State v. Christopher S.

Decision Date10 March 2021
Docket NumberSC 20247
Parties STATE of Connecticut v. CHRISTOPHER S.
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Timothy H. Everett, assigned counsel, with whom, on the brief, were Corinne Burlingham, Brendan Donahue, Alexander Hyder and Michael Nunes, certified legal interns, for the appellant (defendant).

Matthew A. Weiner, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and Richard J. Rubino, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

Maura Barry Grinalds and Darcy McGraw filed a brief for the Connecticut Innocence Project et al. as amici curiae.

McDonald, D'Auria, Mullins, Kahn, Ecker and Vertefeuille, Js.

McDONALD, J.

General Statutes § 54-1o1 provides that, if a person suspected of one of several enumerated classes of felonies gives a statement to law enforcement as a result of a custodial interrogation at a detention facility, the statement will be presumed to be inadmissible unless officers make an audiovisual recording of the interrogation. Under subsection (h) of the statute, the state may overcome the presumption of inadmissibility in any case by proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the statement "was voluntarily given and is reliable, based on the totality of the circumstances." General Statutes § 54-1o (h). The defendant, Christopher S., appeals from the Appellate Court's judgment affirming his conviction of strangulation in the second degree and assault in the third degree. See State v. Spring , 186 Conn. App. 197, 201, 220, 199 A.3d 21 (2018). His principal claim is that the Appellate Court incorrectly upheld the trial court's decision to admit into evidence a signed, written statement that he made during a custodial interrogation, which officers failed to record in violation of § 54-1o. Specifically, the defendant contends that the Appellate Court incorrectly concluded that the state had met its burden of proving that the statement was both voluntary and reliable under § 54-1o (h). The defendant also asks us to exercise our inherent supervisory authority to require trial courts, in all cases in which the police fail to record an interrogation in violation of the statute, to instruct the jury that the police violated the law and that jurors should evaluate with "particular caution" the weight to give the statement and any police testimony regarding the interrogation. We affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court and decline to mandate the requested jury instruction.

The Appellate Court's opinion sets forth the facts that the jury reasonably could have found; see State v. Spring , supra, 186 Conn. App. at 201–207, 199 A.3d 21 ; which we summarize in relevant part. The Enfield police arrested the defendant at approximately 5:30 a.m., after the defendant and the victim had a physical altercation. The arresting officer, Mark Critz, read the defendant his Miranda2 rights both at the time he was arrested and, again, at approximately 7:23 a.m., at the Enfield police station. The defendant was placed in lockup until approximately 1:10 p.m. the same day, when he was brought to the desk of Detective Martin Merritt for questioning. Merritt's desk was situated in a large room containing a number of cubicles with walls about five feet high. The interrogation was not video recorded. Merritt did not readvise the defendant of his Miranda rights because Critz had informed Merritt that the defendant had previously been provided such warnings twice. Merritt did confirm with the defendant that he had been advised of his rights and was willing to speak with Merritt.

Merritt asked the defendant to explain what had happened the night before, asking clarifying questions when necessary and taking notes. From the defendant's statements, Merritt wrote out a narrative of the incident on an Enfield Police Department form titled "Supplement/Statement."

Merritt explained to the defendant that this was the defendant's statement and that it should reflect his perspective of what happened. The defendant made several changes to the statement, which he signed in three places and initialed in fourteen places. The preprinted form on which the statement was written also contains the following acknowledgment: "I HAVE READ THE ABOVE STATEMENT AND IT IS TRUE TO THE BEST OF MY KNOWLEDGE. I FULLY UNDERSTAND THAT IF I MAKE A FALSE STATEMENT THAT IS UNTRUE AND WHICH IS INTENDED TO MISLEAD A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER IN THE PERFORMANCE OF HIS OFFICIAL FUNCTIONS I WILL BE IN VIOLATION OF [ GENERAL STATUTES § 53a-157 ]. A FALSE STATEMENT IS A CLASS A MISDEMEANOR, WHICH IS PUNISHABLE UP TO [ONE] YEAR IN JAIL AND/OR A [$1000] FINE AND NOT MORE THAN [THREE] YEARS PROBATION." In the statement, the defendant also acknowledged that he had been advised of his rights, understood those rights, was making the statement of his own free will, without any threats or promises having been made, and that he was giving the statement voluntarily.

