Attorney General: Honorable Robert Farr, Chairman, Board of Pardons and Paroles, Formal Opinion 2007-018, Attorney General State of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

September 20, 2007

 

 

 

 

Honorable Robert Farr

Chairman, Board of Pardons and Paroles

55 West Main Street

Waterbury, CT  06702

 

Dear Chairman Farr:

 

This letter responds to your request for a formal opinion on “whether or not the Board of Pardons has the authority to commute a non-parole eligible offense, as defined by CGS § 54-125a(b)(1), to make it a parole eligible offense.” You state that “13 non-parole eligible murderers [have] petitioned the Board to commute their sentences to parole eligible.  Of those 13 offenders, 11 do not have any term of probation or other form of community supervision after their discharge date.  Of the 6 offenders that were sentenced in the 1980’s, their end of sentence date is rapidly approaching."  Accordingly, you seek our opinion as to the Board’s legal authority when considering these applicants' pardon applications.

 

As discussed more fully below, the Board of Pardons and Paroles does not have the legal authority to commute a sentence which, by the plain language of Conn. Gen. Stat. §54-125a(b)(1),1 is ineligible for parole, to a sentence which may be eligible for parole.  The General Assembly has determined that the public's interest and safety are best served by making anyone convicted of murder or the other crimes specified in 54-125a(b)(1) ineligible for parole.

 

BACKGROUND

 

Public Act 04-234 created the combined Board of Pardons and Paroles (Board) as the successor agency to what had previously been two separate and distinct entities, the Board of Pardons and the Board of Paroles. See Conn. Gen. Stat. §54-124a(a). As Chairman, you are the executive and administrative head of the Board, and have the authority to adopt “policies in all areas of pardons and paroles, including but not limited to granting pardons, commutations or releases, conditioned or absolute, in the case of any person convicted of any offense…” Conn. Gen. Stat. §54-124a(d). By the plain language of the statute, referring to "any person convicted of any offense," persons convicted of murder or other parole ineligible offenses are clearly eligible to be considered for a pardon, “conditioned or absolute.” Further, you, as Chairman of the Board, “may serve on both pardons panels and parole release panels.” This allows you to coordinate actions from pardons panels with actions of parole release panels, and set conditions that you and the Board conclude are necessary to permit the individual's safe return to the community.

 

In your letter, you ask if a pardons panel of the Board has the authority to consider whether to commute a parole ineligible sentence and to establish a conditional pardon, which commutes a certain period of time at the end of a definite sentence, making the person eligible to be considered for parole with whatever conditions you deem appropriate throughout the parole term.

 

It is our opinion that the Board of Pardons and Paroles does not have the legal authority to do so.

 

DISCUSSION

 

Conn. Gen. Stat. §54-130a (formerly §18-26) provides as follows: Jurisdiction and authority to grant commutations of punishment, releases and pardons.

 

(a) Jurisdiction over the granting of, and the authority to grant, commutations of punishment or releases, conditioned or absolute, in the case of any person convicted of any offense against the state and commutations from the penalty of death shall be vested in the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

 

(b) Said board shall have authority to grant pardons, conditioned, provisional or absolute, for any offense against the state at any time after the imposition and before or after the service of any sentence.

 

(c) Whenever the board grants an absolute pardon to any person, the board shall cause notification of such pardon to be made in writing to the clerk of the court in which such person was convicted, or the Office of the Chief Court Administrator if such person was convicted in the Court of Common Pleas, the Circuit Court, a municipal court, or a trial justice court.

 

(d) Whenever the board grants a provisional pardon to any person, the board shall cause notification of such pardon to be made in writing to the clerk of the court in which such person was convicted. The granting of a provisional pardon does not entitle such person to erasure of the record of the conviction of the offense or relieve such person from disclosing the existence of such conviction as may be required.

