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National Crime Victim Law Institute

State v. Skipwith, — A.3d —, No. 37501, 2015 WL 5009673 (Conn. App. Ct. Sept. 1, 2015).

September 03, 2015

Defendant struck and killed a woman while driving under the influence of alcohol.  Following a plea of nolo contendere to charges stemming from the incident, the trial court sentenced him to ten years’ imprisonment, execution suspended after two years, with three years’ probation.  The victim—the mother of the woman killed—sought a writ of error from the trial court’s dismissal of her motion to vacate defendant’s sentence, arguing that her state constitutional rights to be notified of the proposed plea disposition and sentencing and to be present had been violated.  The court rejected her argument.  The court relied on precedent in concluding that the state’s victim’s right’s constitutional amendment is not self-executing and that there exists no enabling legislation that would authorize the victim to vacate defendant’s sentence.  The court further concluded that the language in the victim’s right’s amendment stating that nothing in the amendment should be construed as creating a basis for vacating a conviction or ground for appellate relief, when read in combination with a state statute providing that the failure to afford the victim of a crime any of the rights provided pursuant to any statutory provision shall not constitute grounds for vacating an otherwise lawful conviction or voiding an otherwise lawful sentence, prohibited the remedy sought by the victim.  The court rejected the victim’s argument that defendant’s disposition or sentence was imposed in an illegal manner because of the violation of her constitutional rights.  The court noted the narrow circumstances when a court may review a claimed illegal sentence—when the sentence itself is illegal (for example when the sentence exceeds the relevant statutory limits or violates defendant’s right against double jeopardy) or when the sentence is imposed in a way that violates some other of defendant’s rights—and that the victim “provide[d] no authority supporting the proposition that a defendant’s sentence is ‘imposed in an illegal manner’ … when the sentencing proceeding was conducted in violation of the victim’s constitutional right to be present.”  The court then held that the trial court properly dismissed the victim’s motion to vacate defendant’s sentence.  The victim also argued in the alternative that the trial court erred in dismissing her petition for a writ of error coram nobis because she “is an aggrieved nonparty who has no other adequate remedy provided by law.”  The court held the trial court properly dismissed the victim’s petition for a writ of coram nobis because the victim failed to cite any precedent—and the court was unaware of any—for the use of the writ in cases where a nonparty seeks to vacate a defendant’s conviction.