Category Archives: ct legal news

This month at the supreme court: May 2013

not an actual judge

not an actual judge

Compared to last month, May 2013 seems like a bit of a snoozefest at the Connecticut supreme court. Not that the cases aren’t important, but they aren’t the sort of blockbusters affecting Fourth Amendment law and the death penalty like last month.

Monday, May 13, 2013 @10:00am: State v. Christopher Shaw [the briefs aren’t online yet]. The issue in this case revolves around just what should be admissible under the rape shield statute to prove that the defendant isn’t guilty of a crime and that the complainant has a motive to fabricate the allegations. Usually, a complainant’s past sexual behavior isn’t admissible to show that the defendant didn’t do it, unless it fits one of the exceptions to the statute. There’s also this interesting argument:

Also on appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court improperly admitted, under the excited utterance exception to the hearsay doctrine, testimony from the police officer who responded to the home on the night of the arrest concerning the victim’s mother’s statement that the defendant had raped the victim.

It’ll be interesting to see if an excited utterance can be stretched to apply a statement made by someone other than the complainant not immediately at the time of the crime.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013 @ 10:00am: State v. Richard Taylor [briefs not available yet]. Whether, in order to find someone guilty of conspiracy, the State must have to prove that the parties intentionally engaged in a plan or just knowingly. The Appellate Court has previously upheld the conviction and rejected that argument.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013 @11:00am: State v. Luis Rodriguez [briefs not available yet]. A fascinating case where the victim was given immunity by the State in order to testify and then the victim’s lawyer was called to testify as to the extent of the immunity agreement. The defendant objected on the grounds that the only purpose of the lawyer’s testimony was to show how clueless and sympathetic the victim was, but the Appellate Court said it was okay.

And that’s it!


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An arraignment is a critical stage

It seems almost silly to me to have to blog about an opinion that declares that yes, an arraignment is a critical stage in a criminal proceeding. But this was apparently a matter of first impression in Connecticut courts and there is a dissent and the state has been pushing this issue for years, so it might be worthwhile as my civic duty. We’ll see.

But let’s start with basics, since basics are where things go wrong most of the time. In Connecticut, when you get arrested, you have to be arraigned. You’re brought before a judge, usually within 48 hours of your arrest, and either a finding of probable cause is made (if it’s an “on-site” arrest) or not if the arrest was made by warrant. That’s it. There’s no grand jury indictment, despite the State’s best efforts.

So what happens at arraignment? Several things:

1. If you have retained a private attorney, that attorney should enter an appearance on that behalf and actually appear there with you.

2. If you have not or cannot retain a private attorney you can make an application to be represented by the public defender, who will then stand with you when the judge calls your name.

3. Your bond is reviewed and set.

4. 3 above affects your liberty: do you stay in custody or do you bond out?

Now lets imagine that a bond is set, but you cannot post that bond, meaning that you remain in custody – in jail – throughout the entire time your case remains pending.

You have a due process liberty interest in pre-sentence confinement credit. Which means that all the days you spent in jail because you could not post bond, are counted as part of your sentence.

It has to be that way, otherwise there would be an equal protection violation and liberty would depend on how much money you have.

So while you sit in jail, waiting for your sentence, you’re “accumulating” “credit”. And then you get sentenced and that credit is applied to your sentence, that is, subtracted from it and viola! It’s as if you started serving your sentence on the day you first were held in lieu of bond.

And if it were only that easy, we wouldn’t be there.

Because what complicates things is multiple cases. Some more background: the only way DOC knows you’re in custody is if there’s a bond set on you. So you need to have bond set in every file that you’re in custody for. Where it gets a little hairy is if you post that bond on the first case, but then can’t on the second.

Example: You get arrested for getting into a bar brawl and are charged with Assault 3rd, a misdemeanor. The court sets bond in the amount of $1000, which you promptly pay, so you’re “out on bond” in the street, living at home. Let’s say three weeks later, the guy you got into a fight with passes you on the street, you lose your shit and you take a gun and shoot him. He’s not injured (we’re a family blog, after all) but you’re arrested and charged with attempted assault in the first degree – a Class B felony – and now a judge sets bond in the amount of $100,000 which you can’t post so you’re held in jail.

Remember, DOC thinks you have only one charge, but actually you have two. Lets say a 6 months go by and the victim in the attempted shooting relocates to Indonesia and the State is going to drop that case. But the barfight has other witnesses so they want you to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and a sentence of 6 months in jail.

Great, you think. I’ve got 6 months in the bank! I’ll plead, they’ll apply the credit and I’ll go home today. Done.

Errr. No. DOC never had you in jail for that case, so there’s no credit to apply to your sentence. You have to do 6 months in jail to satisfy that sentence.

Well, now what? You blame your lawyer, obviously! He should’ve known and if he’d done his job I wouldn’t be here!

That’s exactly what happened in Odilio Gonzalez v. Commissioner [PDF]. Gonzalez argued that if his lawyer had simply asked the court to raise his bond a nominal amount on the barfight charge when he got picked up on the shooting charge, DOC would’ve recognized the existence of that case and he would have started “earning” credit. Had that happened, he’d have been a free man 6 months earlier.

