A tremendous post from the exciting new kid on the PD block, PD Revolution, about refusing excessive caseloads and fighting back against a judge who forces you to trial when you’re not ready.
I don’t have time for a pithy title, so pardon me. I just wanted to add a few more thoughts to my post from last night on Norm Pattis’ call for the elimination of ISVD (by the way, Norm responds to my post here).
Here are a few things that still bother me, and this is perhaps at the root of it all. I have yet to see a reason for abandoning individual voir dire in favor of group voir dire other than “ISVD is time consuming and a waste of money”. Fine, reasonable and some not-so-reasonable minds can disagree on that (although I will note that I have seen references in studies to others that have concluded that the statement is not true; I just haven’t been able to locate such studies yet).
What bothers me about this, especially coming from a defense attorney, is this: it is not my job and not my function to point out ways to “speed up” the system. Clamoring that it needs to be done only furthers the perception that some percentage of the public has about the cumbersome (hah) nature of the criminal justice system. Those of us who practice in the criminal courts in Connecticut: prosecutors, judges, defense lawyers, even Norm, know that for the most part, that is simply not the case.
A year is really not a long time for a serious felony case to go to trial. And so to propose a change that may very well inure to the defendant’s detriment seems unseemly coming from a defense lawyer.
Perhaps we have all been at this too long; perhaps we are all jaded. Perhaps we begin to view trials from the lens of our own lives: “I’m on trial for the next month so I have to postpone my vacation”, or “I can’t start trial here, judge, because I’ll be stuck in Tolland for the next two months”.
But for those of us who are the only voice these defendants have against the might of the state to stand up and say, yes, the process that the State employs to accuse, try and convict my client is long and cumbersome is just plain ugly. If the State has chosen to prosecute my client, the cost of that prosecution is not my concern. Let the State pay as much as it takes to meet their burden. And if that involves selection of jurors one by one, then so be it.
If the State legislature, in its wisdom, chooses to abolish ISVD because of cost, then let it be so. I will go along, as I will have to. But I will not be complicit in its abolition for the reason of money.
Let us not forget that while these may be a few weeks out of our time that we feel may be better spent elsewhere, for most clients this is a once in a lifetime event, on the outcome of which hinges their very freedom and liberty. I am incapable of stating to my client, incarcerated awaiting trial, that we won’t be able to question jurors individually to determine if they harbor any biases that would make them unsuitable to judge his actions (or lack thereof) because it takes too long and costs too much. That is not, and cannot be, my function.
Norm says that I am wedded to the idea of ISVD because I have known no other. That I have no experience in Federal Court. I will neither confirm nor deny that, just because I don’t want to. But to reject my argument against group voir dire on the basis on one man’s personal experience in ISVD and group voir dire simply smacks of the pot calling the kettle black.
The framers of Connecticut’s Constitution saw it fit to make the right to question jurors individually inviolate. Perhaps that is because they recognized that the workings of the criminal justice system should not be constrained by questions of cost or time. After all, what is a few weeks when the potential penalties are decades of imprisonment.
No matter how many times you say it, or how many times you reference my mother, you will not change my opinion that individual voir dire, by its nature, can be a more effective tool of jury selection than group voir dire.
Give me a reason to change my mind. But make sure the reason isn’t that it’s too costly or time-consuming. As a criminal defense lawyer, I don’t care and neither should you.
Consider my gears ground. I’ve been resisting jumping in to counter the incessant stream of anti-individual voir dire noise emanating from Norm Pattis over the past month or so. I first saw a post on his blog, which was then reproduced in his column in the Connecticut Law Tribune and finally copied and pasted into this opinion piece in the Courant yesterday.
Norm, for some reason, has been crusading against the “cumbersome” and “wasteful” process of individual voir dire that we employ here in CT. What happens, simply, is this: a jury panel is brought into a courtroom, is read some preliminary instructions by a judge and then members are asked to identify if they have any hardships or other reasons why they cannot serve on a jury. Those who do not identify any such impediments are temporarily asked to retire to a room, while those that raised their hands and quickly individually questioned to determine the reason for their inability to serve. A large percentage of these people are quickly dispensed with and then people are brought out individually from the “able to serve” pool to be questioned to determine their suitability for serving on the particular case.
The length of individual voir dire varies greatly: a simple misdemeanor or less-serious felony jury can picked within a day. Murder juries can take over a week or so. Capital juries naturally take longer.
