STATE v. PEDRO L. MIRANDA, SC 19228

Judicial District of Hartford

 

      Criminal; Double Jeopardy; Whether Appellate Court Properly Applied Vacatur Remedy of State v. Polanco to Cumulative Convictions of Capital Felony and Felony Murder. The defendant appealed to the Appellate Court, claiming that his cumulative convictions of capital felony, murder and felony murder for the killing of a single victim and the consecutive sentences imposed by the trial court violated the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy.  He argued that both the murder and felony murder convictions should be vacated pursuant to State v. Polanco, 308 Conn. 242 (2013), which held that the appropriate remedy for cumulative convictions of greater and lesser included offenses arising from the same incident is to vacate the conviction for the lesser included offense.  Because murder is a lesser included offense of capital felony, the state agreed that the murder conviction should be vacated under Polanco.  The state argued, however, that Polanco's vacatur approach should not be extended to other scenarios where overlapping convictions violate the double jeopardy clause.  The state claimed that the merger approach of State v. Chicano, 216 Conn. 699 (1990), should still apply in such cases and accordingly that the proper remedy here was to merge the capital felony and felony murder convictions and vacate one of the sentences.  The Appellate Court (145 Conn. App. 494) agreed with the state that Polanco was controlling with respect to the murder and capital felony convictions and that the murder conviction should be vacated.  The court also ruled that Polanco’s vacatur approach applied to the capital felony and felony murder convictions and accordingly that one of those convictions should be vacated, rejecting the state’s claim that the vacated conviction could not be reinstated should the surviving conviction be overturned.  The court determined that, because the jury here found the defendant guilty on all three counts, reinstatement of any vacated murder conviction would be authorized.  The Appellate Court also rejected the state’s claim that the capital felony and felony murder convictions did not violate double jeopardy, noting that Chicano held that felony murder and intentional murder are the same offense for double jeopardy purposes.  Finally, the Appellate Court noted that, while the decision as to which conviction must be vacated when cumulative convictions reflect alternative means of committing the same crime is generally left to the discretion of the sentencing court, it was clear here that the sentencing court intended that the sentence for capital felony controlled and that the sentences for murder and felony murder were ancillary.  The Appellate Court therefore affirmed the capital felony conviction and ordered that the murder and felony murder convictions be vacated.  The Supreme Court will now address whether the Appellate Court properly applied Polanco to cumulative homicide convictions arising from the killing of a single victim.