Category Archives: ct state law

Wishful Wednesday

In what has by now become a ritual dance, every year the state legislature toys with bills meant to enact some real reform in the criminal justice system. Every year, like the sucker I am, I get seduced, dancing the dance, enjoying the promise of a moonlit sonata. Every year, like the battered spouse, I know it will be different. I believe and I hope and I pray.

So here we go again.

Tomorrow, the judiciary committee is set to conduct public hearings on three very important bills:




The bills seem to fall under the umbrella of “fixing the death penalty” and in some sense they may do so. But the real action in these bills is the adoption of best practices when it comes to interrogations and identifications. The death penalty bill also has some very interesting proposals. But let’s start at the very beginning. The interrogations bill is a hoot to read:

First, it applies only to those accused of a capital felony or Class A or Class B felonies. Second, any statement made by such person is presumed inadmissible unless 1) recorded and 2) the recording is not substantially altered. The bill then lists 9 exceptions pursuant to which a non-recorded statement is made admissible, but squarely places the burden on the state to prove by a preponderance that the exception is met. But there’s this odd subsection, which in my opinion, seeks to invalidate the entire bill:

(h) The presumption of inadmissibility of a statement made by a person at a custodial interrogation at a place of detention may be overcome by a preponderance of the evidence that the statement was voluntarily given and is reliable, based on the totality of the circumstances.

Since there is no further clarifying information, one must assume that this reverts back to the current standard for admissibility of statements: that they are reliable given the totality of circumstances. What, then, is the purpose of the bill requiring videotaping of interrogations? Am I reading this wrong?

The eyewitness identification bill is the standard bill that has been introduced for the last few years, so there’s nothing really to remark on. It is the death penalty bill that is the piece de resistance in this trifecta.

The bill starts tepidly enough and one might even confuse it for a bill proposed by a Republican to further limit the rights of criminal defendants in death penalty cases (oh wait, that’s exactly what it was…). But then it just takes off into neverneverland in a delightful way.

The bill first mandates that all relevant agencies must maintain exact records of the expenses incurred in pursuing and defending the death penalty. Some of you might recall how last year the public defender’s office was able to provide a dollar amount for the money spent, but the State “didn’t keep such records”.

But wait, it gets better. And how:

Individual Skill-ing

Just when I was on the precipice of not writing any further on the individual voir diredebate“, I got sucked back in. So here is this half-baked post with some references to studies that you may consider the written equivalent of diarrhea and a few other thoughts that are slightly more well-formed.

First, having already disproven the notion that Connecticut is the only state in the country that conducts individual voir dire, I point you, discerning reader, to some studies that highlight the relative benefits of ISVD. In 1999, then Federal Judge Gregor Mize wrote a paper about an experiment he conducted wherein he questioned jurors individually, regardless of whether they’d self-identified any biases in the “introductory” phase of voir dire.  Here is his conclusion:

In view of these results, one cannot help but get a strong sense of the essential and revealing juror data that can be obtained by interviewing citizens who do not initially respond to open-court voir dire questions. The sometimes shocking, and always noteworthy, quality of the statements given  above, have caused me to require that I interview all silent venire members. I am convinced that even if individual questioning took up significant  amounts of time (which it has not for me), it would be well worth expending the effort in order to avoid juror UFO’s and the consequent danger of  mistrials caused by impaneling biased or disabled citizens.

In 2003, he followed it up with another paper: “Be cautious of the quiet ones.” Voir Dire, 10, pp. 1-4.

In Judge Mize’s research, in the criminal trials, 1 in 5 of the silent jurors offered a highly relevant comment in individual voir dire that was withheld during group voir dire; at least one, and up to four, silent jurors were then struck for cause in 27 of the 30 criminal trials. Silent jurors in criminal trials withheld being the defendant’s fiancé, being related to the police, being predisposed toward the police, being predisposed against the police, having self or someone close shot with a gun, having lied in group voir dire, and religious convictions conflicting with duties as a juror.

In the civil trials, 1 in 10 of the silent jurors disclosed a highly relevant comment in individual voir dire, which translates into one significant disclosure for every two civil jury trials. Silent jurors in civil trials withheld having been represented by an attorney in the case, being in an auto accident one month before being called in an auto accident case, overhearing others discussing frivolous lawsuits, predispositions against the plaintiff, and predispositions against the defendant.

In both civil and criminal trials, silent jurors withheld medical conditions/hardship, financial hardship, and limited English proficiency.

The most common excuses jurors gave for failing to answer questions in group voir dire were shyness, embarrassment, and a belief that their answers weren’t very important.

Judge Mize concluded that individual voir dire is an indispensable means of identifying juror bias.