I have long argued that individual voir dire is preferable to group voir dire. Human nature is such that we are more likely to be honest in our beliefs when we are not being compared to those “similarly situated” to us. Besides, really the only purpose for group voir dire is to indoctrinate jurors and educate the jury, a point which Norm claims is one of the abuses of individual voir dire.
But there are several other problems with his position. He starts with this paragraph:
In every other jurisdiction nationally, juries are selected in a group voir dire. Questions are put to potential panelists to see whether they can be fair and impartial in the case for which they may be selected. The group method permits folks to sit with their peers to answer questions about bias or prejudice. A jury can be picked by this method, even in a case of some complexity, in a matter of hours.
That’s just patently false.
- Alabama (discretionary)
- Colorado (not required but routinely done)
- Kentucky (statutorily required in capital cases)
- New Mexico
- Pennsylvania (required in capital cases; individual, sequestered in discretionary in non-dp cases)
- South Carolina
- Texas (statutorily required in capital cases)
That’s 23 jurisdictions besides Connecticut. Almost half the States. Not none. In addition, the results of an informal survey I conducted on Twitter a few weeks ago revealed that more than just CT permit ISVD in non-capital cases.
Norm uses the currently underway Steven Hayes trial in the infamous “Cheshire” case to illustrate his point that ISVD is wasteful, long and useless:
After nine days of jury selection in the Hayes case, four jurors were picked. (Selection of jurors was suspended following an apparent suicide attempt by Hayes.) It is entirely possible that jury selection will proceed at this pace or slower until a panel of 12, plus alternates, is seated. The trial expected to begin in September. Is it necessary to spend months picking a jury?
There’s a bit of disingenuous cherry-picking going on here. Anyone who’s been following Helen Ubinas’ tweets can attest to that. First, let us consider the fact that four jurors were picked. That’s four questioned. Add to that the number of challenges exercised by both sides (10, by my count). So that’s only 14 jurors who could have been seated as jurors over 9 days. The reason that using the Cheshire case an example is a terrible idea is that the case is so polarizing. Only a very small percentage of the panels of 40ish brought in every couple of days was even eligible to be questioned: the rest were excused either for hardship due to the length of the trial and the economy or were simply unwilling to serve due to the nature of the case. So to claim that only 4 jurors were picked after 9 days of jury selection is misleading. In fact, by any honest standard, jury selection in the Cheshire case is chugging along at a fast clip.
Let us not forget that the Connecticut Constitution provides for individual voir dire.
The basis of any argument against ISVD seems to be that it is time consuming and it is costly. Time consuming I will admit, but do we really want to trust juries picked in 30 minutes? And as for cost, voir dire is the least of the money drains. The death penalty itself is a big vacuum that sucks in bundles of money. Better ways to save money would be to trim the fat out of the penal code, get prosecutors to stop overcharging, reduce the lengths of confinement to what is truly needed to punish and rehabilitate and to divert money from the prison industrial complex and “truth in sentencing” to reducing crime. To point at ISVD as one source of wasteful expenditure is rather silly.
Group voir dire is not a panacea. Its problems are well documented. And I shudder all the more when I read articles like this, teaching lawyers how to “make the best of limited voir dire”.You are left to the mercy of judges and juror questionnaires. You are left to the mercy of people willing to admit biases in front of others. You are left to the mercy of people being honest about their opinions and not altering them on-the-fly on the basis of others’ responses.
The point of voir dire, it would seem, is to find jurors who can be fair and impartial, who harbor no hidden biases against certain principles or, heck, your client. I’m not willing to trust that brief questioning in a sea of 40 others will be probative enough to weed out those that are unfit for service.
It boggles the mind that someone who takes the very liberty of another individual into his own hands would be willing to place his faith in a group of individuals, randomly selected within a matter of hours.
Look, there are many people who hold his view. They are all entitled to it. But I’m certainly very curious as to why Norm is choosing this particular moment to launch this one-man assault on the individual voir dire system here in CT.
But instead of taking a good, albeit time consuming, right and turning it into something that is not as desirable for the sole reason of cost, I have a suggestion: next time you’re on trial, just waive the right to individual voir dire. I’m sure the client will understand.
Imagine you’re sitting at counsel’s table, ready to start trial. The jury walks in and is seated in the jury box. The judge shuffles his papers, looks over at them and opens his mouth his start instructing the jury.
Suddenly, one of the jurors leans forward and says: “He’s brave enough to go out and get shot at by anyone but he couldn’t handle this?” Another juror pipes in: “I think severe emotional distress is what is happening in Haiti. I don’t think you could have such severe emotional distress from that”.
