Category Archives: ct state law

Racial ridicule in Connecticut

is apparently a crime. C.G.S 53-37 provides:

Any person who, by his advertisement, ridicules or holds up to contempt any person or class of persons, on account of the creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race of such person or class of persons, shall be fined not more than fifty dollars or imprisoned not more than thirty days or both.

Volokh notes that the statute has resulted in 79 convictions since 1995, not a large number by any stretch, but still troubling considering the First Amendment implications:

This strikes me as pretty clearly unconstitutional, because it suppresses speech based on its content (and viewpoint), and because there’s no First Amendment exception that covers such speech. Yet the statute seems to be pretty commonly enforced; the Connecticut criminal records database on Westlaw uncovers 79 convictions since 1995. Do any of you know more details on how the statute is enforced, whether there’s some narrowing construction that has been imposed on it (though my Westlaw search reveals no cases doing so), whether it’s been challenged, and so on? Even if it’s limited to race– or religion-based fighting words, that would be unconstitutional under R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul; but in any event, at this point I’d just like to know how the statute is actually being used.

UPDATE: I noticed, by the way, that the statute is listed in various Connecticut government documents — alongside many other statutes — under the “affirmative action” category, for instance see this Affirmative Action Policy Statement and this Affirmative Action — Laws List. I also noticed that the 1999 “Hate Speech on the Internet” report from the Connecticut legislature’s Office of Legislative Research has noted that the statute’s “constitutionality is questionable under the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings.” But I’d still like to know just how it’s being applied.

Yes. So would I. I’d also add that the statute was enacted in 1949 and hasn’t been amended since. A quick Lexis search reveals only one hit for that statute, and that too in a footnote:

As noted, Section 53a-183 is directly relevant to the issue in this case and provides, in and of itself, a basis for determining that a clear, well-defined and dominant public policy exists prohibiting the kind of conduct which is at issue here. It is worth remembering that there are other state statutes which recognize the particular harm that racially motivated criminal conduct inflicts on society. These statutes include Section 46a-58, which criminalizes cross burning under specified circumstances; 53-37, which criminalizes holding persons up to ridicule on account of race, creed or color; 53-37a, which prohibits the wearing of a mask or hood under certain circumstances; 53a-40a, persistent offenders; and 53-181b, intimidation based on bigotry or bias. Related federal statutes exist as well.

State v. Local 387 of Council 4 AFSCME, 1999 Conn. Super. LEXIS 437 (1999) (which is an interesting case that involves the appeal of a decision to reinstate a corrections employee who was terminated after he called a state Senator and left a message calling him an n-word, after the Senator allegedly referred to corrections employees as criminals).

Anyone? Bueller?

Padilla on sex offender registration, indirectly

Back when Padilla v. Kentucky was decided by the United States Supreme Court, the defense bar was quite excited not only by the relief it afforded criminal defendants, but also by the exciting possibility that the Court might be willing to take an honest look at the fictional distinction between direct and collateral consequences of a plea.

Aside from deportation, which the Court described as “long recognized [as] a particularly severe penalty”, there is one other “collateral” consequence that defense lawyers are in a constant battle against. And that is sex offender registration. So it was only a matter of time before some court in the country considered the severity of the consequence of sex offender registration in light of the principles of Padilla.

Thanks to Doc Berman, I came across this very recent New York Supreme Court Court of Appeals decision in NY v. Gravino, which addressed the question of whether sex offender registration is a collateral consequence. A divided court says yes.

While Padilla dealt explicitly with attorney performance, Gravino addressed the issue of whether a plea was knowing, intelligent and voluntary if the trial court did not inform the defendant of the registration requirement.

Despite acknowledging that sex offender registration (especially in New York) is a “severe penalty”, the majority recites the usual “it’s not a penal statute, but merely regulatory” bullshit in order to neatly classify registration as a collateral consequence as opposed to a direct consequence.

But here’s where Padilla comes in. As I mentioned before, Justice Stevens gave us a delicious quote to use and rely on:

Frankly arresting

[W]hen the Fourth Amendment demands a factual showing sufficient to comprise `probable cause,’ the obvious assumption is that there will be a truthful showing” (emphasis in original). This does not mean “truthful” in the sense that every fact recited in the warrant affidavit is necessarily correct, for probable cause may be founded upon hearsay and upon information received from informants, as well as upon information within the affiant’s own knowledge that sometimes must be garnered hastily. But surely it is to be “truthful” in the sense that the information put forth is believed or appropriately accepted by the affiant as true.