In 2005, Dax Urbszat published another study entitled The challenge for cause: Does it reduce bias in the jury system? I am unable to locate a free copy of the paper on the interwebs, so you’ll have to make do with this excerpt and summary:

Urbszat (2005) recently conducted three studies examining the effectiveness of voir dire in identifying jurors with bias or prejudice in a case. The challenge for cause was found to be ineffective in identifying and rejecting biased jurors. In addition, when the jury pool remains inside the court during voir dire, jury pool members were less likely to admit being prejudiced, and less overall rejections occurred. Individual voir dire, conducted outside the presence of other jurors, increased admissions of prejudice.

In addition, since the original series of posts, I did informally ask several local attorneys who have experience both in the Federal system and in other States, and to a person they all affirmed that they would prefer individual voir dire over group. But that is neither here nor there since I am anonymous/pseudonymous and it is only anecdotal.

However, I may not even have written this post, were it not for oral argument today in Skilling v. United States (transcript) before SCOTUS. There are two issues before the Supreme Court, both interesting in very different ways. The first is of relevance here. Skilling claims that his “trial was unfair” (and I’m paraphrasing) because of the immense pre-trial publicity his case received that rendered it impossible to empanel an impartial jury, especially given the manner in which voir dire was conducted. For a case of this magnitude, an entire jury was selected in just 5 hours, with limited questioning by the judge and even more limited questioning by the attorneys. Their primary reliance was on a 14 page questionnaire that each potential juror had filled out well in advance of jury selection. It is especially important to note that in Skilling, the voir dire was individual voir dire (and this is the much vaunted Federal “quick pick” system).

In Skilling, 60 percent of the jury venire affirmatively acknowledged in the responses to questionnaires that they would be unable to set aside their deep-seated biases or doubted their ability to do so, or that they were angry about Enron’s collapse, an anger that was manifested in the vitriolic terms in which Skilling was referred to repeatedly both in the questionnaires and in the community more generally.

Here, in CT, a similar trial is underway in New Haven. I mentioned this in a previous post and it seems that this trial is the gunpowder that has ignited some calls for doing away with ISVD. Any such reliance on highly-publicized trials is misguided. As with the Skilling trial, there is an overwhelming percentage of people called to serve who immediately are disqualified due to the immense publicity in the press and the overwhelming emotions the case evokes. That, in of itself, takes up a lot of time. In the Hayes case in New Haven, it is my understanding that only 14 jurors have actually been questioned on their suitability, with 4 of them being selected to serve. The rest have either been excused for hardships or for cause.

And yet some would have us pick a jury in a capital case which evokes the strongest of emotions in a matter of hours. I wouldn’t do it if my life were on the line, would you?

And if you cannot answer the above question in the affirmative, then we must stop calling for a truncated process when the lives and freedom in question are of those who trust us with them.

In the vast amounts of time that I have to myself, dragging the wheel as an indentured servant of The Man, I have thought about ISVD. Perhaps it is my feeble mind that cannot escape the conclusion that ISVD is a tool to be cherished by the true believer in the fairness of the system. Perhaps it is the lack of dollar signs impeding my vision that does not let me see reason. Perhaps none has been given.

Further thoughts on ISVD

I don’t have time for a pithy title, so pardon me. I just wanted to add a few more thoughts to my post from last night on Norm Pattis’ call for the elimination of ISVD (by the way, Norm responds to my post here).

Here are a few things that still bother me, and this is perhaps at the root of it all. I have yet to see a reason for abandoning individual voir dire in favor of group voir dire other than “ISVD is time consuming and a waste of money”. Fine, reasonable and some not-so-reasonable minds can disagree on that (although I will note that I have seen references in studies to others that have concluded that the statement is not true; I just haven’t been able to locate such studies yet).

What bothers me about this, especially coming from a defense attorney, is this: it is not my job and not my function to point out ways to “speed up” the system. Clamoring that it needs to be done only furthers the perception that some percentage of the public has about the cumbersome (hah) nature of the criminal justice system. Those of us who practice in the criminal courts in Connecticut: prosecutors, judges, defense lawyers, even Norm, know that for the most part, that is simply not the case.

A year is really not a long time for a serious felony case to go to trial. And so to propose a change that may very well inure to the defendant’s detriment seems unseemly coming from a defense lawyer.

Perhaps we have all been at this too long; perhaps we are all jaded. Perhaps we begin to view trials from the lens of our own lives: “I’m on trial for the next month so I have to postpone my vacation”, or “I can’t start trial here, judge, because I’ll be stuck in Tolland for the next two months”.

But for those of us who are the only voice these defendants have against the might of the state to stand up and say, yes, the process that the State employs to accuse, try and convict my client is long and cumbersome is just plain ugly. If the State has chosen to prosecute my client, the cost of that prosecution is not my concern. Let the State pay as much as it takes to meet their burden. And if that involves selection of jurors one by one, then so be it.