 

Without question, the Board possesses broad power and wide discretion to grant pardons.  The United States Supreme Court in Connecticut Board of Pardons v. Dumschat, 452 U.S. 458, 101 S. Ct. 2460, 69 L. Ed. 2d 158 (1981), analyzed the power of the Board of Pardons under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 18-26 and concluded that “Connecticut's pardons statute contains neither a presumption in favor of pardon nor a list of factors to be considered by the Board of Pardons. Instead, the statute grants the board unfettered discretion in the exercise of its power.  The statute offers only the 'mere hope' of pardon; it does not create a legitimate expectation of freedom and therefore does not implicate due process.”  Dumschat, supra, at 462, quoting  618 F.2d 216, 219 (2nd Cir. 1980).  Our own Supreme Court has endorsed this broad interpretation of the pardons power of the Board. See Missionary Society of Connecticut v. Board of Pardons and Paroles, 272 Conn. 647, 653, n.3, 866 A.2d 538 (2005)(“It is well established that  § 54-130a, formerly  § 18-26, confers unfettered discretion on the board. See Connecticut Board of Pardons v.  Dumschat, 452 U.S. 458, 466, 101 S. Ct. 2460, 69 L. Ed. 2d 158 (1981);    McLaughlin v. Bronson, 206 Conn. 267, 271, 537 A.2d 1004 (1988).”  

 

Notwithstanding the Board's broad power to grant pardons and commutations, both  “conditioned and absolute" in most cases, the exercise of the pardon power to commute a parole ineligible sentence and transform it to a parole eligible sentence is barred by the express language of Conn. Gen. Stat. §54-125a(b)(1). That statute explicitly and particularly denies parole to those convicted of the offenses enumerated in the statute and is a specific limitation on the general pardon and commutation powers granted to the Board of Pardons and Parole.  It is a "well-settled principle of statutory construction that specific terms covering a given subject matter will prevail over general language of another statute that might otherwise prove controlling." Board of Education v. State Board of Education, 278 Conn. 326, 338 (2006) (internal brackets and ellipsis omitted).  In fact, the category of parole ineligible offenses was increased in the same Public Act that created the Board of Pardons and Parole, Public Act 04-234, evidencing a legislative determination that individuals convicted of parole ineligible offenses could not be paroled by the Board of Pardons and Paroles. "The legislature is always presumed to be aware of all existing statutes,"  Wiseman v. Armstrong, 269 Conn. 802, 822 (2004) and "to exercise its statutory authority with the intention of  creating one consistent body of law."  Nancy G. v. Department of Children and Families 248 Conn. 672,686 (1999) (ellipsis omitted).

 

If the legislature had intended to permit the Board to override the express language of 54-125a(b)(1), it could have amended § 54-130a using the phrase "notwithstanding any other provision of the general statutes," or some other explicit language.   See Velez v. Commissioner of Correction, 250 Conn. 536, 544, 738 A.2d 604 (1999).  However, it chose not to do so. 

 

Instead, Public Act 04-234 expanded the list of parole ineligible crimes adding "aggravated sexual assault in the first degree" to the list of parole ineligible offenses.  Since the legislature chose to specifically increase the number of  specific crimes to be excluded from consideration for parole in the same Public Act creating the Board of Pardons and Paroles, without giving explicit authority to the Board to ignore the mandate of § 54-125a(b)(1) that persons convicted of certain crimes never be paroled, it would not be reasonable to presume that parole ineligible offenses could be made parole eligible by the Board of Pardons and Paroles.  Such an interpretation would render the provisions of Conn. Gen. Stat. §54-125a(b)(1), as amended by Public Act 04-234, meaningless. “In construing statutes, [the court] presume[s] that there is a purpose behind every sentence, clause, or phrase used in an act and that no part of a statute is superfluous.”  Kuehl v. Z-Loda Systems Engineering, Inc., 265 Conn. 525, 536-37 (2003).

 

Accordingly, we conclude that a pardons panel of the Board of Pardons and Paroles does not have the legal authority to commute a sentence which is categorized as ineligible for parole so as to enable a person convicted of such offense to be eligible for parole.  

 

                                                                                     

Very truly yours,

 

 

 

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL

ATTORNEY GENERAL

 

 

 

 



1 Conn. Gen. Stat. §54-125a (b) (1) provides:  “No person convicted of any of the following offenses, which was committed on or after July 1, 1981, shall be eligible for parole under subsection (a) of this section: Capital felony, as provided in section 53a-54b, felony murder, as provided in section 53a-54c, arson murder, as provided in section 53a-54d, murder, as provided in section 53a-54a, or aggravated sexual assault in the first degree, as provided in section 53a-70a.”


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