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Trial court error opens up legal possibilities in Connecticut elephant rights case

By Spencer Lo

In Minnie’s elephant rights case, the NhRP has filed a letter¬†notifying the Connecticut Appellate Court of a recent decision issued by the Connecticut Supreme Court‚ÄĒthe state’s highest court‚ÄĒthat has a direct and significant bearing on her current appeal.

In Anthony Gilchrist v. Commissioner of Correction, the trial court dismissed a habeas corpus petition under Practice Book 23-29 rather than Practice Book 23-24‚ÄĒtwo similar procedural statutes that permit courts to deny a habeas corpus petition on various specified grounds. The Connecticut Supreme Court found that because the trial court had not issued the writ of habeas corpus‚ÄĒa key legal event that requires the respondent to appear in court and justify the challenged imprisonment‚ÄĒthe trial court committed a fatal error in dismissing the petition under Practice Book 23-29.

As the Court explained, there is an essential difference between the two procedural statutes: Practice Book 23-24 applies only before the issuance of the writ, when the trial court must promptly review the petition to determine whether it is patently defective‚ÄĒi.e., to determine whether the writ should issue. In contrast, Practice Book 23-29 applies only after the writ has been issued, when the habeas proceeding has begun that will determine whether the trial court should grant the relief sought in the petition, which is the prisoner‚Äôs freedom from illegal imprisonment. The Court noted that, while this ruling may seem ‚Äúhypertechnical,‚ÄĚ ‚Äú[t]echnical matters of form … will sometimes have meaningful consequences, and it is important to employ the correct terminology and procedures when disposing of a writ of habeas corpus.‚ÄĚ

As it turns out, the Court’s ruling is extremely significant to Minnie’s appeal. In her case, as in Gilchrist, no writ was issued and yet the trial court dismissed the petition under one of the provisions in Practice Book 23-29, not Practice Book 23-24. This error should cause the Appellate Court to reverse the trial court’s dismissal of the petition and remand the case back to the trial court, which may or may not issue the writ of habeas corpus.

We would then appeal any adverse decision back up to the Appellate Court, where we would hopefully have the opportunity to thoroughly address the erroneous Commerford I decision and fully present our arguments for why Minnie is entitled to her freedom.

As NhRP President Steven M. Wise stressed to the Appellate Court in oral argument on Jan. 8, 2020, the Connecticut courts have so far refused to grapple with the urgent issues in Minnie’s case and grant her the full and fair hearing to which she is entitled:

To learn more our Connecticut elephant rights litigation, visit Beulah, Karen, and Minnie’s court case timeline. To learn how you can help, visit their grassroots advocacy campaign page. 

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