STATE v. MITCHELL HENDERSON, SC 19213

Judicial District of Hartford

 

†††† Criminal; Sentence Enhancements; Whether Defendantís Claim that Trial Court Failed to Make Statutory Finding Required for Imposition of Enhanced Sentence was Barred by Doctrine of Res Judicata.† In 1993, the defendant was found guilty of several criminal offenses following a jury trial.† Thereafter, he pleaded guilty to two part B informations charging him with being a persistent dangerous felony offender and being a persistent serious felony offender.† As a result, the defendant received an enhanced sentence.† Subsequently, the defendant filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence, claiming that, under State v. Bell, 283 Conn. 748 (2007), his constitutional rights were violated because the trial court, rather than the jury, made the requisite statutory finding justifying an enhanced sentence; that is, that an extended period of incarceration would best serve the public interest. †The trial court dismissed the motion for lack of jurisdiction.† On appeal, the Appellate Court, after concluding that the defendantís claim was not jurisdictionally defective, rejected the claim on the merits, finding that Bell did not apply retroactively. †Meanwhile, the defendant filed a second motion to correct an illegal sentence, in which he claimed that the trial court, before imposing the enhanced sentence, neglected to make the requisite public interest finding.† Based on its determination that the second motion to correct presented the identical claim that was raised and rejected in the first motion to correct, the trial court denied the second motion to correct on the ground that it was barred by the doctrine of res judicata, which dictates that a final judgment on the merits constitutes an absolute bar to a subsequent action involving the same claim.† On appeal, the defendant challenges the trial courtís res judicata determination, asserting that the claims raised in the two motions were entirely different, in that the first motion to correct raised a constitutional claim concerning the public interest finding, whereas the second motion to correct raised a statutory claim.† According to the state, however, both motions to correct were premised on a broader claim challenging the validity of the public interest finding, which, the state contends, is the relevant claim for purposes of a res judicata analysis. †Contending that that claim was rejected by the Appellate Court in the appeal from the denial of the first motion to correct, the state maintains that the second motion to correct was rightly deemed barred by the doctrine of res judicata.† Alternatively, the state argues that the statutory claim raised in the second motion to correct is barred by res judicata because the defendant could have, but failed to, raise that claim in the first motion to correct.† Further, contending that the defendant, in his first motion to correct, judicially admitted that the trial court made the requisite public interest finding, the state argues that that judicial admission is binding on the parties and that the defendant is barred from contesting it in this proceeding.†