Connecticut constitution. The state contends, therefore, that the Appellate Court improperly reversed the trial court's denial of the defendant's motion to suppress on that ground. We reject both of these claims.


The defendant contends that the trial court should have suppressed the gun recovered by West Hartford police officers from his automobile because the officers acted in violation of article tenth, § 1, article first, § 7, and article first, § 9, when they conducted an investigation, stake out, Terry stop and warrantless automobile seizure in Hartford. We disagree.


At the outset, we note that we need not decide whether the Terry stop of the defendant was invalid pursuant to the cited constitutional provisions. Even if the stop were unconstitutional, no evidence flowed from it 10 and, therefore, the subsequent prosecution of the defendant was not tainted by it. See State v. Miller, supra, 29 Conn.App. at 216, 614 A.2d 1229. Accordingly, any illegality in the stop would not require dismissal of the charges against the defendant or a reversal of his conviction. State v. Fleming, 198 Conn. 255, 262-63, 502 A.2d 886, cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1143, 106 S.Ct. 1797, 90 L.Ed.2d 342 (1986).


Because, however, the discovery by the West Hartford police of the gun that the defendant seeks to have suppressed flowed from the investigation, stake out and warrantless seizure of his automobile in Hartford, 11 we must address the validity of those activities. The defendant contends that the extraterritorial conduct of the West Hartford police violated three provisions of the state constitution. We will address these three arguments seriatim.

First, the defendant contends that the home rule provision of the state constitution, contained in article tenth, § 1, prohibits a municipality from exercising any authority that is not expressly permitted by statute. Specifically, the defendant asserts that, because the conduct of the West Hartford police in Hartford exceeded the legislature's delegation of municipal authority, that conduct also violated article tenth, § 1. The defendant relies on General Statutes §§ 7-148, 7-276, 7-277a, 7-281, 29-7, 29-169, 29-176 and 54-1f 12 as reflecting the relevant legislative limitations on municipal police officers' authority to engage in extraterritorial police activity. The defendant does not claim, however, that the alleged statutory violations themselves necessitate suppression of the gun. Rather, he relies solely on the alleged constitutional violations to support his claim that the trial court improperly denied his motion to suppress. We are not persuaded.

"Municipalities, because they are creations of the state, have no inherent legislative authority." Simons v. Canty, 195 Conn. 524, 529, 488 A.2d 1267 (1985). Rather, the legislative authority of municipalities derives solely from express legislative grants. Article tenth, § 1, of the Connecticut constitution embodies this rule: "The general assembly shall by general law delegate such legislative authority as from time to time it deems appropriate to towns, cities and boroughs relative to the powers, organization, and form of government of such political subdivisions." Thus, "the sole font of municipal authority is legislative delegation in the form of a general statute or a special act adopted prior to the effective date of article tenth." Id., at 530, 488 A.2d 1267; see City Council v. Hall, 180 Conn. 243, 248, 429 A.2d 481 (1980).

The home rule provision, however, limits only the legislative powers of municipalities. Although we may have broadly described the home rule provision in prior cases as...

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