The case was a suit for emotional distress in the workplace, but that’s irrelevant. What’s relevant – and a little disconcerting – is the anger, resentment and frustration displayed by the jurors. This outward display of vehemence isn’t necessarily caused by the facts of the case; in fact, under other circumstances, they may have made appropriate jurors.
The troublesome matter here is that these jurors made it through voir dire and were selected – over their own objections. Both those jurors above attempted to be excused based on hardship.
Here’s how it works: a bunch of potential jurors are brought into a courtroom for voir dire. The judge explains the basics and gives them a time frame. Then the judge asks if anyone cannot serve for family or financial reasons. Those that have legitimate excuses or hardships are summarily excused.
The hardships are only getting worse in these tough economic times and courts are getting more reluctant (at least in some parts of the country) to excuse jurors. That jury duty is an important civic duty is unquestioned. Many people who are summoned want to serve, some because they recognize the need to do so. But no one wants to give up days of their lives if it is at the expense of their livelihood. The longer a trial, the smaller the jury pool.
Here, in CT, your employer is required to give you 5 days pay for jury duty. After that, you receive a stipend of $50 per day. Judging by the numbers quoted in the article above, that’s on the high side. In California, jurors get $15 a day. In Dallas, they used to get $6 before it was sensibly raised to $40. But even that’s a pittance.
Imagine forgoing your income for 7 days in exchange for $350? Not many can and want to do that. Yet, somehow, we have to fill our juries.
Lawyers will agree that the last thing one wants on a jury is a reluctant juror. I shudder inwardly every time a judge hesitates to excuse a juror who claims a hardship, no matter how weak or blatantly made up it is. If it’s not a real hardship, but the juror claims it anyway, it reveals a distinct lack of desire to serve. And if they’re forced to serve, they’ll make poor jurors. Forget fair and impartial. They’re pissed off they’re there and they’ll do something to get back at the system. I don’t want that to be at the expense of my client.
That these two jurors made it onto the jury is telling: the system, the economy, all of it is straining under the pressure of the financial downturn. Finding a suitable jury in a criminal case is difficult enough as it is, having 12 angry men is another burden we don’t need.
I understand that the jury pools are small to begin with and are only getting smaller, for a variety of reasons, but to seat reluctant jurors who might vote based on the facts of the case but also might vote their frustration doesn’t serve the interests of anyone.
On a cold day in January, 1963, 9 men sat atop a perch and listened, for hours, to three other men argue for and against the means to dispense equal justice for all citizens of these United States. A short two months later, in March, Gideon v. Wainwright was born, mandating that States were required to provide attorneys for those who could not afford them to assist with the defense of criminal accusations.
At the time of the decision, public defender systems and counsel for the indigent wasn’t a novel concept: almost 45 states already had either full-fledged public defender systems or court rules that provided for the appointment of counsel. Gideon just provided a Constitutional basis for the widespread notion that all defendants should have access to counsel, in spite of their financial abilities.
Of course, the application of Gideon has been uneven over the years. Some states have strong public defender systems and some provide counsel in a piecemeal, arbitrary and haphazard manner. Much has been written, and continues to be written, about the state of indigent defense.
Without adequate funding, the reality of Gideon‘s promise will fall far short of the ideal. Of course, public defenders aren’t the only players in the game: there is the private defense attorney, who existed long before Gideon provided a way for me to have a job. People with some income are free to hire such an attorney and will always continue to be so.
A new idea has been tossed around these parts (and by that I mean the blawgosphere) over the past few days: that perhaps the best way to ensure equal justice, and for defendants to stand on equal footing with the frightening power of the States, is to have a universal public defender system. “Lawyers for all” is the call, and at first blush it seems like a good idea.
State legislatures these days have criminalized all human actions but breathing. If they are so inclined, goes the argument, then they must also be forced to provide the resources to defend against the zealous overprosecutions. Why must the defendant be left to his own devices and his own resources, when the State has its entire treasury at its disposal? Even the footing, goes the argument, and more prosecutions will fall by the wayside. Perhaps, if they are forced to provide the same resources to both sides, the staggering costs along with the piling “losses” for the State will knock some sense into the “tough on crime” legislators and force a rethinking of the penal code.
It is a fine idea and one that I stand behind in principle. But I’m not entirely sure what “universal public defenders” actually means. Scott raises the concern that to conscript all criminal defense lawyers into this army would be to place the power of defense in the hands of the State, and the resources at their whim and fancy. 9 different men and women may one day decide that the 6th Amendment never did mean all defendants. And then what?
