State v. Winot, 17696.

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation988 A.2d 188,294 Conn. 753
Docket NumberNo. 17696.,17696.
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Gregory B. WINOT.
Decision Date16 February 2010

Marjorie Allen Dauster, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, James E. Thomas, former state's attorney, and Vicki Melchiorre and Donna Mambrino, senior assistant state's attorneys, for the appellant (state).

Jon L. Schoenhorn, Hartford, for the appellee (defendant).



In this certified appeal,1 the state appeals from the judgment of the Appellate Court reversing the conviction of the defendant, Gregory B. Winot, following a jury trial, of kidnapping in the second degree2 in violation of General Statutes § 53a-94(a).3 See State v. Winot, 95 Conn.App. 332, 362, 897 A.2d 115 (2006). We agree with the state that the Appellate Court improperly concluded that § 53a-94(a) was unconstitutionally vague as applied to the defendant's conduct. Id., at 343, 897 A.2d 115. Moreover, we disagree with the defendant that we should affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court on the alternative ground that it improperly concluded that the trial court's exclusion of certain evidence was proper. Accordingly, we reverse in part the judgment of the Appellate Court.

The Appellate Court summarized the relevant facts, which the jury reasonably could have found, as follows: "On the evening of July 19, 2002, at approximately 6 p.m., the twelve year old female victim was walking alone on Spruce Street in Manchester when she noticed a green car moving slowly along the opposite side of the street. The defendant, the driver of the car, stopped the car in the middle of the road and lowered the driver's side window. He pointed his finger at the victim and yelled, `I'm going to get you. You're getting in my car.' He then got out of the car and walked across Spruce Street toward the victim with his arms stretched in front of him as if he was going to give the victim a bear hug. When he was approximately six feet from the victim, she ran away toward her house on Bissell Street. It took her only a matter of seconds to reach her house, where she told her mother what had transpired. The incident was not reported to the police.

"Four days later, on July 23, 2002, at approximately 5 p.m., the victim was again walking home on Spruce Street when she noticed the same green car and driver. The defendant stopped the vehicle and rolled down the window. This time, without saying anything to the victim, he left the car and began walking toward her. She began to walk faster, but the defendant forcibly took her right arm. When she asked him to let go, he refused, yelling, `[n]o, it's too wet out here; you're getting in my car today.' He tried to pull her toward his car, but she resisted, pulling back in the opposite direction. To get him to release her, the victim then leaned over to bite the defendant, at which point he quickly let go and rushed back to his car. In doing so, the defendant was almost hit by a maroon car. Upon being released, the victim ran home and told her mother what had transpired. The entire incident lasted only a few seconds.

"The victim's mother called the police, and the victim gave a signed statement regarding the incidents, which took place on July 19 and 23, 2002. The victim also provided the police with a license plate number.

"The police traced the license plate number to the defendant. Upon arriving at his residence that same day, the police observed a turquoise Ford Thunderbird with plates matching the number provided by the victim. Officer David Evans of the Manchester police department asked the defendant whether he had been on Spruce Street around 5 p.m. Although the defendant admitted that he had driven through that area on his way home from work, he initially denied having spoken to anyone. Subsequently, however, he admitted to Sergeant Jeffrey Lampson that he had offered a young woman a ride. The police brought the victim to the defendant's house, where she positively identified him as the man who had approached her on both occasions. The defendant was then arrested, handcuffed and placed in a police cruiser. Thereafter, Officer Evans obtained the defendant's permission to search his car. The subsequent search revealed a rope noose and various debris in the trunk. Only the noose was seized. At the police station, the defendant admitted that on his way home from work, he had offered a young girl a ride home because it was raining, but denied any wrongdoing.

"In a three count substitute information, the state charged the defendant with attempt to commit kidnapping in the second degree in violation of [General Statutes] §§ 53a-94(a) and 53a-49(a)(2), kidnapping in the second degree in violation of § 53a-94(a) and risk of injury to a child in violation of [General Statutes] § 53-21(a)(1). After the jury found the defendant guilty on all three counts, the trial court denied the defendant's motions for a new trial and for a judgment of acquittal. The court sentenced the defendant to eight years imprisonment followed by ten years of special parole." State v. Winot, supra, 95 Conn.App. at 335-37, 897 A.2d 115.

