State v. Revelo

Decision Date26 June 2001
Docket Number(SC 16226)
Citation256 Conn. 494,775 A.2d 260
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE OF CONNECTICUT v. HECTOR REVELO

McDonald, C. J., and Norcott, Palmer, Sullivan and Vertefeuille, Js.1 Alix C. Walmsley, assistant public defender, with whom, on the brief, was Pamela Nagy, assistant public defender, for the appellant (defendant).

Leon F. Dalbec, Jr., senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were John A. Connelly, state's attorney, and Cynthia Serafini, assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

Opinion

PALMER, J.

This appeal raises a question of first impression regarding the constitutional limits on judicial involvement in plea bargaining. The principal issue that we must decide is whether the due process rights of the defendant, Hector Revelo, were violated when the trial court: (1) offered to sentence the defendant to eight years imprisonment for the defendant's plea of guilty of General Statutes § 21a-2782 in connection with the defendant's sale of narcotics; (2) withdrew that offer upon learning that the defendant wished to exercise his right to a judicial determination of his then pending motion to suppress; (3) informed the defendant that he would receive a sentence of nine years imprisonment if he decided to plead guilty in the event that his motion to suppress was denied; and (4) imposed the nine year sentence following the defendant's conditional plea of nolo contendere, which the defendant had entered as a result of the denial of his motion to suppress. We conclude that the additional year of confinement that the trial court imposed on the defendant for exercising his right to a judicial determination of his motion to suppress violates the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment to the United States constitution.3

The following undisputed facts and procedural history are set forth in the opinion of the Appellate Court. "The defendant was charged in a four count information with two counts of selling illegal drugs in violation of § 21a-278 (a), one count of operating a drug factory in violation of General Statutes § 21a-277 (c)4 and one count of risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes [Rev. to 1997] § 53-21.5 [These charges stemmed from the execution of a search warrant at the defendant's home that resulted in the seizure of a substantial quantity of cocaine.] On June 17, 1997, the trial court announced that a plea offer of `eight years to serve in jail' had been made to the defendant, but that the defendant wanted a hearing on his motion to suppress [in which he alleged that the facts set forth in the warrant did not support a finding of probable cause]. The court stated further that if the defendant wanted to plead guilty after losing that motion, the sentence would be nine years instead of eight years.6 The defendant responded that he understood.

"Two weeks after the denial of his motion to suppress,7 the defendant accepted an offer of a plea bargain for a definite sentence of nine years imprisonment on the charge of sale of illegal drugs, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress pursuant to [General Statutes] § 54-94a.8 The state agreed to nolle the three remaining charges. After canvassing the defendant about his understanding of the consequences of a nolo contendere plea [including his right to seek appellate review of the denial of his motion to suppress] and informing him that a sentence of nine years imprisonment would be imposed under the plea agreement, the trial court accepted the plea on the charge of selling illegal drugs.9 At the conclusion of the proceeding, the court imposed a sentence of nine years [imprisonment]."10State v. Revelo, 55 Conn. App. 217, 222-23, 740 A.2d 390 (1999).

On appeal to the Appellate Court, the defendant claimed that the affidavit in support of the search warrant for his apartment did not contain facts sufficient to permit a finding of probable cause to justify the search. Id., 219. The defendant also claimed that the trial court's imposition of the nine year sentence violated his right to due process because the court imposed that sentence, instead of the eight year sentence that he originally had been offered, solely because he had chosen to exercise his constitutional and statutory rights to a judicial determination of his motion to suppress. Id., 223. The Appellate Court rejected the defendant's contention regarding the affidavit in support of the search warrant.11 Id., 222. The Appellate Court also concluded that the defendant was not entitled to review of his due process claim because § 54-94a expressly provides that the issue to be considered in an appeal brought under that section shall be limited to the propriety of the court's denial of the defendant's motion to suppress or motion to dismiss.12 Id., 224-25, 226; see General Statutes § 54-94a. In declining to review the defendant's due process claim, the Appellate Court reasoned that because the defendant had accepted the terms of the court's plea offer "knowingly and freely"; State v. Revelo, supra, 55 Conn. App. 225; that offer contained "no element of punishment or retaliation." Id.