The defendant's statement provided the following summary of the incident. The defendant and the victim were married but had been on a break, living in separate residences, for about two weeks. The night before the incident, the defendant was watching a boxing match at a party. After leaving, the defendant drove to the victim's house in Enfield and knocked on a porch window. The victim let the defendant in the house, and they talked for a few minutes, eventually deciding to take a drive together. Once in the car, the defendant and the victim argued about having cheated on each other. The defendant "became very angry," pulled the car over, and began choking the victim with his hands. He also "punched her once in the side of the head ... and slap[ped] her several times." At some point, the victim punched the defendant in the face and cut his gum, causing him to bleed from the mouth. The defendant then drove the pair to the home of the defendant's ex-wife. Both the defendant and the victim had a lot of blood on them from the fighting. Shortly thereafter, the police were called. The defendant "hung out on the back patio for a while [and] then went for a walk," and the police detained him while he was walking. The defendant talked to an officer about what had happened before being arrested and taken to the Enfield police station.

The record reveals the following procedural history. The defendant was charged with one count each of (1) burglary in the first degree, (2) kidnapping in the second degree, (3) strangulation in the second degree, and (4) assault in the third degree. Before trial, the state, pursuant to § 54-1o, filed a motion seeking permission to introduce the defendant's signed statement into evidence. In the motion, the state acknowledged that, because Merritt did not record the interrogation, in violation of § 54-1o, the defendant's statement was presumed inadmissible. The state requested a hearing to establish that the statement was admissible pursuant to an exception to the custodial interrogation recording requirement under subsections (e) and (h) of § 54-1o. Section 54-1o (e) (2) provides an exception to the recording rule if "electronic recording [is] not feasible ...." Even when no exception applies, § 54-1o (h) provides that the state may overcome the presumption of inadmissibility by proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant's statement "was voluntarily given and is reliable, based on the totality of the circumstances."

The court held a pretrial hearing on the state's motion, at which Critz, Merritt, and Detective Sergeant Daniel Casale testified. Critz testified that, at approximately 5:30 a.m., he read the defendant his Miranda rights from a Miranda warning card that he carries during his shifts, and the defendant acknowledged that he understood his rights. The defendant talked to Critz, saying that he had been at a party watching the "[Manny] Pacquiao" fight. Critz noted that the defendant was bleeding from the mouth, and he did not appear to be intoxicated. Critz also testified that he advised the defendant of his Miranda rights a second time at 7:23 a.m. at the Enfield police station, using a Connecticut Judicial Branch form titled "Notice of Rights—Bail," which the defendant signed. Critz had no further involvement in the case. The state entered into evidence both the Miranda warning card and Notice of Rights—Bail form.

Merritt testified that, at approximately 1:10 p.m., he spoke with the defendant at the police station in an interview that lasted approximately one hour. Merritt did not readvise the defendant of his Miranda rights because Critz told him that he had already given the defendant two advisements earlier that morning. Merritt did testify, however, that he confirmed with the defendant that he had been advised of his rights and that the defendant spoke voluntarily. Merritt followed his usual technique in questioning the defendanthe obtained the defendant's version of the incident and then wrote out a statement that the defendant could freely edit and adopt. The defendant made and initialed changes, ultimately signing the statement. Merritt also testified that the defendant did not appear intoxicated. He acknowledged that he knew that, under § 54-1o, he should have recorded the interrogation. Although Merritt testified that the police department's recording equipment was not working around the time of the defendant's interrogation, he also admitted that he neither checked to find out if the equipment was working at the time nor documented a reason for not recording. Merritt also admitted that he had a department issued iPhone with him at the time and that holding cells at the station also had video cameras.

Casale testified that he "overs[aw] the process" of the defendant's interrogation. His office was approximately twenty feet from Merritt's desk, and, during the course of the interview, he was "bouncing back and forth" between his office and...

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4 cases
  • State v. Bouvier
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • 7 Diciembre 2021
    ...and voluntarily waived [his Miranda ] rights when making the statement." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Christopher S. , 338 Conn. 255, 278, 257 A.3d 912 (2021)."To be valid, a [ Miranda ] waiver must be voluntary, knowing and intelligent. ... The state has the burden of provi......
  • State v. Griffin
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • 22 Julio 2021
    ...to take into account the research regarding masking and record evidence consistent with that research. See State v. Christopher S. , 338 Conn. 255, 274-75, 257 A.3d 912 (2021) ("[T]he trial court's findings as to the circumstances surrounding the defendant's interrogation and confession are......
  • State v. Flores
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • 20 Septiembre 2022
    ...voluntarily given and is reliable, based on the totality of the circumstances.’ General Statutes § 54-1o (h)." State v. Christopher S. , 338 Conn. 255, 258–59, 257 A.3d 912 (2021). "The voluntariness inquiry addresses a defendant's constitutional right to due process and, potentially, those......
  • State v. Gray
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • 29 Marzo 2022
    ...predicates for that legal determination are findings that are within the province of the trial court. See State v. Christopher S. , 338 Conn. 255, 274–75, 257 A.3d 912 (2021) (deference is afforded to trial court's factual findings regarding voluntariness of defendant's statement); State v.......

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