Justice Blackmun, in Franks v. Delaware, quoting Judge Frankel in US v. Halsey. Franks, of course, permits a defendant to challenge the veracity of the statements in a search warrant. If he makes a substantial showing that the affidavit contains intentional falsehoods or material omissions, then he gets an evidentiary hearing to prove..umm..that there are falsehood or misrepresentations or omissions in the affidavit.

But Franks applies only to search warrants. What of the scenario where the officer intentionally lies to get a judge to sign a warrant for an arrest? There has to be judicial review of an arrest warrant and a finding of probable cause. But since we know officers lie, what if an officer lied to get a person arrested? Is there any remedy for that? I’ve been asked this question more than a few times over the last month and was a topic of discussion on the local listserve today, so I figure it’s about time I write a post on it.

There is a remedy, sort of. It’s more of a hollow remedy. In State v. Dolphin, the Connecticut supreme court, without explicitly stating so, applied the Franks analysis to an arrest warrant. As with the search warrant, a defendant attacking the validity of an arrest warrant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the falsehoods contained in the warrant, or the material omissions would defeat probable cause:

Prove the defendant’s bad character, not the crime

Let’s play a game. I will give you two quotes, both on the same issue. One is from an erstwhile liberal northeast state, the other from a state in “flyover country”. You guess which is which.

Compare:

Nonetheless, we recognize that crimes of a sexual nature are unique and distinct from crimes of a nonsexual nature because they often are “committed surreptitiously, in the absence of any neutral witnesses” and exhibit an “unusually aberrant and pathological nature . . . .” State v. Merriam, [citation]. Accordingly, we conclude that evidence of uncharged misconduct properly may be admitted in sex crime cases under the liberal standard, provided its probative value outweighs its prejudicial effect, to establish that the defendant had a tendency or a propensity to engage in certain aberrant and compulsive sexual behavior.

with:

that which makes the evidence more probative—the similarity of the prior act to the charged act—also makes it more prejudicial. As we explained in Reynolds, where a prior bad act is “similar to the incident in question, ‘it would be extremely difficult for jurors to put out of their minds knowledge that the defendant had assaulted the victim in the past and not allow this information to consciously or subconsciously influence their decision.’ ” [citation] (quoting State v. Henderson, [citation]).  [Statute] violates the due process clause of the [State] Constitution as applied in this case because it permits admission of prior bad acts against an individual other than the victim in the case to demonstrate general propensity.

The defendant’s right to trial by jury

Article III, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution of the United States states:

The trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury; and such trial shall be held in the State where the said crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the trial shall be at such place or places as the Congress may by law have directed.

The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provides:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury . . .

The Sixth Amendment was made applicable to the various states through the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The Connecticut Constitution, in Article I, Section 8 states:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall have a right … in all prosecutions by indictment or information, to a speedy, public trial by an impartial jury.

This is further codified in Connecticut law in both the practice book and the general statutes. C.G.S. 54-82b provides:

(a) The party accused in a criminal action in the Superior Court may demand a trial by jury of issues which are triable of right by a jury. […]

(b) In criminal proceedings the judge shall advise the accused of his right to trial by jury at the time he is put to plea and, if the accused does not then claim a jury, his right thereto shall be deemed waived, but if a judge acting on motion made by the accused within ten days after judgment finds that such waiver was made when the accused was not fully cognizant of his rights or when, in the opinion of the judge, the proper administration of justice requires it, the judge shall vacate the judgment and cause the proceeding to be set for jury trial.

Practice Book Section 42-1 provides:

The defendant in a criminal action may demand a trial by jury of issues which are triable of right by jury. If at the time the defendant is put to plea, he or she elects a trial by the court, the judicial authority shall advise the defendant  of his or her right to a trial by jury and that a failure to elect a jury trial at that time may constitute a waiver of that right. If the defendant does not then elect a jury trial, the defendant’s right thereto may be deemed to have been  waived.

The reason I mention all of this is that the other day, I was reading Mark Bennett’s series of interesting posts on jury selection in Texas. He was in the courtroom, not as a participant in the process, and reported the entire voir dire conducted by the prosecutor and pro-se defendant. In his final post, I noted this (which is Mark’s narration of the pro-se defendant speaking to the venirepersons):

AP [prosecutor] is new here, and I had agreed to have case before the judge (objection overruled). I was comfortable with the court system. The court called me a week later . . . (objection sustained). (State refused to waive jury? WTF, AP?)

That got me thinking. As evidenced by the Constitutional provisions listed above, I’ve always believed that the right to trial by jury is the defendant’s and defendant’s alone. Was I mistaken? So I tried to locate the relevant jury waiver provision in Texas’ criminal code. This is what I found:

Art. 1.13. WAIVER OF TRIAL BY JURY.  (a) The defendant in a criminal prosecution for any offense other than a capital felony case in which the State notifies the court and the defendant that it will seek the death penalty shall have the right, upon entering a plea, to waive the right of trial by jury, conditioned, however, that such waiver must be made in person by the defendant in writing in open court with the consent and approval of the court, and the attorney representing the State. The consent and approval by the court shall be entered of record on the minutes of the court, and the consent and approval of the attorney representing the State shall be in writing, signed by him, and filed in the papers of the cause before the defendant enters his plea.

(b) In a capital felony case in which the attorney representing the State notifies the court and the defendant that it will not seek the death penalty, the defendant may waive the right to trial by jury but only if the attorney representing the State, in writing and in open court, consents to the waiver.

That’s certainly a little strange. What confounds the matter further is the very next provision:

Art. 1.14. WAIVER OF RIGHTS.  (a) The defendant in a criminal prosecution for any offense may waive any rights secured him by law except that a defendant in a capital felony case may waive the right of trial by jury only in the manner permitted by Article 1.13(b) of this code.

But what of Article 1.13(a), which lays out the procedure for waiving a jury in a non-capital case? All the language I could find in constitutional jurisprudence assigned the right to a trial by jury to the defendant only. Take, for example, Patton v. United States, a case in which the defense and prosecution agreed to have the defendant tried by 11 instead of 12, after one juror fell sick. Justice Sutherland, for the majority, wrote:

We come, then, to the crucial inquiry: Is the effect of the constitutional provisions in respect of trial by jury to establish a tribunal as a part of the frame of government, or only to guaranty to the accused the right to such a trial? If the former, the question certified by the lower court must, without more, be answered in the negative.

In the light of the foregoing it is reasonable to conclude that the framers of the Constitution simply were intent upon preserving the right of trial by jury primarily for the protection of the accused. If not, and their intention went beyond this and included the purpose of establishing the jury for the trial of crimes as an integral and inseparable part of the court, instead of one of its instrumentalities, it is strange that nothing to that effect appears in contemporaneous literature or in any of the debates or innumerable discussions of the time. This is all the more remarkable when we recall the minute scrutiny to which every provision of the proposed Constitution was subjected. The reasonable inference is that the concern of the framers of the Constitution was to make clear that the right of trial by jury should remain inviolable, to which end no language was deemed too imperative. That this was the purpose of the Third Article is rendered highly probable by a consideration of the form of expression used in the Sixth Amendment.

The Court then concludes:

Upon this view of the constitutional provisions we conclude that Article III, Section 2, is not jurisdictional, but was meant to confer a right upon the accused which he may forego at his election. To deny his power to do so, is to convert a privilege into an imperative requirement.

Lending further support to the argument that the right is the defendant’s alone is the court’s discussion of the ability of the defendant to waive any damn right he pleases:

A defendant is supposed to understand his rights, and may be aided, if he so desires, by counsel to advise him. There are many legal provisions for his security and benefit which he may dispense with absolutely, as, for instance, his right to plead guilty and submit to sentence without any trial whatsoever.

So how does one square this core Constitutional right, which by all accounts, seems to be confer the benefit solely on the defendant along with the ability to waive this right if he so chooses, with what appears to be a prohibition in Texas on the waiver of this right without the permission of the State? Have I misread Texas’ statute? Perhaps Mark can chime in here and clarify things. Do other states have a similar requirement?

[Note: I know that caselaw establishes there is no fundamental right to trial by jury where the punishment does not exceed six months and yes, death is different and in capital cases, the consent of all parties is required to waive a jury.]

[Note 2: If nothing else, the Patton case and State v. Gannon – a 1902 Connecticut case  – make for fascinating reading. They both explore the deep and rich history of the Constitution and their underpinnings of the right to a jury trial and the process by which that right came to be recognized.]