Simple, right? No. Because the State, in its infinite wisdom, has for years argued that there is no right to have a competent lawyer advise you in regards to bond matters. That your bond is not a critical stage in a criminal proceeding and that there is no Constitutional right to have proper advice.

Luckily the court didn’t buy that, instead arguing what I’ve just laid out above. It concluded:

In the present case, it is clear that ‘‘potential substantial prejudice to the [petitioner’s rights inhered]’’ to the arraignment proceedings and the petitioner’s counsel had ‘‘the ability . . . to help avoid that prejudice  . . . .’’ Jackson v. Miller, supra, 260 F.3d 775. Specifically, because the petitioner’s counsel failed to timely request that the petitioner’s bond on the first arrest and second arrest be raised, the petitioner was required to spend more time in jail than otherwise would have been required.

The petitioner was thus denied an essential liberty interest as the result of his counsel’s deficient  performance. This liberty interest easily could have been protected at either the pretrial arraignment stage or subsequent proceedings prior to trial by a request made by counsel to increase the petitioner’s bonds on the first two cases. The fact that counsel’s performance  affected the denial of this liberty interest leads us to the inescapable conclusion that the arraignment in this matter was a critical stage of the proceedings. Indeed, there is nothing more critical than the denial of liberty, even if the liberty interest is one day in jail. The fact that counsel’s ineffective performance, as found by the habeas court, led to the denial of liberty for some seventy-three days, only exacerbates the classification that this was a critical stage of the proceedings.

Of course, we shouldn’t blame the state. Logic isn’t their strongest suit. Although I suspect they’d feel very differently if their liberty was on the line and their lawyer forgot to have their bond raised.

CT Supreme Court: To be a law firm you’d have to be a real lawyer


If you’ve ever had to respond to an opposing party’s filing in Court, you know that some are very good and make your job challenging. And you know that some are so bad that you don’t know where to start. You sit and stare at the pleading or brief or whatever it may be and you stare at a blank computer screen because the depths and lengths of the sheer absurdity of the filing that you are tasked with criticizing and rebutting is unimaginable and it is swallowing your brain whole because there is no possible way any human being can even begin to deconstruct the stupendously mindboggling arguments that have been made. And you stare and stare in the hopes that someone will rescue you by showing up in your office and saying “April Fool’s! That’s not the real thing” or “hey, never mind about that reply because they withdrew their filing out of sheer embarrassment when they realized how it’s not even wrong” and then you resign yourself to the fact that you can’t actually submit a response that consists entirely of the Picard facepalm, because, while funny, it’s not very professional and so you write several different opening sentences only to delete them all and try again while swimming in the despair and futility of it all.

This is how I feel right now – and have felt since 11:30am yesterday morning, when the Connecticut Supreme Court issued its opinion in Anderson v. Commissioner [PDF].

Anderson is an appeal of an Appellate Court decision that I wrote about in October 2011. It was a post-conviction appeal in which Mr. Anderson argued that his conviction was illegal because his lawyer represented him in a way that violated the Sixth Amendment because the lawyer was operating under a conflict of interest.

This is a big deal, because everyone has the Constitutional right to have a lawyer whose only interest is the interest of that client and no one else. See Cuyler v. Sullivan. You can easily imagine why this is paramount. The client hires the attorney with the intention that the attorney will represent the client and only the client in his case and that the attorney is working for the client and what the client wants and thus the attorney’s loyalties cannot be divided.

There are very strict Rules of Professional Conduct that govern this matter and whether lawyers in the same law firm can represent two parties whose interests are at odds with one another. The rules are pretty clear, stating that you cannot do that, unless you get waivers from both clients. Unless, of course, you’re not a “real lawyer”. By which I mean you’re a public defender.

A shortcut through your rights

The Hartford Courant has a whiny editorial complaining that the State’s prosecutors have no investigative subpoena power, which, as I’ve written so many times now, is not even a euphemism for forced interrogations and also a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

It argues that state prosecutors are “relatively toothless”. I suppose relatively is a relative term, but the Editorial makes no effort to tell us what it is relative to. I suppose it is relative to a world in which every citizen is obligated to answer any and all law enforcement questions and turn themselves in for committing crimes lest they be charged with another crime for failing to do that.

But that’s not the world we live in. Prosecutors are handling themselves just fine, thank you, judging by the crushing caseloads of the criminal courts in Connecticut.

All of that, however, I would forgive, if the Editorial did so much as to attempt to explain the standard for conducting these secretive investigations the State wanted: in the interests of justice.

A standard that is more vague and unexplained has not been written. The interests of justice is a moving target, a “we’ll tell you what it means when we decide what it means” standard that changes depending on the case and the subject subject to it.

The prosecutors were testifying in favor of a bill that would open some shortcuts for them in seeking a grand jury capable of issuing subpoenas. That would be progress.

