The mission of the Connecticut Judicial Branch is to serve the interests of justice and the public by resolving matters brought before it in a fair, timely, efficient and open manner.

Criminal Law Supreme Court Slip Opinion

by Booth, George


SC20302 - State v. Bischoff (Possession of narcotics in violation of General Statutes § 21a-279; Whether Appellate Court Properly Held that Public Act Reducing Punishment for Possession of Narcotics in Violation of General Statutes § 21a-279 Does not Apply Retroactively; Whether Supreme Court Should Apply Amelioration Doctrine; "In 2015, our legislature amended General Statutes (Rev. to 2015) § 21a-279 (a) to reclassify a first offense for possession of narcotics from a class D felony subject to a maximum sentence of imprisonment of seven years to a class A misdemeanor subject to a maximum sentence of one year of incarceration. Public Acts, Spec. Sess., June, 2015, No. 15-2, § 1 (Spec. Sess. P.A. 15-2). This legislative action reflected a change in public policy that emphasized treatment and rehabilitation over incarceration for those convicted of possessing controlled substances. In this certified appeal, we are asked to determine whether the legislature's action applies retroactively to criminal cases pending at the time the amendment became effective.

The defendant, Haji Jhmalah Bischoff, was arrested and charged with, among other crimes, possession of narcotics in violation of § 21a-279 (a) prior to the enactment of Spec. Sess. P.A. 15-2, § 1. He was not convicted and sentenced, however, until after the amendment's enactment. The defendant claims that both the trial court and the Appellate Court incorrectly determined that Spec. Sess. P.A. 15-2, § 1, does not apply retroactively, and, thus, he claims that the sentence imposed on him was illegal, as it exceeded the maximum sentence allowed under § 21a-279 (a) as amended. Specifically, he claims that (1) although the plain language of Spec. Sess. P.A. 15-2, § 1, does not mention retroactivity, a prospective-only application of the amendment would lead to an absurd or unworkable result when viewed in the context of Public Acts 2015, No. 15-244 (P.A. 15-244), the state budget bill that Spec. Sess. P.A. 15-2, § 1, was meant to implement, and (2) alternatively, this court should overrule State v. Kalil, 314 Conn. 529, 107 A.3d 343 (2014), and adopt the amelioration doctrine, which presumes that amendments to statutes that mitigate punishment apply retroactively. We disagree with the defendant on both accounts and affirm the Appellate Court's judgment.")