If the criminal defense bar becomes dependent on the government for its livelihood, we likewise become dependent on the government for our existence. One day, somebody gets it into their heads that they don’t like us anymore and, poof, we’re done. One bad Supreme Court decision and Gideon is toast. A vital private bar, beyond the reach of the government, must continue to exist if we’re going to be positioned to fight for the accused. If our children’s next meal depends on government largesse, we have sold our independence for good. We’re just another cog in the government wheel.
Put us on the government payroll and we work for the Man. Do we really want to serve the Man? Not me. I serve my client, no one else.
In response to Scott, Norm Pattis of the one-man-army-on-revolutionary-ideas further explains the concept of the UPD:
Having a unviersal public defender service does not mean conscripting all members of the bar and making them government employees. It means that all members of the bar can apply to be appointed off a list of qualified defenders. It also means that making your way onto that list, and remaining there, requires demonstrating minimal competence in the difficult work of defending the accused.
Not all lawyers will seek such appointment. Those who don’t want strings attached to what they do can compete for the private dollars swirling in the wake of the arrests of the affluent. But the middle class, those folks not indigent but without the means to hire a full defense team, won’t be facing the resources of the state armed only with the wits of the lawyer they could afford.
And so we come to the crux of it and thus to a tune that I have long trumpeted (GET IT!?). There are three classes of criminal defendants: the very poor, the rich and those in between. The first two we need not worry about: they will always have counsel and will always have the resources to fight their prosecutions. Indeed, the concept of the ‘UPD’ already does exist in some form. First, there is the public defender system for those who are “indigent”. For the overflow cases, i.e. the cases above and beyond that which the normal person can and should handle, there is the conflict attorney or special public defender (or your local variation thereon). This covers a very, very large percentage of the criminal docket. For example, here in CT, the latest statistics show that the public defender system will represent over 80% of the criminal defendants in the State.
We are fortunate enough to have vast resources at our disposal. I need an expert? I got an expert. I need to send my investigator to Florida to contact a witness? The investigator is on a plane/train/automobile. The same applies to our Special Public Defenders, although it may take slightly longer.
Then we have the really rich. They hire private counsel, have some sums of money at their disposal and can generally adequately fund their own defense. And what if they no longer have any money? Well, there’s a mechanism to provide the tools of their defense there too. Ake v. Oklahoma provides for the State to pay for the necessary tools to conduct a defense, if someone who wasn’t indigent at the time of the institution of the prosecution now becomes indigent. Mr. Rich Client has burned through the sums of money in his bank account and has already mortgaged his house and yet needs to hire the forensic expert? The State will pay for it.
Which brings us to the one category that would really benefit from some modification of the public defender system: the poor-by-everyone-elses-standards-but-not-poor-enough-to-get-a-pd.
This is the class of defendants who make a little too much to fall below the artificially low income threshold and don’t make nearly enough to realistically hire a lawyer and fund the tools of an adequate defense. It is these people that we need to be worried about. Several times have I expressed disgust at the indigency cutoff and the arbitrary enforcement of these “guidelines”. What might get you counsel in one court, county or state may not get you counsel in another. There needs to be an honest and serious rethinking of the guidelines.
[Second thought: this also raises the uncomfortable specter of the private attorney who charges very little to get this business and the attendant problems. Now, I’ve never had to quote a price for a case and I hope never to have to do that. I don’t know how all private lawyers operate, but it would seem that, given the glut of lawyers, there is a fair percentage that will take cases for the lowest possible fee and provide proportional representation. Do these lawyers know of Ake? Do they care? Does that defendant get equal justice? This, of course, is a very touchy issue with the private bar, just as the “overworked and underqualified” public defender is a touchy issue with me. But the reality is that there are attorneys on both sides of the money divide who are half-assing it for various reasons.]
Perhaps that is what is meant by a universal public defender system. Income eligibility should not be determined by gross income, but rather by disposable income. People should not be asked to make the difficult choices of paying for insurance, rent and utilities at the expense of hiring a lawyer. That is the unacceptable reality of the public defender system today.
Increase the guidelines, thus making more people eligible for public defenders. All but the very rich should have access to our services. And the very rich, if they were to ever run out of money, should also have the ability to have the State pay for their defense. And it has indeed happened: private counsel file motions seeking to be appointed as special public defenders once the client runs out of money and work still needs to be done.
