State v. Alonzo, 30725.

Decision Date30 August 2011
Docket NumberNo. 30725.,30725.
Citation26 A.3d 109,131 Conn.App. 1
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
PartiesSTATE of Connecticutv.Hector ALONZO.

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Neal Cone, senior assistant public defender, for the appellant (defendant).Raheem L. Mullins, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Stephen J. Sedensky III, state's attorney, and David Shannon, assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).BISHOP, LAVINE and BEACH, Js.BISHOP, J.

The defendant, Hector Alonzo, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered following a jury trial, of assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a–59 (a)(1) and assault in the second degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a–60 (a)(2). On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court (1) violated his state constitutional right to trial by jury when it instructed the jury that it must unanimously find the defendant not guilty of the assault in the first degree charge before it properly could consider a lesser included charge of assault in the second degree 1 and (2) violated his state constitutional rights to present a defense and to due process of law when it prohibited him from testifying about the alleged prior violent acts of the victim against a third party. 2 We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. On the night of February 4, 2007, the defendant went to the El Milenio Restaurant in Danbury where he encountered the two victims, Fredy Urjiles and Jose Naranjo. An altercation ensued between the defendant and the victims during which the defendant removed a box cutter from his person and stabbed the victims. The defendant was arrested and charged with attempt to commit murder in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a–54a (a) and 53a–49, assault in the first degree with a dangerous instrument in violation of § 53a–59 (a)(1) regarding his assault of Urjiles and assault in the second degree in violation of § 53a–60 (a)(2) regarding his assault of Naranjo. During the trial, the state filed a motion in limine requesting that the court prohibit the defendant from testifying about Urjiles' alleged prior violent acts against a third party, and the court granted the motion.3 Following the close of evidence, and despite the defendant's request to the contrary,4 the court gave the jury an acquittal first instruction, charging that it should proceed to a deliberation of the lesser included crime of assault in the second degree only after it unanimously had found the defendant not guilty of the crime of assault in the first degree. After deliberation, the jury found the defendant not guilty of the attempt to commit murder charge but found him guilty of assault in the first degree with regard to Urjiles and assault in the second degree with regard to Naranjo. This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

I

The defendant first claims that the court violated his state constitutional rights to (a) trial by jury and (b) due process of law when it instructed the jury that it should proceed to deliberation of the lesser included offense of assault in the second degree only after it unanimously had determined that the defendant was not guilty of assault in the first degree.

We first set forth our standard of review. “A challenge to the validity of jury instructions presents a question of law over which this court has plenary review.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Mann v. Regan, 108 Conn.App. 566, 576, 948 A.2d 1075 (2008). “It is well settled that jury instructions are to be reviewed in their entirety.... When the challenge to a jury instruction is of constitutional magnitude, the standard of review is whether it is reasonably possible that the jury [was] misled.... In determining whether it was ... reasonably possible that the jury was misled by the trial court's instructions, the charge to the jury is not to be critically dissected for the purpose of discovering possible inaccuracies of statement.... Individual instructions also are not to be judged in artificial isolation.... Instead, [t]he test to be applied ... is whether the charge ... as a whole, presents the case to the jury so that no injustice will result.” (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Makee R., 117 Conn.App. 191, 198, 978 A.2d 549, cert. granted, 294 Conn. 912, 983 A.2d 275 (2009).

A

The defendant claims that the court violated his state constitutional right to trial by jury when it improperly instructed the jury that it should consider the lesser included offense of assault in the second degree only after it had determined that the defendant was not guilty of assault in the first degree. We disagree.5

The defendant's claim that our state constitution prohibits the court's use of acquittal first jury instructions implicates our duty to interpret the rights and guarantees provided by the Connecticut constitution. In State v. Geisler, 222 Conn. 672, 685, 610 A.2d 1225 (1992), our Supreme Court set forth six factors to be used in analyzing an independent claim under this state's constitution: (1) the text of the operative constitutional provisions; (2) related Connecticut precedents; (3) persuasive relevant federal precedents; (4) persuasive precedents of other state courts; (5) historical insights into the intent of our constitutional forebears; and (6) contemporary understandings of applicable economic and sociological norms, or as otherwise described, relevant public policies.

With regard to the text of the operative constitutional provision, article first, § 19, of the Connecticut constitution provides: “The right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate.” We conclude that this language is not directly beneficial to the resolution of the present issue because the provision does not address the manner of a jury's deliberations.

While there also are no directly applicable precedents in Connecticut, our Supreme Court has narrowly described the relevant state constitutional provision as “the right which every citizen has to demand a trial in that mode; or, in other words, to be secured from having a judgment rendered against him, without the intervention of jury.” Beers v. Beers, 4 Conn. 535, 536 (1823). Our Supreme Court has held, as well, that the right to trial by jury encompasses the right to have the jury serve as the fact finder. Seals v. Hickey, 186 Conn. 337, 349–53, 441 A.2d 604 (1982) (declaring unconstitutional statute that allowed trial judge to interfere injury's fact-finding function by giving judge discretionary power to adjust verdict in light of partial settlement with another defendant).