Pretextual trespass

In an effort to combat drug crime in “minority high crime neighborhoods”, police long ago adopted the “pretextual stop”, which was later condoned by SCOTUS in Whren. In Whren, Scalia wrote:

Not only have we never held, outside the context of inventory search or administrative inspection (discussed above), that an officer’s motive invalidates objectively justifiable behavior under the Fourth Amendment; but we have repeatedly held and asserted the contrary. In United States v. Villamonte-Marquez, 462 U. S. 579, 584, n. 3 (1983), we held that an otherwise valid warrantless boarding of a vessel by customs officials was not rendered invalid “because the customs officers were accompanied by a Louisiana state policeman, and were following an informant’s tip that a vessel in the ship channel was thought to be carrying marihuana.” We flatly dismissed the idea that an ulterior motive might serve to strip the agents of their legal justification. In United States v. Robinson, 414 U. S. 218 (1973), we held that a traffic-violation arrest (of the sort here) would not be rendered invalid by the fact that it was “a mere pretext for a narcotics search,” id., at 221, n. 1; and that a lawful postarrest search of the person would not be rendered invalid by the fact that it was not motivated by the officer-safety concern that justifies such searches, see id., at 236. See also Gustafson v. Florida, 414 U. S. 260, 266 (1973). And in Scott v. United States, 436 U. S. 128, 138 (1978), in rejecting the contention that wiretap evidence was subject to exclusion because the agents conducting the tap had failed to make any effort to comply with the statutory requirement that unauthorized acquisitions be minimized, we said that “[s]ubjective intent alone . . . does not make otherwise lawful conduct illegal or unconstitutional.” We described Robinson as having established that “the fact that the officer does not have the state of mind which is hypothecated by the reasons which provide the legal justification for the officer’s action does not invalidate the action taken as long as the circumstances, viewed objectively, justify that action.” 436 U. S., at 136, 138.

While the pretextual stop is almost exclusively thought of in the motor vehicle context (what with it being a stop and all…), I recently came across the use of a pretext to police drug activity in the non motor vehicle area. [A Lexis search for trespass and Whren and trespass and pretext yielded no meaningful results. Yes, I am that much of a nerd.]

Apparently, police departments in some parts of the state have taken to entering into “criminal trespass agreements” (or some such variation: the public defender I got this from wasn’t entirely clear so blame him, not me). What this essentially means is this: the property owner will enter into a contract with the police department, giving them permission to enforce the criminal trespass statutes. The property owner then provides the police department with a list of the properties and the names of all the residents in those locations. There may or may not be signs to that effect posted on the property.

All drivers are dangerous and the police are the Borg

Consider the facts:

On April 1, 2006, Officers Craig Miller, David Rivera and Charles Gargano of the New Haven police department were patrolling the Fair Haven  neighborhood as part of their duties with that city’s drug interdiction unit. The neighborhood was known for frequent drug trafficking activity. The  officers  were in an unmarked patrol car, operated by Rivera. At approximately 5:15 p.m., the officers observed a Chevrolet Impala turn right from Ferry Street onto Grand Street without signaling. The officers followed the Impala around the block, during which time they also observed that the  defendant, who was operating the car, was not wearing a seat belt. Pursuant to police department policy, the officers called dispatch to request a  marked cruiser in order to effectuate a motor vehicle violation stop.

Three marked patrol cars responded to the dispatch call, and stopped the Impala at the corner of Ferry Street and Grand Street. The unmarked  patrol car stopped approximately one half of a car length behind the Impala. While still in their unmarked patrol car, Rivera, Miller and Gargano  observed the defendant make a movement toward his right side, which led them to believe that the defendant might be concealing a weapon. The  three officers then approached the Impala. As they were approaching, Miller observed the defendant close the center console in the front seat.

Rivera removed the defendant from the vehicle, handcuffed him, and frisked him for weapons. While frisking the defendant for weapons, Rivera  discovered $1369 in cash and several cell phones on his person. At the same time, Miller and Gargano, as well as several officers from the other  patrol cars, removed the two passengers from the vehicle, handcuffed them, and frisked them for weapons. Miller then returned to the car and  observed some plastic protruding from the center console. He opened the console and removed plastic bags that he believed to contain crack  cocaine. The officers also determined that the Impala was owned by a rental car company. Subsequent testing revealed that the bags discovered in  the console contained approximately 21.5 grams of freebase cocaine, commonly referred to as crack cocaine.