I realize that I write this from a State of relative comfort. In CT, we get most of the funding we seek and we are rarely ever left wanting. I could not name a single case where I needed to do something for the defense and was unable to pay for it. Other states, I know, are far worse. But a universal public defender system without the funding is no different from what we have today.
And if there is greater funding, then the problems that currently exist no longer are a concern.
So the question, then, is: how do we get states to adequately fund the defense of criminal prosecutions? That requires a shift in thinking.
Much as been written and said about Boykin v. Alabama since Justice Douglas wrote the decision in 1969. At best, it is a necessary safeguard to ensure that guily pleas, the bulk of the resolutions in the criminal justice system, are made voluntarily. At worst, it is a prophylactic.
A defendant entering a guilty plea waives several fundamental constitutional rights. Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 243 (1969). “We therefore require the record affirmatively to disclose that the defendant’s choice was made intelligently and voluntarily.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Andrews, supra, 253 Conn. 503. To satisfy that requirement, a defendant must be fully aware of the direct consequences of his or her plea. See Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 755 (1970). Direct consequences are generally defined as consequences that are “definite, immediate and [that have] largely automatic effect[s] on the range of the defendant’s punishment.” Cuthrell v. Director, 475 F.2d 1364, 1366 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 414 U.S. 1005 (1973).
State v. Groppi. The Boykin canvas is limited to three Constitutional aspects: First, is the privilege against compulsory self-incrimination.. . [s]econd, is the right to trial by jury… [t]hird, is the right to confront one’s accusers.’ Boykin v. Alabama, [supra].
In fact, the Boykin canvass is now part of most state statutes or rules of court. Here, in CT, it is codified in Conn. Prac. Bk. S. 39-19, which provides:
The judicial authority shall not accept the plea without first addressing the defendant personally and determining that he or she fully understands:
- The nature of the charge to which the plea is offered;
- The mandatory minimum sentence, if any;
- The fact that the statute for the particular offense does not permit the sentence to be suspended;
- The maximum possible sentence on the charge, including, if there are several charges, the maximum sentence possible from consecutive sentences and including, when applicable, the fact that a different or additional punishment may be authorized by reason of a previous conviction; and
- The fact that he or she has the right to plead not guilty or to persist in that plea if it has already been made, and the fact that he or she has the right to be tried by a jury or a judge and that at that trial the defendant has the right to the assistance of counsel, the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses against him or her, and the right not to be compelled to incriminate himself or herself.
But even there, strict compliance is not required:
While the federal constitution requires that the record of the plea canvass indicate the voluntariness of any waiver of the three core constitutional rights delineated in Boykin, it does not require that the trial court go beyond these “constitutional minima.” United States v. Dayton, 604 F.2d 931, 935 n.2 (5th Cir. 1979) (en banc). A defendant can voluntarily and understandingly waive these rights without literal compliance with the prophylactic safeguards of Practice Book §§ 711 and 712. Therefore, although the Practice Book provisions were designed to reflect the principles embodied in Boykin; State v. Godek, 182 Conn. 353, 357 (1980), cert. denied, 450 U.S. 1031 (1981); Blue v. Robinson, 173 Conn. 360, 373 (1977); precise compliance with the provisions is not constitutionally required. Thus, our analysis will focus on whether the federal constitutional principles of Boykin were satisfied rather than on meticulous compliance with the provisions of the Practice Book.
State v. Badgett. But enough with the primer and onto my idle thought. Here, as part of the plea canvass, a judge will routinely ask defendants the following question: “Are you satisfied with your attorney’s representation of you?” This question, to me, is distinctly different from the practice book requirement that the defendant be aware that he is entitled to the effective assistance of counsel. The latter is directed at informing the defendant that if he proceeds to trial, he will have available an attorney to conduct the trial for him.
The question of satisfaction, on the other hand, seems to have no basis in any Constitutional requirement (at least none that I can see on this idle Friday afternoon).
You can imagine the gamut of responses to this question: A perfunctory “yes”; a begruding or resigned “yes”; a hesitant “yes”; some hemming and hawing followed by “yes” and the rare “no”.
Most defendants view this as asking whether they are satisfied with the outcome of the case, rather than the performance of the specific attorney (in fact, some judges will follow up with that clarifying statement, if they notice any hesitation in the defendant). Their thought process is obvious: “I’m not thrilled with this deal, so how can I be satisfied that my attorney did the best job?”