If the State legislature, in its wisdom, chooses to abolish ISVD because of cost, then let it be so. I will go along, as I will have to. But I will not be complicit in its abolition for the reason of money.

Let us not forget that while these may be a few weeks out of our time that we feel may be better spent elsewhere, for most clients this is a once in a lifetime event, on the outcome of which hinges their very freedom and liberty. I am incapable of stating to my client, incarcerated awaiting trial, that we won’t be able to question jurors individually to determine if they harbor any biases that would make them unsuitable to judge his actions (or lack thereof) because it takes too long and costs too much. That is not, and cannot be, my function.

Norm says that I am wedded to the idea of ISVD because I have known no other. That I have no experience in Federal Court. I will neither confirm nor deny that, just because I don’t want to. But to reject my argument against group voir dire on the basis on one man’s personal experience in ISVD and group voir dire simply smacks of the pot calling the kettle black.

The framers of Connecticut’s Constitution saw it fit to make the right to question jurors individually inviolate. Perhaps that is because they recognized that the workings of the criminal justice system should not be constrained by questions of cost or time. After all, what is a few weeks when the potential penalties are decades of imprisonment.

No matter how many times you say it, or how many times you reference my mother, you will not change my opinion that individual voir dire, by its nature, can be a more effective tool of jury selection than group voir dire.

Give me a reason to change my mind. But make sure the reason isn’t that it’s too costly or time-consuming. As a criminal defense lawyer, I don’t care and neither should you.

Cumbersome bloviating misrepresents

Consider my gears ground. I’ve been resisting jumping in to counter the incessant stream of anti-individual voir dire noise emanating from Norm Pattis over the past month or so. I first saw a post on his blog, which was then reproduced in his column in the Connecticut Law Tribune and finally copied and pasted into this opinion piece in the Courant yesterday.

Norm, for some reason, has been crusading against the “cumbersome” and “wasteful” process of individual voir dire that we employ here in CT. What happens, simply, is this: a jury panel is brought into a courtroom, is read some preliminary instructions by a judge and then members are asked to identify if they have any hardships or other reasons why they cannot serve on a jury. Those who do not identify any such impediments are temporarily asked to retire to a room, while those that raised their hands and quickly individually questioned to determine the reason for their inability to serve. A large percentage of these people are quickly dispensed with and then people are brought out individually from the “able to serve” pool to be questioned to determine their suitability for serving on the particular case.

The length of individual voir dire varies greatly: a simple misdemeanor or less-serious felony jury can picked within a day. Murder juries can take over a week or so. Capital juries naturally take longer.

I have long argued that individual voir dire is preferable to group voir dire. Human nature is such that we are more likely to be honest in our beliefs when we are not being compared to those “similarly situated” to us. Besides, really the only purpose for group voir dire is to indoctrinate jurors and educate the jury, a point which Norm claims is one of the abuses of individual voir dire.

But there are several other problems with his position. He starts with this paragraph:

In every other jurisdiction nationally, juries are selected in a group voir dire. Questions are put to potential panelists to see whether they can be fair and impartial in the case for which they may be selected. The group method permits folks to sit with their peers to answer questions about bias or prejudice. A jury can be picked by this method, even in a case of some complexity, in a matter of hours.

That’s just patently false.

An idle thought on the Boykin canvass

Much as been written and said about Boykin v. Alabama since Justice Douglas wrote the decision in 1969. At best, it is a necessary safeguard to ensure that guily pleas, the bulk of the resolutions in the criminal justice system, are made voluntarily. At worst, it is a prophylactic.

A defendant entering a guilty plea waives several fundamental constitutional rights. Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 243 (1969). “We therefore require the record affirmatively to disclose that the defendant’s choice was made intelligently and voluntarily.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Andrews, supra, 253 Conn. 503. To satisfy that requirement, a defendant must be fully aware of the direct consequences of his or her plea. See Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 755 (1970). Direct consequences are generally defined as consequences that are “definite, immediate and [that have] largely automatic effect[s] on the range of the defendant’s punishment.” Cuthrell v. Director, 475 F.2d 1364, 1366 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 414 U.S. 1005 (1973).

State v. Groppi. The Boykin canvas is limited to three Constitutional aspects: First, is the privilege against compulsory self-incrimination.. . [s]econd, is the right to trial by jury… [t]hird, is the right to confront one’s accusers.’ Boykin v. Alabama, [supra].

