In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut held that the fugitive felon disentitlement doctrine applies not just to fugitives in flight, but also those who are arrested prior to filing their appeals.
This case arose from an incident that occurred on April 27, 1999. The victim arrived at his workplace and discovered the unauthorized presence of the defendant, who immediately ran off. Police found that two computers were unplugged with their keyboards in the garbage. The defendant was charged and convicted of burglary in the third degree and attempt to commit larceny in the first degree. However, prior to sentencing in December 2000, the defendant posted bond and fled to England, though he was rearrested and extradited to Connecticut. He once more posted bond and fled the country prior to his second sentencing date, was rearrested, and finally sentenced in November 2008. The defendant appealed his conviction, in part claiming insufficient evidence to convict for attempted larceny. However, the State argued that the defendant’s appeal should be wholesale dismissed because of the fugitive felon disentitlement doctrine.
The doctrine of fugitive felon disentitlement gives the court authority to dismiss a fugitive defendant’s appeal under certain circumstances. It is not accepted in all U.S. jurisdictions, and Connecticut has only addressed the doctrine in three cases where the fugitive filed his appeal while still on the run. Therefore, the Supreme Court set to the task of determining whether the doctrine applied to a fugitive who filed an appeal after being arrested, and if so, the scope of its application.
There are several rationales for the doctrine, only one of which applied in this context: “the promotion and protection of the dignified and efficient operation of the appellate system.” Courts want to ensure that defendants do not game the system through their fugitive status “by gaining unfair advantages due to the passage of time at the expense of the integrity of the appellate process.” In this case, the Supreme Court held that a fugitive’s post-arrest appeal may be dismissed if his conduct undermined the appellate process. Thus, if the State seeks to assert the doctrine, it must show specific instances of prejudice caused by the fugitive’s flight, such as the loss of evidence or witness-related issues. If the State meets this burden, it is then shifted to the defendant, who must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that his flight was not prejudicial.
The Supreme Court found that in this case the State alleged sufficient evidence that the defendant could not rebut. “The appellate process has been prejudiced by the loss of trial exhibits and by the effect that the passage of time has had on the availability and reliability of witnesses.” Therefore, all of the defendant’s claims on appeal, including insufficiency of the evidence, were not reviewable because the doctrine applied.
When faced with a charge of larceny, burglary, or attempt, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.