I don’t want the State taking any “shortcuts” through the Constitution. When the State takes “shortcuts”, innocent people end up in jail. But the Editorial Board doesn’t seem too worried. Maybe we can have them be the guinea pigs for this shortcut. In the interests of justice.

[For my previous complaints with the rather naive and uninformed views of the Hartford Courant when it comes to criminal justice matters, see here and here.]

Panel Discussion on the Right to Record Police

The Connecticut Foundation for Open Government and the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists are holding a panel discussion tomorrow evening (Tuesday, April 23rd) at Quinnipiac University School of Law on the right to record police interactions in CT. It starts at 6:30 and ends at 9:00pm and is free to the public. If you can’t make it, it will be broadcast (live?) on CT-N.

The panelists are Kevin Kane (Chief State’s Attorney), Sandy Staub (Legal Director ACLU-CT), Mickey Osterreicher (General Counsel National Press Photographer’s Association), Chief Matt Reed, Windsor chief of Police, VP of Connecticut Police Chiefs Association (also a graduate of WNEC), Mario Cerame (author of The Right to Record Police in Connecticut, who also has a law review article on the subject) and is moderated by Attorney Dan Klau, who, among other things, authors a blawg.

This is particularly timely in light of the fact that the Judiciary Committee just approved a bill that would legalize the videotaping of police interactions.

The investigative subpoena: because who needs probable cause?


[This is the second in a two-parter today on the State pushing the boundaries of their power and seeking to perform their law enforcement function without the constraints of the Constitution. The first post, on their desire to be free from the Fourth Amendment, is here.]

Prosecutors want the power to subpoena witnesses under threat of contempt penalty to secret proceedings without probable cause.

For many years now – maybe over a decade – the prosecutors in Connecticut have asked every session of the state legislature to “reform” the grand jury process here. By “reform” they merely mean completely revamp and retool it, giving themselves vast powers to subpoena any manner of things with minimal judicial oversight.

But first, to understand the scope of this request, we must understand that Connecticut is not an indicting grand jury state; not typically, at least. Almost all of our charging is done via the information: the grand jury indictment was abolished in the 80s. This OLR report has all the background and information you’ll ever need on the grand jury in Connecticut.

What this means is that the decision to arrest people of crimes and to charge them with crimes is made based on probable cause – that requirement enshrined in both the United States and State constitutions. Either you get an arrest warrant signed by a neutral judge, based on probable cause, or you arrest someone and then a neutral judge makes a finding that there is probable cause to believe that the person arrested committed the crime.

Out of the 50 states, only half actually use grand juries and out of those, only 22 require their use. [Here is an informative ABA article on grand juries.] Most of these grand juries investigate the commission of crimes and are composed of lay people, but some states have other types of juries like civil grand juries, which aren’t involved in the criminal investigative process.

The indicting grand jury as you imagine it – held in secret, where a ham sandwich can get indicted – was abolished precisely because it was so secretive and its ex parte nature. Several amendments to the statutes and the State Constitution established our current system. The vast majority of criminal cases are brought by employing the method I’ve described above and a very, very small class of crimes are still via grand jury:

Argument Recap: Guilt by association because we’re all criminals


It didn’t occur to me until earlier today, but there is a pattern here. The State has been trying for years to get great police powers at the expense of individual rights. But two things that happened in the last two days have really crystallized the extent to which they’re willing to go: 1. The absurd and frightening position staked out by the State of Connecticut at oral arguments yesterday, and; 2. Their repeated requests for vast investigative subpoena powers. I will take them up in turn.

The State of Connecticut thinks that everyone on the street is a suspect and the police should be able to detain anyone they feel like.

I wrote two days ago about the stunning argument the State is making in State v. Jeremy Kelly, where they are seeking to justify the detention of Kelly where he was only known to police officers as the guy standing next to someone they were looking for. Briefly, the police were looking for Gomez. They saw Burgos and Kelly. They thought Burgos was Gomez. They had no idea who Kelly was and were not interested in him. They ordered both men to stop. Both questioned that authority. The police repeated their commands. They both did not acquiesce and ran off. Kelly was eventually apprehended and charged with possession of cocaine.

The State argued that it did not need to show that there was any reason whatsoever to stop Kelly before making him submit to the police power of the State. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that a “brief, investigatory” stop is permitted where there is reasonable suspicion to believe that the person you are stopping has committed or is committing a crime. If you cannot show that reasonable belief, the stop violates the Fourth Amendment.

The State, though, urged the Supreme Court to adopt a ‘bright-line’ rule called the “Automatic Companion” Rule. It means essentially what you think it means: that the police should have the authority to automatically stop whomever is with someone they may think is committing a crime.

The hierarchy of standards goes something like this, from highest to lowest: beyond a reasonable doubt -> clear and convincing evidence -> preponderance of the evidence -> probable cause -> reasonable and articulable suspicion -> nothing.

So, R&AS is just a small step above nothing. It is slightly, but only just, more than a hunch. It requires that police officers put into words why they chose to stop someone as it relates to that person.

But no, this, apparently, is too difficult for the police. They want the power to stop everyone.