Gonzalez v. Warden, State Prison

Decision Date22 November 2019
Docket NumberCV154007014S
CourtConnecticut Superior Court
PartiesAlfredo Gonzalez v. Warden, State Prison

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Judge (with first initial, no space for Sullivan, Dorsey, and Walsh): Bhatt, Tejas, J.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

Bhatt J.

It is axiomatic that a valid criminal conviction requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The troublesome question, however is proof of what? Which facts must be proven by the state beyond a reasonable doubt in order to secure a conviction? Which facts may be delegated to the defense to prove or disprove? What limits does the due process clause place on assigning a fact as an element, for which the burdens of production and persuasion rest with the prosecution, and assigning a fact as a defense, for which the burden of production and/or persuasion rests with the defendant? That is the central question in this case. The petitioner contends that our statutory scheme for manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm violates the due process clause because a defendant in a crime that constitutes manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm who maintains that he did not know or intend that his co-participant use a firearm to commit the crime, must raise this lack of knowledge as an affirmative defense pursuant to General Statutes § 53a-16b. He argues that the due process clause instead requires that the defendant’s intent that the co-participant use a firearm be proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution because it is actually an element of the offense.

Our Supreme Court’s decision in the petitioner’s direct appeal in conjunction with our jurisprudence on this subject, compels this court to deny the petition.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Alfredo Gonzalez was arrested and charged with murder as an accessory in violation of General Statutes § § 53a-8 and 53a-54a(a), manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm as an accessory in violation of § 53a-8 and General Statutes § 53a-55a, conspiracy to commit assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § § 53a-48 and 53a-59(a)(5), hindering prosecution in the second degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-166, and criminal possession of a firearm in violation of General Statutes § 53a-217(a)(1). He was acquitted of the charges of accessory to murder and conspiracy to commit murder, and convicted of the remainder. The trial court sentenced him to a total effective sentence of thirty-eight years imprisonment, with ten years of special parole. He appealed to our Appellate Court, and our Supreme Court transferred the appeal. His sole issue on appeal was that "the trial court improperly instructed the jury regarding the elements of the offense of manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm as an accessory. Specifically ... that accessorial liability under § 53a-8 encompasses both the specific intent to cause a result, in this case, to cause the victim serious physical injury, as well as the general intent to perform the physical acts that constitute the offense of manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm, including the use, carrying or threatened use of a firearm." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Gonzalez, 300 Conn. 490, 495, 15 A.3d 1049 (2011). As discussed below in greater depth, our Supreme Court affirmed his conviction. in its decision, it summarized the salient facts underlying his convictions as follows:

The defendant had engaged in an ongoing feud with the victim, Samuel Tirado. On the evening of May 5, 2006, the defendant and three friends, Anthony Furs, Christian Rodriguez and Melvin Laguna, went out for the evening in Rodriguez’ red GMC Yukon. They stopped briefly at one bar, and then decided to go to a bar named Bobby Allen’s in Waterbury because they knew that the victim went there frequently, and they wanted to start a fight with him. En route to Bobby Allen’s, the defendant observed that there were two guns in the Yukon, in addition to a razor blade that he intended to use in that fight, and remarked that, if he had the money, he would give it to Furs to "clap," or shoot, the victim. Rodriguez, who also disliked the victim, then offered to pay Furs $1,000 to shoot the victim, which Furs accepted. When they arrived at Bobby Allen’s, the defendant left the group briefly to urinate behind a nearby funeral home. When he rejoined the group, Furs gave the defendant the keys to the Yukon and told him to go get the truck because the victim was nearby speaking with Rodriguez. The defendant and Furs then drove a short distance toward Bobby Allen’s in the Yukon, and Furs, upon spotting the victim and Rodriguez outside the bar, jumped out of the Yukon and shot the victim in the chest with a black handgun, mortally wounding him. Rodriguez and Laguna then fled the scene on foot, while Furs and the defendant drove off in the Yukon to a friend’s nearby apartment on South Main Street. Thereafter, with the assistance of friends, Furs and the defendant fled separately from the apartment, and the defendant subsequently disposed of the gun, first by hiding it in a woodpile at his mother’s home, and later by throwing it into Pritchard’s Pond (pond) in Waterbury.
Thereafter, Waterbury police officers investigating the shooting questioned the defendant after arresting him on an outstanding motor vehicle warrant on May 6, 2006. The defendant initially gave a statement denying any involvement in the incident. Subsequently, on May 15, 2006, the Waterbury police reinterviewed the defendant, at which time he admitted disposing of the gun by throwing it into the pond. The defendant then accompanied the officers to the pond and showed them where he had thrown the gun, which enabled a dive team to recover it several days later. After they returned to the police station, the defendant gave the police a second statement admitting that he had lied in his initial statement and explaining his role in the events leading to and following the shooting.

