State v. Anderson, No. 14626

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtBefore PETERS; NORCOTT; In this opinion PETERS; CALLAHAN
Citation631 A.2d 1149,227 Conn. 518
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Charles ANDERSON.
Decision Date31 August 1993
Docket NumberNo. 14626

Page 1149

631 A.2d 1149
227 Conn. 518
STATE of Connecticut
v.
Charles ANDERSON.
No. 14626.
Supreme Court of Connecticut.
Argued April 29, 1993.
Decided Aug. 31, 1993.

[227 Conn. 519] Lauren Weisfeld, Asst. Public Defender, for appellant (defendant).

Paul J. Ferencek, Asst. State's Atty., with whom were John M. Bailey, State's Atty., and Warren Maxwell, Assistant State's Atty., for appellee (state).

Before [227 Conn. 518] PETERS, C.J., and CALLAHAN, BORDEN, BERDON and NORCOTT, JJ.

[227 Conn. 519] NORCOTT, Associate Justice.

After a jury trial, the defendant, Charles Anderson, was convicted of assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-59(a)(1) 1 and of [227 Conn. 520] carrying

Page 1150

a pistol without a permit in violation of General Statutes § 29-35. 2 He was sentenced to a total effective sentence of twenty years, execution suspended after seventeen years, and three years probation. The defendant appealed to the Appellate Court, which affirmed the conviction. State v. Anderson, 28 Conn.App. 833, 614 A.2d 438 (1992). We then granted the defendant's petition for certification to appeal limited to the following bifurcated question: "In the circumstances of this case, were the trial court's instructions on self-defense (a) erroneous and (b) if erroneous, harmless?" State v. Anderson, 224 Conn. 908, 615 A.2d 1048 (1992). We reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court and direct that the case be remanded to the trial court for a new trial. 3

The following facts are relevant to this appeal. In the early morning of March 21, 1990, the victim, Albert Ashley, was involved in a craps game that included the defendant and another individual, "Cat" Bunkley, at an apartment in the Stowe Village housing development in Hartford. The game ended at approximately 2 a.m. when the victim had won all $1100 that had been wagered during the course of the game. Shortly after [227 Conn. 521] the game ended, the victim and the defendant became involved in an argument over money at the victim's apartment. The defendant pulled a revolver from his coat and shot the victim in the right shoulder. As a result of the shooting, the victim's spinal cord was damaged and he was left paraplegic.

The state and the defendant presented two different versions of how the shooting had come to pass. According to witnesses for the state, when the game ended, the defendant approached the victim and asked that the victim return some of the money the defendant had lost. The victim replied, "I'll see what I can do." Thereafter, the victim left to count his winnings in his own apartment across the street. Being concerned for his safety while he was carrying a large amount of cash, the victim went downstairs to the apartment of his friends, William and Kenneth Stewart, and asked them to escort him across the street.

The defendant and Bunkley met and followed the victim and the Stewarts across the street. Kenneth Stewart overheard the defendant ask the victim, "[D]o you have something for me?" Upon arriving at his apartment, the victim let himself and the Stewarts inside through a door that opened to the kitchen. The defendant and Bunkley were left to wait in the hallway.

Once in the apartment, the victim began to count his money and the defendant knocked on the door. When the victim opened the door, the defendant repeated his request for money. The victim told the defendant to wait until he had finished counting the money and closed the door again. The defendant proceeded to pound on the door and the victim again opened it and told the defendant to wait. When the victim attempted to close the door again, the defendant stuck his foot inside the doorway. The victim then went to light a cigarette over a stove located near the kitchen door where [227 Conn. 522] the defendant was standing. As he did this, the defendant

Page 1151

pulled a revolver from his trench coat and shot the victim. The defendant then fled. 4

The defendant testified at trial and gave a different version of the events leading up to the shooting. He testified that one year prior to the shooting, the defendant had loaned the victim $150, which the victim had promised to repay within three days. After two weeks had gone by, the defendant demanded repayment and the victim responded that the defendant should not approach him about money any more. A few months later, the defendant and his fiancee, Joann Robinson, saw the victim as they were driving through Stowe Village. The defendant again asked the victim for the money he had borrowed. The victim revealed a pistol tucked in his waist and warned the defendant, "I'll fuck you up if you ask me for this money again." 5 After this encounter, the defendant did not pursue the matter of the money again because he knew that the victim used drugs and that he had a reputation for violence.

The defendant further testified that, on the night of the shooting, he had watched but had not participated in the craps game. After the defendant had seen the victim win $1100 in cash, he decided to pursue once again the matter of the unpaid loan. The victim ignored the defendant's request and, upon entering the Stewarts' apartment downstairs, slammed the door in the defendant's face. The defendant testified that he had waited for approximately twenty-five minutes outside the Stewarts' apartment, and when the victim [227 Conn. 523] exited and began walking toward his apartment, the defendant followed with Bunkley.