The defendant's appeal from his conviction to the Appellate Court followed. There, he argued, inter alia, that § 53a-94(a), proscribing the offense of kidnapping in the second degree, was unconstitutionally vague as applied to his conduct on July 23, 2002. Specifically, he argued that, in light of the brevity of his encounter with the victim and the minimal amount of restraint he employed, the statute failed to give him fair notice that his conduct was prohibited.4 Id., at 338, 341, 897 A.2d 115. The Appellate Court agreed with the defendant, concluding that his movement or confinement of the victim was "`miniscule,'" and, therefore, that the resulting kidnapping conviction was "absurd and unconscionable. ..." Id., at 343, 897 A.2d 115. Moreover, according to the Appellate Court, to uphold the defendant's conviction "would risk the encouragement of arbitrary and discretionary enforcement of [§ 53a-94(a)] by overzealous prosecutors." Id. This certified appeal followed.


The state contends on appeal that the Appellate Court improperly reversed the defendant's conviction of kidnapping in the second degree because the statute proscribing that crime is not unconstitutionally vague as applied to his conduct on July 23, 2002. We agree.

We begin with the applicable standard of review and general governing principles.5 The determination of whether a statutory provision is unconstitutionally vague is a question of law over which we exercise de novo review. State v. Knybel, 281 Conn. 707, 713, 916 A.2d 816 (2007). In undertaking such review, we are mindful that "[a] statute is not void for vagueness unless it clearly and unequivocally is unconstitutional, making every presumption in favor of its validity.... To demonstrate that [a statute] is unconstitutionally vague as applied to him, the [defendant] therefore must ... demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that [he] had inadequate notice of what was prohibited or that [he was] the victim of arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.... [T]he void for vagueness doctrine embodies two central precepts: the right to fair warning of the effect of a governing statute ... and the guarantee against standardless law enforcement. ... If the meaning of a statute can be fairly ascertained a statute will not be void for vagueness since [m]any statutes will have some inherent vagueness, for [i]n most English words and phrases there lurk uncertainties.... References to judicial opinions involving the statute, the common law, legal dictionaries, or treatises may be necessary to ascertain a statute's meaning to determine if it gives fair warning." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Rocque v. Farricielli, 269 Conn. 187, 204, 848 A.2d 1206 (2004).

"The United States Supreme Court has set forth standards for evaluating vagueness. First, because we assume that man is free to steer between lawful and unlawful conduct, we insist that laws give the person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited, so that he may act accordingly. Vague laws may trap the innocent by not providing fair warning.... [A] law forbidding or requiring conduct in terms so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application violates due process of law....

"Second, if arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement is to be prevented, laws must provide explicit standards for those who apply them. A vague law impermissibly delegates basic policy matters to policemen, judges, and juries for resolution on an ad hoc and subjective basis, with the attendant dangers of arbitrary and discriminatory applications.... Therefore, a legislature [must] establish minimal guidelines to govern law enforcement." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Gonzalez v. Surgeon, 284 Conn. 573, 584, 937 A.2d 24 (2007).

Tempering the foregoing considerations is the acknowledgment that many statutes proscribing criminal offenses necessarily cannot be drafted with the utmost precision and still effectively reach the targeted behaviors. Consistent with that acknowledgment, the United States Supreme Court has explained: "The root of the vagueness doctrine is a rough idea of fairness. It is not a principle designed to convert into a constitutional dilemma the practical difficulties in drawing criminal statutes both general enough to take into account a variety of human conduct and sufficiently specific to provide fair warning that certain kinds of conduct are prohibited." Colten v. Kentucky, 407 U.S. 104, 110, 92 S.Ct. 1953, 32 L.Ed.2d 584 (1972); see also Sweetman v. State Elections Enforcement Commission, 249 Conn. 296, 322, 732 A.2d 144 (1999) ("Because...

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