In fact, the Boykin canvass is now part of most state statutes or rules of court. Here, in CT, it is codified in Conn. Prac. Bk. S. 39-19, which provides:

The judicial authority shall not accept the plea without first addressing the defendant personally and determining that he or she fully understands:

  1. The nature of the charge to which the plea is offered;
  2. The mandatory minimum sentence, if any;
  3. The fact that the statute for the particular offense does not permit the sentence to be suspended;
  4. The maximum possible sentence on the charge, including, if there are several charges, the maximum sentence possible from consecutive sentences and including, when applicable, the fact that a different or additional punishment may be authorized by reason of a previous conviction; and
  5. The fact that he or she has the right to plead not guilty or to persist in that plea if it has already been made, and the fact that he or she has the right to be tried by a jury or a judge and that at that trial the defendant has the right to the assistance of counsel, the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses against him or her, and the right not to be compelled to incriminate himself or herself.

But even there, strict compliance is not required:

Come with me…to jail for 20 years: an alien abduction

It seems that the Supreme Court of the good state of Connecticut (SCOC, which you may pronounce S-Coc if you so please) is having fits. Specifically fits with our kidnapping statutes. Almost from the day they, in a moment of rare weakness, decided to bring some sanity back to the overbroad application of the statute, they’ve been backpedaling furiously, as if to atone for their one sin.

In that original decision, they decided – rightly in my opinion – that kidnapping is more than just mere restraint required for the commission of another felony. So if I held you down and forced you to read this post, I’d be guilty of torture, but not kidnapping.

Then they tinkered with the remedy, because how could one justify letting defendants go? Of course you can’t.

And now, this past week, comes the granddaddy of them all: State v. Winot (leave the why not? jokes for later, please).

This is a case that has been two years in the making. It was argued in January of 2008. Yes, that’s TWO-THOUSAND-EIGHT. And what perplexed them so? Judging by the decision, the vexing question was how to uphold this conviction with a straight face. 730 days later, I don’t think they’ve managed it.

The facts

She began to walk faster, but the defendant forcibly took her right arm. When she asked him to let go, he refused, yelling, ‘[n]o, it’s too wet out here;  you’re getting in my car today.’ He tried to pull her toward his car, but she resisted, pulling back in the opposite direction. To get him to release her,  the victim then leaned over to bite the defendant, at which point he quickly let go and rushed back to his car. In doing so, the defendant was almost hit by a maroon car. Upon being released, the victim ran home and told her mother what had transpired. The entire incident lasted only a  few seconds.

That’s less time than it took you to read that first sentence. He took her right arm, she pretended to bite him, he let go. A matter of seconds. Got that?

The challenge

The Adam Walsh fearmongering and bleeding money Act

I have been in somewhat of a blog slumber. I haven’t posted in a while (and frankly, since Scott returned from his vacation, there’s no more opportunity for me to sneak in and steal his readers). But what better way to get the blood pumping and the vituperative juices returning than the news that our state Republicans and lame-duck Governor are once again introducing the Adam Walsh “burn them at the stake” Act.

I wouldn’t recommend clicking on that link. The Act is long and is sure to get your delicates in a delicate twist (unless you’re a terrorist, in which case, you win).

I’ve already written about one nonsensical aspect of this “Act” before: on the requirement that travelers through the State notify public safety of their impending passage.

There are several more that merit attention and derision, so I’ll list them first and then take them on one by one:

  1. The Act creates a new “tiered” system of SORN (sex offender registration and notification), dividing defendants not on their chances of re-offending, or on the particular circumstances of their offenses, but simply on the offense of conviction itself: Tier A: 15 years, Tier B: 25 years, Tier C: life. Currently, in CT, there are only two “tiers”: 10 years and life. Risk assessment is simply not a factor in either equation and that’s a huge mistake.
  2. The current risk of injury statute, the go-to statute for dubious allegations involving minors, would be revamped and broken up into three different statutes, each more onerous than the previous. Sexual contact with a minor under thirteen would become a Class A felony, thus lumping it together with the burglaries home invasions and murders and sexual contact with someone between thirteen and sixteen would become a Class B felony.
  3. The rules for exemption from registration are putrid and hollow.
  4. The registration requirements place a burden that is far greater than was approved by SCOTUS in Alaska and CT Dept. of Pub Safety (as distinguished by Maine’s Supreme Court): once a year for Tier 1, every 6 months for Tier 2 and every 3 months for Tier 3, all in person.
  5. The requirements for “transients” are incredibly laughable and courts are taking notice of the fact that it is problematic to require homeless people to register and punish them for essentially not having a home.
  6. The retroactive application of the registration requirements, which are already being successfully challenged.
  7. The cost. Oh, the cost. It shall be staggering. It shall be wasteful. It shall be just what States need in this time of financial surplus.

The seventh point is the focus of this post, which is one more step toward a Big Brother/nanny state: