State v. Spears, No. 15117

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtCALLAHAN
Citation662 A.2d 80,234 Conn. 78
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Lake SPEARS.
Decision Date04 July 1995
Docket NumberNo. 15117

Page 80

662 A.2d 80
234 Conn. 78
STATE of Connecticut
v.
Lake SPEARS.
No. 15117.
Supreme Court of Connecticut.
Argued April 21, 1995.
Decided July 4, 1995.

Page 81

[234 Conn. 80] C. Robert Satti, Sr., Sp. Asst. State's Atty., with whom were Sarah E. Steere, Legal Intern, and, on the brief, Kevin T. Kane, State's Atty., for appellant (state).

Richard D. Haviland, New London, for appellee (defendant).

Christopher F. Droney, U.S. Atty., and Carl J. Schuman, Asst. U.S. Atty., filed a brief for the United States of America as amicus curiae.

Richard Blumenthal, Atty. Gen., and Susan Quinn Cobb, Asst. Atty. Gen., filed a brief for the Atty. Gen. as amicus curiae.

Jackson T. King, Jr., Patrice H. Kunesh and Henry J. Sockbeson filed a brief for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe as amicus curiae.

Before CALLAHAN, BORDEN, BERDON, NORCOTT and KATZ, JJ.

CALLAHAN, Justice.

The sole issue in this certified appeal is whether the state of Connecticut has jurisdiction, pursuant to § 1755 of title 25 of the United States Code, over crimes committed on the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Reservation (reservation) in Ledyard. On November 29, 1991, the defendant, Lake Spears, was arrested by a Connecticut state trooper who had responded to an anonymous telephone call alerting the police to a disturbance at the defendant's residence. The defendant resided at 8 Elizabeth George Drive, on the reservation. Subsequent to his arrest, the defendant was charged in an information in the Superior Court with two counts of assault of an officer in violation of General Statutes § 53a-167c, and one count each of inciting

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injury to persons or property in violation of General Statutes § 53a-179a, disorderly conduct in violation of General Statutes § 53a-182 and interfering with an officer in violation of General Statutes § 53a-167a.

[234 Conn. 81] On October 13, 1992, the defendant moved to dismiss the information, claiming that the state lacked jurisdiction over crimes committed by or against Indians on the reservation. 1 The parties agreed that the Mashantucket Pequot Indian tribe (tribe) is a federally recognized tribe that owns and occupies the reservation encompassing approximately 1800 acres in Ledyard. The defendant is a member of the Narrangansett Indian tribe, not the Mashantucket Pequot Indian tribe. 2

The trial court denied the motion to dismiss, concluding that the Connecticut Indian Land Claims Settlement Act of 1983 (Settlement Act); 25 U.S.C. §§ 1751 through 1760; conferred criminal jurisdiction over the reservation to the state. Thereafter, the defendant entered pleas of nolo contendere to all counts of a substituted information that charged him, in three counts, with: (1) interfering with an officer in violation of § 53a-167a; (2) assault in the third degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-61; and (3) disorderly conduct in violation of § 53a-182. The defendant conditioned the entry of his pleas on his right to appeal from the court's denial of his motion to dismiss. See General Statutes § 54-94a; Practice Book § 4003. 3 The trial court rendered a judgment of conviction on all three counts.

[234 Conn. 82] Thereafter, the defendant appealed to the Appellate Court from the judgment of conviction, challenging the trial court's denial of his

Page 83

motion to dismiss. The Appellate Court reversed the judgment of conviction, concluding that the Settlement Act did not confer criminal jurisdiction over the reservation to the state in the [234 Conn. 83] absence of the express consent of the tribe. State v. Spears, 36 Conn.App. 106, 122-23, 647 A.2d 1054 (1994). The Appellate Court, accordingly, remanded the case to the trial court with direction to grant the defendant's motion to dismiss. We granted the state's petition for certification limited to the following issue: "Under the circumstances of this case, did the Appellate Court properly conclude that the state of Connecticut does not have jurisdiction over crimes allegedly committed by the defendant on the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Reservation in Ledyard?" State v. Spears, 231 Conn. 936, 650 A.2d 173 (1994). We reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court.

On appeal, the state claims that, although the Settlement Act granted federal recognition to the tribe, it also granted jurisdiction over crimes committed on the reservation to the state. See 25 U.S.C. §§ 1758(a) and 1755. The state contends that § 1755 constituted an express grant by Congress of criminal jurisdiction over the reservation to the state, and that jurisdiction was vested in the state upon the passage of the Settlement Act, without requiring any further consent by the tribe. We agree.

The tribe is "the sole successor in interest to the aboriginal entity known as the Western Pequot Tribe which years ago claimed aboriginal title to certain lands in the State of Connecticut." 25 U.S.C. § 1751(e). In 1976, the tribe brought a civil action claiming title to certain public and private lands in Ledyard, claiming that the lands were the property of the tribe and had been appropriated wrongfully from the tribe in violation of the constitution and laws of the United States. Mashantucket Pequot Tribe v. McGuigan, 626 F.Supp. 245, 246 (D.Conn.1986). The Settlement Act reflects an agreement reached by the parties to the litigation to resolve the tribe's claims and to eliminate the cloud on titles to land in Ledyard resulting from those claims. [234 Conn. 84] 25 U.S.C. § 1751; Mashantucket Pequot Tribe v. McGuigan, supra, at 246. The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council was represented in the action as well as in the hearings before Congress, and manifested its consent to the terms of the Settlement Act. 25 U.S.C. § 1751(e).

Section 6 of the Settlement Act, which is codified at 25 U.S.C. § 1755, provides: "STATE JURISDICTION OVER RESERVATION. Notwithstanding the provision relating to a special election in section 406 of the Act of April 11, 1968 (82 Stat. 80; 25 U.S.C. 1326) ... the reservation of the Tribe is declared to be Indian country subject to State jurisdiction to the maximum extent provided in title IV of such Act [25 U.S.C. § 1321]." The issue of whether § 6 of the Settlement Act conferred criminal jurisdiction to the state without requiring further consent of the tribe is one of first impression. 4

At the outset, we note that criminal offenses committed by or against Indians in "Indian country" 5 [234 Conn. 85] ordinarily "have been subject only to federal or tribal laws, Moe v. Salish & Kootenai Tribes, 425 U.S. 463, 96 S.Ct. 1634, 48 L.Ed.2d 96 [1976], except

Page 84

where Congress in the exercise of its plenary and exclusive power over Indian affairs has 'expressly provided that State laws shall apply.' McClanahan v. Arizona State Tax Commission, 411 U.S. 164, 170-71, 93 S.Ct. 1257, 1261, 36 L.Ed.2d 129 [1973]." Washington v. Yakima Indian Nation, 439 U.S. 463, 470-71, 99 S.Ct. 740, 746, 58 L.Ed.2d 740 (1979); see Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. (6 Pet.) 515, 8 L.Ed. 483 (1832). 6 We also recognize that "ambiguities in legislation affecting retained tribal sovereignty are to be construed in favor of the [tribe]." Washington v. Yakima Indian Nation, supra, 439 U.S. at 484, 99 S.Ct. at 753; see also Bryan v. Itasca County, 426 U.S. 373, 392, 96 S.Ct. 2102, 2112-13, 48 L.Ed.2d 710 (1976) (" 'statutes passed for the benefit of dependent Indian tribes ... are to be liberally construed, doubtful expressions being resolved in favor of the Indians' "). We, however, must effectuate the expressed Congressional intent. See Negonsott v. Samuels, 507 U.S. 99, ----, 113 S.Ct. 1119, 1122, 122 L.Ed.2d 457 (1993) (" '[o]ur task is to give effect to the will of Congress' "); Gonsalves v. West [234 Conn. 86] Haven, 232 Conn. 17, 21, 653 A.2d 156 (1995) (" ' "[o]ur fundamental objective is to ascertain and give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature" ' ").

Our analysis of the statutes reflecting that legislative intent is guided by well established principles of statutory construction. "Statutory construction is a question of law and therefore our review is plenary. North Haven v. Planning & Zoning Commission, 220 Conn. 556, 561, 600 A.2d 1004 (1991)." Davis v. Norwich, 232 Conn. 311, 317, 654 A.2d 1221 (1995). Ordinarily, if the language of a statute is plain and unambiguous, we need look no further than the words themselves because we assume that the language expresses the legislature's intent. United States v. Albertini, 472 U.S. 675, 680, 105 S.Ct. 2897, 2902, 86 L.Ed.2d 536 (1985); Frillici v. Westport, 231 Conn. 418, 430, 650 A.2d 557 (1994); West Hartford Interfaith Coalition, Inc. v. Town Council, 228 Conn. 498, 508, 636 A.2d 1342 (1994); American Universal Ins. Co. v. DelGreco, 205 Conn. 178, 193, 530 A.2d 171 (1987). As a threshold matter, therefore, we consider whether § 1755 is ambiguous. Although § 1755 explicitly states that "the reservation of the Tribe is declared to be Indian country subject to State jurisdiction," it also compels us to refer to § 401 (25 U.S.C. § 1321) and to § 406 (25 U.S.C. § 1326) of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 in order to ascertain the parameters and the true meaning of the jurisdictional grant. We conclude, therefore, that the reference in § 1755 to certain provisions of the separate Indian Civil Rights Act renders resort solely to the language of § 1755 inadequate to determine its clear meaning.