The defendant testified that, when they arrived at the victim's apartment, he had tried to persuade the victim to repay the loan. The victim entered his apartment and again slammed the door in the defendant's face. Shortly thereafter, the Stewarts arrived and the victim let them enter the apartment. The defendant then moved into the threshold and again asked for his money. The victim responded, "Don't ask me for that money no more or I'm going to fuck you up." When the defendant asked him why he was being so unreasonable, the victim answered, "I'm going to show you why," and then quickly reached for a nearby drawer located beneath a kitchen counter. The defendant testified that he had believed that the victim was under the influence of several intoxicants, and, because the victim had previously threatened him with a gun, he had believed that the victim was reaching for a gun. The defendant testified that he had shot the victim in order to defend himself. 6

The defendant requested that the trial court charge the jury on self-defense pursuant to General Statutes § 53a-19. 7 As

Page 1152

part of the charge on self-defense, the [227 Conn. 524] trial court defined the term "reasonable force" as "force which an average person of ordinary intelligence in like circumstances would judge to be necessary to prevent injury and no more." 8 The trial court also instructed the jury that: "The defendant, claiming a justification of self-defense, is permitted to use deadly force in two broad circumstances. He may justifiably use deadly force only if he reasonably believed that the other person was about to use deadly physical force or about to inflict great bodily harm. The law does not encourage the use of deadly force and in most circumstances, a person must retreat from the perceived harm, if he knows he could avoid the necessity of using force by retreating, if he is able to do so with safety." 9

On the defendant's appeal to the Appellate Court, the majority concluded that the trial court's instructions on self-defense contained incorrect statements of [227 Conn. 525] law regarding two elements: (1) the duty to retreat "with safety"; and (2) the standard by which the jury was to evaluate the "reasonable force" that one may use to defend oneself. As to the instruction on the duty to retreat, the court stated that the failure to instruct the jury in accordance with the statutory language "with complete safety" contained in § 53a-19 "may be improper." State v. Anderson, supra, 28 Conn.App. at 840, 614 A.2d 438. The court also concluded that the trial court's instruction regarding "reasonable force" replaced the subjective-objective standard required by § 53a-19 with a strictly objective standard. Id., at 838, 614 A.2d 438.

The majority of the Appellate Court nonetheless concluded that these errors were harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because it was not reasonably possible that the jury had been misled. The court stated that the jury could not have been misled by the instruction regarding the defendant's duty to retreat because "the term safety ... necessarily entails complete safety and thus the absence of the word 'complete' from the trial court's instructions was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt." Id., at 839-41, 614 A.2d 438. As to the instruction on "reasonable force," the court noted that the case was factually similar to State v. Williams, 25 Conn.App. 456, 462-63, 595 A.2d 895, cert. denied, 220 Conn. 916, 597 A.2d 339 (1991), and concluded that this error was harmless on the basis of the reasoning contained in that case.

The defendant claims that the Appellate Court properly concluded that the instruction on self-defense was erroneous, but that it improperly concluded that the erroneous instruction was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant argues that the only contested issue in this case was whether the state had disproved the defendant's assertion that he had acted in justifiable self-defense. The defendant contends that the erroneous instruction diluted the state's burden of [227 Conn. 526] disproving the defense beyond a reasonable doubt, and for that reason, amounted to reversible error.

Page 1153

The state claims that the trial court's instruction was not erroneous. The state argues that the trial court's instruction on the duty to retreat, although not delivered in the verbatim language of § 53a-19, did not alter the substantive meaning of the statute. The state also argues that the trial...

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34 practice notes
  • State v. Amado, (AC 15176)
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • October 6, 1998
    ...the function of the jury in their evaluation of the self-defense claim." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Anderson, 227 Conn. 518, 533, 631 A.2d 1149 (1993). Further, our Supreme Court has concluded that "[t]he jury must view the situation from the perspective of the defendant........
  • State v. DeFrancesco, No. 14971
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • November 21, 1995
    ...no word in a statute is to be treated as superfluous." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Page 355 Anderson, 227 Conn. 518, 528, 631 A.2d 1149 (1993); accord Office of Consumer Coun sel[235 Conn. 438] sel v. Dept. of Public Utility Control, supra, 234 Conn. at 64......
  • State v. Williams
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • September 4, 2001
    ...in artificial isolation from the overall charge.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Spillane, supra, 757; State v. Anderson, 227 Conn. 518, 532, 631 A.2d 1149 (1993) (charge considered from standpoint of its effect on jury in guiding it to proper In this case, the trial court ch......
  • State v. Prioleau, No. 14896
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 22, 1995
    ...188 Conn. 653, 660, 453 A.2d 427 (1982).' " State v. Ash, 231 Conn. 484, 492-93, 651 A.2d 247 (1994), quoting State v. Anderson, 227 Conn. 518, 526, 631 A.2d 1149 "An improper instruction on a defense, like an improper instruction on an element of an offense, is of constitutional dimension.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
34 cases
  • State v. Amado, (AC 15176)
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • October 6, 1998
    ...the function of the jury in their evaluation of the self-defense claim." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Anderson, 227 Conn. 518, 533, 631 A.2d 1149 (1993). Further, our Supreme Court has concluded that "[t]he jury must view the situation from the perspective of the defendant........
  • State v. DeFrancesco, No. 14971
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • November 21, 1995
    ...no word in a statute is to be treated as superfluous." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Page 355 Anderson, 227 Conn. 518, 528, 631 A.2d 1149 (1993); accord Office of Consumer Coun sel[235 Conn. 438] sel v. Dept. of Public Utility Control, supra, 234 Conn. at 64......
  • State v. Williams
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • September 4, 2001
    ...in artificial isolation from the overall charge.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Spillane, supra, 757; State v. Anderson, 227 Conn. 518, 532, 631 A.2d 1149 (1993) (charge considered from standpoint of its effect on jury in guiding it to proper In this case, the trial court ch......
  • State v. Prioleau, No. 14896
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 22, 1995
    ...188 Conn. 653, 660, 453 A.2d 427 (1982).' " State v. Ash, 231 Conn. 484, 492-93, 651 A.2d 247 (1994), quoting State v. Anderson, 227 Conn. 518, 526, 631 A.2d 1149 "An improper instruction on a defense, like an improper instruction on an element of an offense, is of constitutional dimension.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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