Which brings me to my question(s): What, exactly, is the point of this question? It certainly cannot be to prevent any future habeas corpus litigation alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. The administration of a Boykin canvass hardly precludes future arguments that the plea was not voluntary. I’ve seen prosecutors attempt to question habeas petitioners whether they answered the question in question in the affirmative, as if it were evidence of a lack of IAC. But they are not serious arguments and don’t hold much weight in the eyes of even the most pro-state judges.
Everyone realizes that most defendants are aware of the dance. They know the questions to be asked and they know the pat responses. Some are truly satisfied with the sentences they are receiving; most are resigned to them. After all, who wants to go to jail?
So, why then, do we ask this question at all? Is it habit? Is it really designed to truly determine if the plea is voluntary? If that is the case, there would be no need for the follow up clarification that judges tend to employ. Rather, we would see a judge exploring the basis for any hesitation on the part of the defendant. But that’s rare.
Now, I’m not saying that we need to do away with this question, or re-work the Boykin canvass (at least not in this post); I’m merely following a train of thought out loud, as is my wont.
Those of you in other states: do your judges ask this question? If so, any insight on why it is necessary?
It seems that the Supreme Court of the good state of Connecticut (SCOC, which you may pronounce S-Coc if you so please) is having fits. Specifically fits with our kidnapping statutes. Almost from the day they, in a moment of rare weakness, decided to bring some sanity back to the overbroad application of the statute, they’ve been backpedaling furiously, as if to atone for their one sin.
In that original decision, they decided – rightly in my opinion – that kidnapping is more than just mere restraint required for the commission of another felony. So if I held you down and forced you to read this post, I’d be guilty of torture, but not kidnapping.
Then they tinkered with the remedy, because how could one justify letting defendants go? Of course you can’t.
And now, this past week, comes the granddaddy of them all: State v. Winot (leave the why not? jokes for later, please).
This is a case that has been two years in the making. It was argued in January of 2008. Yes, that’s TWO-THOUSAND-EIGHT. And what perplexed them so? Judging by the decision, the vexing question was how to uphold this conviction with a straight face. 730 days later, I don’t think they’ve managed it.
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.
That’s less time than it took you to read that first sentence. He took her right arm, she pretended to bite him, he let go. A matter of seconds. Got that?
There’s no legal principle called “this conviction is stupid”, so we lawyers call it “the statute is unconstitutionally vague”. All that means is that the Average Joe would have no idea that his conduct was illegal, so the statute is unconstitutional. Now be honest: were you aware that holding someone’s arm who didn’t want to come with you for a second or two would expose you to 20 years in jail? I mean, we’d all be criminals. That’s how most of my dates start.
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.’’
The statute in question is CGS 53a-94 (a), Kidnapping in the Second Degree. It is short and simple: you’re guilty of kidnapping when you abduct somebody. Which the court squares with its finding thusly:
We disagree with that conclusion because, although the defendant’s restraint of the victim was brief, it was coupled with unusually strong evidence of his intent to prevent the victim’s liberation.
Now this is just silly. The court seeks to justify its absurd holding on the actus reus portion of the statute by citing to the evidence of mens rea. Well, what if there weren’t any evidence of intent? Would it be unconstitutionally vague in that scenario? What if he hadn’t said anything and simply walked up to her and grabbed her by the arm? For a few seconds? Every prosecutor worth his or her salt would infer that he intended to kidnap her.
In the present case, any potential for vagueness of § 53a-94 (a) as applied to the defendant’s conduct, standing alone, was counteracted by the overwhelming evidence that he possessed the requisite specific intent to prevent the victim’s liberation. The events of July 23, 2002, were not the victim’s first encounter with the defendant; rather, he was convicted of attempting to kidnap the victim only four days earlier.
I’m paraphrasing here, but: “Well, I mean it was obvious he intended to kidnap her. So what if his follow-through was pathetic and feeble. As long as he said he wanted to, that’s good enough for us.”
I’m not even going to get into the blurred lines between attempt and the completed act here. It will make my mind explode and probably yours too.
There are two dissents here, but let not the lovers of the rule of law get their hopes up. There is nary a word in the dissent about the substance of the majority’s holding; rather the dissent is on the remedy to be afforded: the majority reinstates the conviction, the dissenters want a new trial. This just makes me sad. Very sad.
Maybe the Court hasn’t been abducted by aliens. Maybe they were when they wrote Salamon and only just have been returned to their bodies. That’s the only thing that can explain this.
Or the fact that CT isn’t the liberal hippie state with liberal activist judges that everyone seems to think it is.