Although the defendant has not provided a separate federal constitutional analysis in support of his claim that the acquittal first jury instruction violates his federal constitutional right to trial by jury, we can, nevertheless, look to treatment of the federal constitutional right to a jury trial in our state constitutional analysis because the language of the state and federal constitutional provisions regarding the right to a jury trial are sufficiently similar. On the basis of these linguistic similarities, this court has determined that “federal case law can be turned to for guidance in interpreting the ambit of the fundamental right to a jury trial.” L & R Realty v. Connecticut National Bank, 46 Conn.App. 432, 440, 699 A.2d 291 (1997), rev'd on other grounds, 246 Conn. 1, 715 A.2d 748 (1998).

The United States Supreme Court has concluded that the right to trial by jury signifies “merely that enjoyment of th[at right] be not obstructed, and that the ultimate determination of issues of fact by the jury be not interfered with.” Ex Parte Peterson, 253 U.S. 300, 310, 40 S.Ct. 543, 64 L.Ed. 919 (1920).6

The right to trial by jury encompasses both substantive and procedural entitlements. That is, a defendant is entitled to have the state's charges assessed by a jury of his or her peers; additionally, a defendant is entitled to a jury process that is procedurally fair. As to the substantive right of a defendant to be tried by a panel of his peers, we agree with the defendant that it would be appropriate, as part of a constitutional analysis, to refer to the contours of that right when the common law right was embedded in our state's constitution. We disagree, however, with the notion that every procedure regarding jury selection and jury process in existence in 1818 was made part of the constitutional right. Our Supreme Court has recognized that distinguishing procedure from substance can be an elusive task. State v. Clemente, 166 Conn. 501, 507–508, 353 A.2d 723 (1974). Nevertheless, while there is no precise definition of either substantive or procedural law, it generally is agreed that a substantive law is one that “creates, defines, and regulates rights while a procedural law prescribes the methods of enforcing such rights or obtaining redress.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) D'Eramo v. Smith, 273 Conn. 610, 621, 872 A.2d 408 (2005).

At its core, the right to trial by jury guarantees that the criminally accused will receive a fair trial by a panel of impartial and indifferent jurors. State v. Tucker, 226 Conn. 618, 630, 629 A.2d 1067 (1993). Moreover, it guarantees that the jury will be “impartially selected from a cross section of the community.” State v. Ferraro, 146 Conn. 59, 61, 147 A.2d 478 (1958), cert. denied, 369 U.S. 880, 82 S.Ct. 1155, 8 L.Ed.2d 283 (1962). These entitlements are “the cornerstone of our criminal justice system”; (internal quotation marks omitted) State v. Tucker, supra, at 630, 629 A.2d 1067; and therefore, are inviolate. We find no support either in historical precedents or in the application of logic for the conclusion that the right to trial by jury necessarily encompasses the court's instructions to the jury with regard to the process or manner of its deliberations.

Indeed, the United States...

To continue reading

Request your trial
4 cases
  • State v. Anderson
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • June 30, 2015
    ...253 U.S. 300, 310, 40 S. Ct. 543, 64 L. Ed. 919 (1920), Seals v. Hickey, 186 Conn. 337, 351, 441 A.2d 604 (1982), State v. Alonzo, 131 Conn. App. 1, 6, 26 A.3d 109, cert. denied, 303 Conn. 912, 32 A.3d 965 (2011), and Practice Book § 42-30 ("[t]he judicial authority shall, if the verdict is......
  • State v. Anderson
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • June 30, 2015
    ...253 U.S. 300, 310, 40 S.Ct. 543, 64 L.Ed. 919 (1920), Seals v. Hickey, 186 Conn. 337, 351, 441 A.2d 604 (1982), State v. Alonzo, 131 Conn.App. 1, 6, 26 A.3d 109, cert. denied, 303 Conn. 912, 32 A.3d 965 (2011), and Practice Book § 42–30 (“[t]he judicial authority shall, if the verdict is in......
  • State v. Mitchell
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • January 17, 2017
    ...... as a whole, presents the case to the jury so that no injustice will result." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Alonzo , 131 Conn.App. 1, 4–5, 26 A.3d 109, cert. denied, 303 Conn. 912, 32 A.3d 965 (2011). "Whether a jury [was] coerced by statements of the trial judge is to be ......
  • State v. Alonzo
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • December 8, 2011
    ...assistant state's attorney, in opposition. The defendant's petition for certification for appeal from the Appellate Court, 131 Conn.App. 1, 26 A.3d 109, is denied.EVELEIGH, J., did not participate in the consideration of or decision on this ...

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT