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.