When we engage in statutory interpretation, "[o]ur fundamental objective is to ascertain and give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature.... Fleming v. Garnett, 231 Conn. 77, 91-92, 646 A.2d 1308 (1994); State v. Metz, 230 Conn. 400, 409, 645 A.2d 965[234 Conn. 87] (1994); see also Carpenteri-Waddington, Inc. v. Commissioner of Revenue Services, 231 Conn. 355, 362, 650 A.2d 147 (1994)." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Gonsalves v. West Haven, supra, 232 Conn. at 21, 653 A.2d 156; see Negonsott v. Samuels, supra, 507 U.S. at ---- - ----, 113...

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58 practice notes
  • Castagno v. Wholean, No. 15409
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • November 26, 1996
    ...Council 4, Local 184, 237 Conn. 114, 120, 676 A.2d 825 (1996); State v. Burns, 236 Conn. 18, 22-23, 670 A.2d 851 (1996); State v. Spears, 234 Conn. 78, 86-87, 662 A.2d 80, cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 116 S.Ct. 565, 133 L.Ed.2d 490 (1995)." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Conway v. Wilt......
  • State v. Ledbetter, Nos. 13306
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • May 21, 1996
    ...give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature.' " State v. Burns, 236 Conn. 18, 22, 670 A.2d 851 (1996), quoting State v. Spears, 234 Conn. 78, 86-87, 662 A.2d 80 (1995). " 'It is axiomatic that, where the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, construction of the statute by r......
  • Weidenbacher v. Duclos, No. 14942
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • July 4, 1995
    ...is now dissolved. 26 This evidence is more than sufficient Page 1001 to confer standing on the petitioner to pursue his habeas claim. 27 [234 Conn. 78] We emphasize that we do not take any position with respect to the fitness of the petitioner to gain custody of, or to obtain visitation wit......
  • Gipson v. Commissioner of Correction, (AC 17745)
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • August 10, 1999
    ...governing the same general subject matter." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. 54 Conn. App. 423 Spears, 234 Conn. 78, 86-87, 662 A.2d 80, cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1009, 116 S. Ct. 565, 133 L. Ed. 2d 490 (1995). "We have long followed the guideline that [t]he inte......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
58 cases
  • Castagno v. Wholean, No. 15409
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • November 26, 1996
    ...Council 4, Local 184, 237 Conn. 114, 120, 676 A.2d 825 (1996); State v. Burns, 236 Conn. 18, 22-23, 670 A.2d 851 (1996); State v. Spears, 234 Conn. 78, 86-87, 662 A.2d 80, cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 116 S.Ct. 565, 133 L.Ed.2d 490 (1995)." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Conway v. Wilt......
  • State v. Ledbetter, Nos. 13306
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • May 21, 1996
    ...give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature.' " State v. Burns, 236 Conn. 18, 22, 670 A.2d 851 (1996), quoting State v. Spears, 234 Conn. 78, 86-87, 662 A.2d 80 (1995). " 'It is axiomatic that, where the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, construction of the statute by r......
  • Weidenbacher v. Duclos, No. 14942
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • July 4, 1995
    ...is now dissolved. 26 This evidence is more than sufficient Page 1001 to confer standing on the petitioner to pursue his habeas claim. 27 [234 Conn. 78] We emphasize that we do not take any position with respect to the fitness of the petitioner to gain custody of, or to obtain visitation wit......
  • Gipson v. Commissioner of Correction, (AC 17745)
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • August 10, 1999
    ...governing the same general subject matter." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. 54 Conn. App. 423 Spears, 234 Conn. 78, 86-87, 662 A.2d 80, cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1009, 116 S. Ct. 565, 133 L. Ed. 2d 490 (1995). "We have long followed the guideline that [t]he inte......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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