So, let’s recap, in normalspeak: officers were in a “minority high crime neighborhood”, looking for an excuse to pull someone over. They saw the defendant commit a motor vehicle violation. They pulled the car over and saw the defendant “make a movement toward his right side” (whatever the hell that means) and decide not only that he was armed, but because he was in a “MHCN”, he was dangerous and probably selling drugs. They handcuffed everybody and searched them and the car with impunity. We now contort ourselves to affirm this stream of clearly illegal activity by the police.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress relying on Arizona v. Gant, which holds that once you have arrested the occupants of the vehicle, there is no more legitimate “officer safety concern”, so a warrant must be obtained.

The Court rejects (emphatically!) the defendants contention that Gant applies since the defendant wasn’t technically arrested until after the drugs were discovered and instead agrees with the State that the “protective search” rubric of Michigan v. Long must control. In Long, the Supreme Court said that the:

purpose of protective searches to be the concern that if the suspect is not placed under arrest, he will be permitted to . . . [go free], and he will then  have access to any weapons

and thus, when analyzing a warrantless search under Long:

our focus is on whether the officers had a reasonable and articulable suspicion to believe that the defendant posed a danger and might access the  vehicle to gain control of a weapon.

Well, clearly, since the defendant wasn’t actually arrested and merely in a state of “custodial arrest (maybe)”, the question then becomes whether the officers had a reasonable and articulable suspicion that he posed a danger and that there was a weapon in the vehicle.

Remember now, that this was in a “minority high crime neighborhood” and that all three officers saw a “movement to his right side” and one saw him “close the center console”. That same officer then innocently “returned to the car” and saw “some plastic protruding” from that very same center console.

But that’s not enough, is it? Surely even the CT Supreme Court would not hold that that is sufficient to conduct a warrantless search of a motor vehicle? Of course not. Which is why we have the “collective knowledge of law enforcement” exception to the Fourth Amendment.

In conducting this analysis, we are cognizant of ‘‘the well settled principle that, in testing the amount of evidence that supports probable cause, it  is not the personal knowledge of the arresting officer, but the collective knowledge of the law enforcement organization at the time of the  arrest that must be considered. See Poulos v. Pfizer, Inc., 244 Conn. 598, 619 (1998) (McDonald, J., concurring) (Fourth  amendment law recognizes that the collective knowledge of the police determines probable cause. See Whiteley v. Warden, 401 U.S. 560, 568 [1971]; see 2 W. LaFave, Search and Seizure [3d Ed. 1996] § 3.5 [b], p. 259 n.46.); State v. Acquin, 187 Conn.  647, 657 (1982) (when we test the quantum of [evidence supporting] probable cause, it is not the personal knowledge of the  arresting officer but the collective knowledge of the law enforcement organization at the time of the arrest which must be considered)’’

Justice Who?

Miller and Rivera saw the defendant “make a movement to his right side”, Miller saw the defendant close the center console, Rivera frisked the defendant and pulled out a gun-like cell phone and cash, and Miller saw the plastic in the console. Of course, they all knew that it was a minority high crime area. And there was testimony that Miller and Rivera shared their observations and findings with one another. Wait, there wasn’t? Oh nevermind. Their knowledge is imputed onto one another.

In fact, applying Whiteley, why stop there? What if Rivera wasn’t on the scene and hadn’t discovered the call signs of drug activity: cell phones and cash? Wherever he was, he must’ve known that those items indicate drug activity. And Officer Krupke, on his beat at the other end of town surely knows that anyone who has cell phones and cash is an armed and dangerous drug dealer! So, of course, the officer at the scene had articulable and reasonable suspicion to search the vehicle. And look, they don’t even have to arrest anyone! Wheee!!!

Because anyone in the police department anywhere is cognizant of the fact that if you’re driving in a minority high crime neighborhood without a seatbelt and you make a movement to your right side and close the center console and happen to have cash and a cell phone, you must be an armed and dangerous drug kingpin. It’s in their – and your – DNA.

Welcome to the 24th Century, where the police are the Borg. The Fourth Amendment will be assimilated. Resistance is futile. Don’t drive.

[A plea: if anyone figures out what “movement to his right side” means, please leave a comment. I have no fucking clue. Kthxbai.]