State v. Berrios

Decision Date26 January 2016
Docket NumberNo. 19494.,19494.
Citation320 Conn. 265,129 A.3d 696
Parties STATE of Connecticut v. Orlando BERRIOS, Jr.
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Richard E. Condon, Jr., senior assistant public defender, for the appellant (defendant).

Rita M. Shair, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Michael Dearington, state's attorney, and Roger Dobris, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

ROGERS, C.J., and PALMER, ZARELLA, EVELEIGH, McDONALD, ESPINOSA and ROBINSON, Js.

ROBINSON, J.

This appeal requires us to consider the continuing vitality of the presumption of prejudice in jury tampering cases articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Remmer v. United States, 347 U.S. 227, 74 S.Ct. 450, 98 L.Ed. 654 (1954) (Remmer I ), which is a question that has divided state and federal courts for more than thirty years in the wake of Smith v. Phillips, 455 U.S. 209, 102 S.Ct. 940, 71 L.Ed.2d 78 (1982), and United States v. Olano, 507 U.S. 725, 113 S.Ct. 1770, 123 L.Ed.2d 508 (1993). The defendant, Orlando Berrios, Jr., appeals1 from the judgment of the trial court convicting him, following a jury trial, of robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a–134 (a)(4). On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court improperly denied his motion for a mistrial on the ground that his mother2 had tampered with the jury by approaching a juror outside the courthouse and speaking to him about the evidence in this case. Relying on the presumption of prejudice articulated in Remmer I (Remmer presumption), the defendant contends that his mother's jury tampering violated his constitutional right to a fair trial because the state failed to carry its " ‘heavy burden’ " of proving that her actions did not affect the jury's impartiality. Although we conclude that the Remmer presumption remains good law in cases of external interference with the jury's deliberative process via private communication, contact, or tampering with jurors about the pending matter, we also conclude that the state proved that there was no reasonable possibility that the actions of the defendant's mother affected the jury's ability to decide this case fairly and impartially. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The record reveals the following background facts, which the jury reasonably could have found, and procedural history. On December 4, 2011, at approximately 7:20 a.m., the defendant and another man, Bernard Gardner, were driving in a black Hyundai Santa Fe (car) on Cedar Street in the city of New Haven when they came upon the victim, Javier Ristorucci, who was out for a walk. The defendant stopped and exited the car, and while Gardner watched, robbed the victim at gunpoint. The victim gave the defendant his cell phone, cash, and the gray hooded sweatshirt and black jacket that he was wearing at the time. After being flagged down by Leonardo Ayala, a friend of the victim who had just left the scene, Francisco Ortiz, an officer in the New Haven Police Department, saw the car stopped in the middle of the street with its brake lights on; the defendant was sitting in the driver's seat smoking crack. The victim then told Ortiz that a man in the car with a gun had robbed him.

When Ortiz attempted to stop the car, the defendant drove away, causing a high speed pursuit through the streets of New Haven onto Interstate 91, which ended when the car came to a rest against the guardrail near exit 11 in North Haven. After a brief foot pursuit, Ortiz and several other police officers apprehended the defendant, who had been driving the car. In the meantime, other police officers apprehended Gardner, who was pinned against the highway guardrail in the passenger seat. Following a showup identification, the victim identified the defendant by his hat, clothing, and face as the person who had robbed him. Ortiz found the victim's gray sweatshirt and black jacket when he searched the car; the gun, cash, and cell phone were not recovered.

The state charged the defendant with robbery in the first degree in violation of § 53a–134 (a)(4), and the case was tried to a jury. During trial, a juror, J,3 informed the trial court that the defendant's mother had approached him on the street outside the courthouse and commented on the veracity of one of the witnesses. Following voir dire of J and the rest of the jurors, the defendant moved for a mistrial on the ground of jury tampering. The trial court denied that motion. The jury subsequently returned a verdict finding the defendant guilty of robbery in the first degree. The trial court rendered a judgment of guilty in accordance with the jury's verdict, and sentenced the defendant to a total effective sentence of fifteen years imprisonment, followed by five years of special parole. This appeal followed.

The record reveals the following additional facts and procedural history relevant to the defendant's claim that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion for a mistrial on the ground that the jury's impartiality had been compromised by jury tampering. On the third day of evidence, the clerk informed the trial court that J had reported to the clerk that the defendant's mother had approached him "and some communication had occurred." The trial court then read a note from J in which he stated that he had been "approached by the defendant's mother in the parking lot yesterday ... [at] approximately 3:30 p.m. She attempted to engage me in conversation. I did not respond to her comments." The trial court then questioned J in open court about the note and he stated: "I guess [the defendant's mother] was concerned for which way we were leaning and [she] was asking me if I ... realized that that last cop was lying. And I made no comment to her and I told her [to] be careful of the gateway that we were walking over so she didn't trip, and I said have a nice evening. So, that was the total."4 J further testified that he had informed the rest of the jury about that encounter while he was preparing the note. J assured the trial court that his ability to decide the case based solely on the evidence had not been compromised as a result of the encounter.5

In response to voir dire questions from the defendant, J testified that he did not tell any friends or family what had happened, and had informed only the other jurors. When asked whether the conversation would affect his ability to "continu[e] to be fair and impartial to the state and to the defendant," J responded, "[n]o, not at all." J further testified that he viewed the actions of the defendant's mother as those of "a concerned mother." When asked whether he would "decide this case based on anything that happened yesterday [at] about 3:30 [p.m.] outside of this courtroom," J responded, "[n]o." J also testified that he had learned from the other jurors that one juror, E, had witnessed the encounter with the defendant's mother.

