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National Crime Victim Law Institute

State v. Gault, — A.3d —, No. 18112, 2012 WL 1087832 (Conn. April 10, 2012).

April 09, 2012

 

In a case of first impression, the Connecticut Supreme Court analyzed whether a victim could seek enforcement of the state’s constitutional victims’ rights by appealing an order issued in a criminal case.   Defendant in this case was arrested for kidnapping in the first degree for the purpose of committing a sexual assault.  The State’s application for the arrest warrant contained an affidavit that recounted statements of the victim and other individuals relating to the defendant’s crimes.  Pursuant to Connecticut’s practice book, the State requested that the affidavit supporting the arrest warrant be sealed for fourteen days.  Before the expiration of the initial sealing period, the victim filed a motion asking the court to indefinitely extend the sealing based on her state constitutional right “to be treated with fairness and respect throughout the criminal justice process,” Ct. Const. art. I, § 8(b)(1),  and under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-86e, which mandates confidentiality for sexual assault victims.  After a hearing on the motion, the trial court determined that there was a presumption of open access to all court filings.  The trial court found, however, that the victim’s constitutional right and the statute mandating confidentiality overrode the public’s right to view the affidavit it its entirety.  In so finding, the trial court denied the victim’s motion and ordered a redacted version of the affidavit to be unsealed.   According to the trial court, the redaction removed any identifying information that would enable the public to identify or locate the victim.  The victim then filed the appeal at issue challenging the trial court’s decision. 

Before addressing the substantive issue, the Connecticut Supreme Court considered whether the victim had standing to bring the appeal and held that she did not.  In so holding, the Court first looked to the state constitution.  The court concluded that the constitution, while establishing many substantive crime victims’ rights, did not confer on victims the right to appeal or address the question of victims’ party status or standing.  Instead, the court noted that the victims’ rights amendment explicitly delegated the authority for enacting its enforcement to the General Assembly.   In reviewing the general statutes, the court determined that the General Assembly had not enacted legislation providing for party status or otherwise providing victims with a right to appeal adverse decisions relating to their rights.  The court noted that appeals are generally authorized under Section 52-263, which by its plain language limits the right to appeal to a “party,” a term that carries with it a technical legal meaning and, in criminal proceedings, does not include the victim.

The court also denied the victim’s alternative request to treat the appeal as a public interest appeal pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat.  § 52-625a.  The court reasoned that a public interest appeal only authorizes appeals by “any party to an action,” referencing its conclusion that a victim is not a party to a criminal proceeding.  For these reasons the court concluded that the victim lacked standing to appeal.  Consequently, the court held it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the case and dismissed the appeal.