(Footnotes omitted.) Id., 492-94.

On appeal, the petitioner argued "that the trial court’s jury instructions improperly omitted an essential element of the offense of manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm as an accessory, namely, the defendant’s intention that the principal would use, carry or threaten the use of a firearm during the commission of the offense." Id., 492. Our Supreme Court disagreed with the petitioner, concluding that the jury instructions "were a proper statement of the essential elements of manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm as an accessory." Id. The petitioner then filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal district court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Gonzalez v. Commissioner, United States District Court, Docket No. 3:11 cv 1012 (VLB) (D.Conn. July 20, 2012). In that petition, he raised only one claim: that Connecticut’s statutory scheme of manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm violates Due Process because it does not require the state to prove every element beyond a reasonable doubt. Specifically, the state is not required to prove intent to use a firearm in the commission of the offense. The state countered that this claim was not properly raised in state court and thus, the federal district court did not have jurisdiction because the petitioner had not exhausted his state court remedies. Judge Bryant agreed and dismissed the petition without prejudice.

The petitioner then filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in state court, under Docket Number CV-11-4004210-S. Counsel filed an amended petition on his behalf, but the amended petition did not raise the issue identified by Judge Bryant. The sole issue in that petition was that trial counsel was ineffective for following a strategy that was based on an inaccurate statement of the law, i.e., that the state was required to prove specific intent that a firearm be used. The habeas court, Cobb, J., denied the petition, Gonzalez v. Warden, Superior Court, judicial district of Tolland, Docket No. CV-11-4004210-S (March 17, 2014, Cobb, J.), and our Appellate Court, in a memorandum per curiam decision, dismissed the appeal. Gonzalez v. Commissioner of Correction, 160 Conn.App. 902, 125 A.3d 296 (2015). The instant petition followed, in which the petitioner raises four grounds of relief: the substantive due process violation and one count each alleging failure of trial, appellate and habeas counsel to raise the substantive due process violation.

II. FINDINGS OF FACT

The facts underlying the petitioner’s conviction are not in dispute and need not be repeated here. At the underlying criminal trial, the petitioner was represented by Attorney Lawrence Hopkins. On direct appeal, he was represented by Attorney Raymond Durelli. He represented himself in federal court. He was represented by Attorney Joseph Jaumann in his prior state habeas corpus petition.

Attorney Durelli believed he had raised the issue in question on direct appeal, albeit in the form of a challenge to the jury instruction. He testified that very rarely has he challenged the constitutionality of a statute. Attorney Jaumann did not raise the instant issue after the matter was returned to state court based on a finding by Judge Bryant that the issue had not been exhausted in state court. Attorney Jaumann did not believe the issue had any merit and did not find any cases supporting the position that the statute, as interpreted by our appellate courts, violated due process because it impermissibly shifted the burden of proof of an essential element to the defense.

Since resolution of the petitioner’s claim in count one will be dispositive of the claims in the remaining counts, the court focuses its discussion on the question of whether...

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