Before questioning the other jurors, the trial court excluded the defendant's mother from the courtroom. E then testified that, while stopped on his bicycle at the intersection of Orange and Grove Streets, he saw a woman, who he recognized from the courtroom, approach J from behind while talking. E further testified that he did not see or hear J communicate with her. E also testified, in response to questions from the trial court and the defendant, that the incident would not affect his ability to decide the case based solely on the evidence presented in court.

Having interviewed the two witnesses to the incident, the trial court then summoned the remaining members of the jury for individual questioning.6 The next juror, M, testified that J had told the other members of the jury that "he was approached by the defendant's mother, but he didn't say anything, he just walked off." When asked by the trial court whether she would "decide [the] case based 100 percent on the evidence," M responded, "[y]es." M offered a similar assurance in response to questions from the defendant, agreeing that what she heard from J had not affected her ability to be "fair and impartial in this matter," and that her impartiality remained the "[s]ame as it was when [she was] sworn in...."

Another juror, S, testified that J had said "he was approached by the defendant's [mother]." S stated that she "believe[d]" J had spoken about "two young ladies behind him" at that time "with cell phones and [J] wasn't ... sure whether he was being taped or not, so he needed to tell [the trial court]." S similarly assured the trial court that her ability to discharge her sworn duty to decide the case impartially "based 100 percent on the evidence in court" had not been compromised. In response to further questions from the defendant, S stated that J "wasn't sure" about being recorded because the two young women "had cell phones out, so he wasn't sure whether he was being taped, you know, for a mistrial, he wasn't sure, so he wanted to tell the [trial court] because he wasn't sure about being taped or not. He saw the two young ladies, I guess, with cell phones, and he wanted to tell it just in case."7 When asked by defense counsel whether anything had "changed since the day [she was] sworn in" with respect to her ability to decide the case fairly in accord with her oath, S responded, "[n]o."

Another juror, D, testified that she wrote the note for J at his request after he told the other members of the jury that "he had been approached by [who] he believed to be the defendant's mother in the parking lot and that he didn't engage in conversation with her." D testified, in response to questions from the defendant, that, being an educator, she wrote the note for J because "[h]e [had] expressed that his writing skills were not as good as he hoped them to be." D stated that J had been "fairly vague in his sharing" and had not provided any "details or anything to that nature. It was merely that he had been approached and he...

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21 cases
  • State v. Montanez
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • October 23, 2018
    ...therefore reversible on appeal only if there has been an abuse of discretion." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Berrios , 320 Conn. 265, 274, 129 A.3d 696 (2016)."[J]ury impartiality is a core requirement of the right to trial by jury guaranteed by the constitution of Connecticu......
  • State v. Holmes
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • December 24, 2019
    ...accordance with our usual practice, we identify jurors by initial in order to protect their privacy interests." State v. Berrios , 320 Conn. 265, 268 n.3, 129 A.3d 696 (2016).7 "Following the filing of this appeal, the defendant filed with [the Appellate Court] a motion for articulation, wh......
  • LPP Mortg. Ltd. v. Underwood Towers Ltd.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • July 20, 2021
    ...merely because its reasoning and result appear inconsistent with later cases." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Berrios , 320 Conn. 265, 286, 129 A.3d 696 (2016). This principle is founded on the notion that "[w]e are not prepared to indulge in the presumption that the Supreme C......
  • State v. Hughes
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • November 23, 2021
    ...defendant suffered no actual prejudice from the juror misconduct, the state's burden of proof would be met.20 See State v. Berrios , 320 Conn. 265, 299, 129 A.3d 696 (2016) (concluding that state overcame presumption of prejudice by proof that jurors' impartiality was not affected by third-......
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2 books & journal articles
  • ICEBERG AHEAD: WHY COURTS SHOULD PRESUME BIAS IN CASES OF EXTRANEOUS JUROR CONTACTS.
    • United States
    • Case Western Reserve Law Review Vol. 72 No. 2, December 2021
    • December 22, 2021
    ...bias once those manifestations come to light. (222.) E.g., Wahl v. State, 51 N.E.3d 113, 115 (Ind. 2016). (223.) E.g., State v. Berrios, 129 A.3d 696, 704 (Conn. (224.) E.g., Lanier, 870 F.3d at 548 (noting that the third party with whom the juror had extraneous contact was the party who re......
  • A Survey of Criminal Law Opinions
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 90, 2017
    • Invalid date
    ...J., dissenting). [134] 318 Conn. 495, 122 A.3d 542 (2015). [135] Id. at 511-12. [136] Kentucky v. Stincer, 482 U.S. 730 (1987). [137] 320 Conn. 265, 129 A.3d 696 (2016). [138] Berrios, 320 Conn. at 266. [139] Remmer v. United States, 347 U.S. 227 (1954) (Remmer I). [140] Id. at 229. [141] B......

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