STATE v. BENJAMIN LEAK, SC 18509

Judicial District of New Haven

 

Criminal; Insanity Acquittees; Length of Commitment; Whether Trial Court had the Legal Authority to Impose Consecutive Terms of Commitment upon the Acquittee. In two criminal files, the acquittee, in 1981, was found guilty but not criminally responsible by reason of mental disease or defect for the crimes of assault in the first degree, assault in the second degree and possession of a dangerous instrument in a correctional institution. Thereafter, in 1982, the trial court imposed a term of commitment of twenty years in one of the files and a term of commitment of twenty-five years in the other file. In light of an ambiguity in the record regarding the length of the acquittee's total period of confinement, the court, in 2007, clarified that the terms were intended to run consecutively to each other. In response, the acquittee filed a motion to correct his term of commitment and an application to be discharged from custody, arguing that consecutive commitments were not specifically authorized under the commitment statute that existed when he was originally committed in 1982, namely, General Statutes 53a-47. The trial court rejected the acquittee's claim and denied his motions. In doing so, the court determined that the lack of any reference to consecutive commitments in 53a-47 was irrelevant to the issue at hand. The dispositive inquiry, the court opined, was whether the acquittee was, in the language of the statute, "no longer mentally ill to the extent that his release would constitute a danger to himself or others." The court emphasized that under the provisions of 53a-47, an acquittee may expect a term of commitment that is at least as long as the maximum criminal sentence for the offenses charged, which, in this case, was forty-five years of incarceration, and that an even longer period of commitment may result where the acquittee continues to be dangerous. It is therefore the dangerousness of an acquittee, the court concluded, that dictates the length of the commitment, not the term of confinement that a court initially imposes. The court then found that because the evidence demonstrated that the acquittee continued to pose a danger to himself and to others as a result of his mental illness, he was not eligible for release. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the trial court's decision was correct.