Judge Shea dissented from the majority opinion of the Appellate Court panel with respect to the disposition of the defendant's due process claim.13 Id., 226 (Shea, J., dissenting). Judge Shea concluded that the Appellate Court had jurisdiction to review the defendant's due process claim and that appellate review of that claim was warranted.14 See id., 229, 232 (Shea, J., dissenting). Judge Shea also concluded "that the additional year of confinement imposed on the defendant as a penalty for exercising his lawful right to pursue his motion to suppress is contrary to due process of law and, therefore, invalid." Id., 226 (Shea, J., dissenting).

We granted the defendant's petition for certification to appeal limited to the issue of whether the Appellate Court improperly declined to review the defendant's due process challenge to the trial court's imposition of the nine year sentence and, if so, whether, in the particular circumstances of this case, that sentence constituted an impermissible penalty on the defendant's exercise of his right to a judicial determination of his motion to suppress.15 See State v. Revelo, 252 Conn. 903, 903-904, 743 A.2d 617 (1999). We are persuaded that the defendant's due process claim merits appellate review and, furthermore, that the plea agreement and resulting imposition of the nine year sentence in this case does not satisfy the requirements of due process.16

I

The defendant first contends that appellate review of his due process claim is warranted even though that claim gives rise to an issue that does not fall within the ambit of § 54-94a. We agree.

The state concedes that this court has subject matter jurisdiction to entertain the defendant's due process claim even though that claim falls outside the purview of § 54-94a. See footnote 14 of this opinion. In light of that concession, the state also acknowledges that we have discretion to consider the defendant's due process claim under our inherent supervisory authority over the administration of justice.17 The state contends, however, that we should decline to exercise discretionary review of the defendant's due process claim because the defendant effectively had waived that claim when he acknowledged, at his plea canvass, that the sole issue he could raise on appeal was the propriety of the denial of his motion to suppress.18 In further support of its claim, the state emphasizes that this court has been reluctant to invoke its authority to review an issue raised in connection with a conditional plea of nolo contendere when, as in this case, that issue does not fall within the narrow scope of § 54-94a.19

We agree with the thrust of the state's argument that, in the absence of a showing of good cause, an appellate court should decline to review an issue that has not been raised in accordance with the provisions of § 54-94a. We also recognize that such good cause is likely to be established only infrequently. For several reasons, however, we are persuaded that this case presents one of the rare exceptions to the general rule of unreviewability. First, the defendant's due process claim gives rise to an important issue, namely, the proper role of our trial judges in the plea bargaining process, the significance of which transcends this particular case.20 Second, the undisputed facts of this case bear out the defendant's claim of a constitutional violation. Finally, in explaining its decision not to review the issue, the Appellate Court indicated in dictum that the practice challenged by the defendant is permissible.21State v. Revelo, supra, 55 Conn. App. 225-26. In light of our contrary determination, we are unwilling to allow that dictum to stand lest it be construed by our trial judges as approval of a practice that violates principles of due process. Thus, although the defendant's constitutional claim falls outside the scope of § 54-94a, the defendant has met his heavy burden of establishing that appellate review of his claim nevertheless is warranted.22

II

We next address the defendant's contention that, in the particular circumstances of this case, the trial court's role in the plea bargaining process violated his constitutional right to due process. We agree with the defendant's claim.

We begin our analysis of the defendant's claim by reaffirming our recognition of the critical role that pretrial negotiations play in the criminal justice system. See, e.g., Statewide Grievance Committee v. Whitney, 227 Conn. 829, 842, 633 A.2d 296 (1993). "Whatever might be the situation in an ideal world, the fact is that the guilty plea and the often concomitant plea bargain are important components of [the] criminal justice system." Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 71, 97 S. Ct. 1621, 52...

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    ...v. Jones, 281 Conn. 613, 618 n. 5, 916 A.2d 17, cert. denied, 552 U.S. 868, 128 S.Ct. 164, 169 L.Ed.2d 112 (2007). In State v. Revelo, 256 Conn. 494, 504, 775 A.2d 260, cert. denied, 534 U.S. 1052, 122 S.Ct. 639, 151 L.Ed.2d 558 (2001), our Supreme Court held that supervisory review is some......
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