STATE v. RICHARD LANGSTON, SC 20734

Judicial District of Hartford

 

      Criminal; Sentencing; Whether Trial Court Properly Denied Defendant's Motion to Correct Illegal Sentence Where Sentencing Court Relied on Conduct of Which Defendant Was Acquitted; Whether Supreme Court Should Exercise Its Supervisory Authority to Create Rule Prohibiting Consideration of Acquitted Conduct in Sentencing.  In 1999, the defendant, Richard Langston, was convicted of robbery in the first degree, criminal possession of a firearm and commission of a class A, B or C felony with a firearm but was acquitted of assault in the first degree.  At the sentencing hearing, the state argued that the sentencing court could consider the conduct underlying the assault charge if the court found that the conduct had been proven by a preponderance of the evidence.  Before imposing sentence, the sentencing court had stated, inter alia, that "the victim [had] started to walk away and was shot in the back of both legs by the defendant" and that, "because this defendant elected to fire a handgun," the victim "has been denied the opportunity to pursue a meaningful vocational career."  The court then sentenced the defendant to twenty-five years of imprisonment.  Thereafter, the defendant filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence in which he argued that the sentencing court violated his due process rights under the federal and state constitutions by taking into consideration the assault charge on which he had been acquitted when it sentenced him.  The trial court denied the defendant's motion to correct an illegal sentence, finding that, pursuant to the precedent established by U.S. v. Watts, 519 U.S. 148 (1997), and State v. Huey, 199 Conn. 121 (1986), the sentencing court was entitled to consider the conduct of which the defendant had been acquitted so long as that court found the acquitted conduct proven by a preponderance of the evidence.  The defendant filed this appeal in the Appellate Court, and the Supreme Court thereafter transferred the appeal to itself.  On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court improperly denied his motion to correct an illegal sentence because the sentencing court's consideration of conduct for which the defendant had been acquitted violated his constitutional rights to due process and trial by jury.  The defendant argues that the trial court erred in its reliance on Watts and Huey because neither case examined the issue presented in this appeal, namely, whether a sentencing court's reliance on acquitted conduct in imposing sentence is inconsistent with a defendant's constitutional rights to due process and trial by jury.  Rather, according to the defendant, Huey involved the question of whether, following a defendant's guilty plea, a sentencing court can factor in the defendant's denial of facts related to an element of a more serious originally-charged offense to which the defendant did not plead guilty.  The defendant further argues that Watts was decided on double jeopardy grounds and that the United States Supreme Court did not consider in that case whether a sentencing court's reliance on acquitted conduct violates a defendant's rights to due process.  The defendant also claims that the Supreme Court should exercise its supervisory authority to create a rule prohibiting the consideration of acquitted conduct in sentencing decisions.