State v. Coccomo

Citation302 Conn. 664,31 A.3d 1012
Decision Date22 November 2011
Docket NumberNo. 18443.,18443.
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Tricia Lynne COCCOMO.

302 Conn. 664
31 A.3d 1012

STATE of Connecticut
Tricia Lynne COCCOMO.

No. 18443.

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Argued March 22, 2011.Decided Nov. 22, 2011.

[31 A.3d 1015]

Timothy J. Sugrue, assistant state's attorney, with whom were Joseph C. Valdes and Dina Urso, assistant state's attorneys, and, on the brief, David I. Cohen, state's attorney, and Robin S. Schwartz, former assistant state's attorney, for the appellant (state).

Robert S. Bello, with whom, on the brief, was Patrick D. McCabe, Stamford, for the appellee (defendant).



[302 Conn. 666] In this certified appeal, we are required to determine whether the Appellate Court correctly concluded that the admission of evidence that the defendant, Tricia Lynne Coccomo, had transferred certain real property that she owned for less than fair value as proof of consciousness of guilt constituted an abuse of the trial court's discretion and deprived the defendant of a fair trial. Additionally, the defendant asks this court to consider, as an alternative ground for affirmance, whether the trial court committed plain error when it admitted the results of a blood alcohol test that the defendant claims was performed on blood that was not hers. The state claims that the Appellate Court incorrectly concluded that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the property transfer evidence. Because we agree with the state and reject the defendant's alternative ground for affirmance, we reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court.

The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. On the evening of July 26, 2005, the defendant attended a dinner party hosted by Louise Orgera at her home on Dannell Drive in the city of Stamford. Orgera had prepared two pitchers of sangria, each containing a “double

[31 A.3d 1016]

bottle” of wine, to which the party guests helped themselves. Between the time that the defendant arrived at the party shortly after 7 p.m. and the time that she left at approximately 9 p.m., she consumed approximately one and three quarters cups of sangria.

[302 Conn. 667] After leaving the party, the defendant was driving northbound on Long Ridge Road at approximately 9:30 p.m. when her vehicle crossed the center line and collided with a southbound vehicle occupied by James Inverno, Barbara Inverno and Glenn Shelley. The estimated combined speed of the impact was ninety miles per hour, and both vehicles sustained severe damage. All three occupants in the other vehicle died as a result of the injuries that they incurred in the collision. The defendant suffered broken bones in her left foot and lacerations, and was transported to Stamford Hospital (hospital), where a blood test revealed that she had a blood alcohol content of 241 milligrams per deciliter or 0.241 percent. It was estimated that the defendant's blood alcohol content at the time of the collision was approximately 250 milligrams per deciliter or 0.25 percent.

The defendant subsequently was charged with numerous offenses and was convicted, after a jury trial, of three counts each of manslaughter in the second degree with a motor vehicle in violation of General Statutes § 53a–56b (a) and misconduct with a motor vehicle in violation of General Statutes § 53a–57 (a), and one count of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs in violation of General Statutes § 14–227(a)(2). The defendant appealed to the Appellate Court, which reversed the judgment of conviction on the ground that the trial court improperly had admitted the evidence relating to the property transfer as proof of consciousness of guilt. State v. Coccomo, 115 Conn.App. 384, 402, 972 A.2d 757 (2009). We then granted the state's petition for certification to appeal, limited to the following issue: “Did the Appellate Court properly conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of a transfer of property for less than fair value as evidence of consciousness of guilt and that such admission[302 Conn. 668] of evidence was not harmless?” State v. Coccomo, 293 Conn. 909, 910, 978 A.2d 1111 (2009). Thereafter, we granted the defendant's request to raise a claim, as an alternative ground for affirmance of the Appellate Court's judgment, that the trial court had committed plain error in admitting the results of a blood alcohol test that, according to the defendant, was performed on someone else's blood. We conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it admitted the consciousness of guilt evidence and did not commit plain error when it admitted the results of the defendant's blood alcohol test.


We first address the state's claim that the Appellate Court incorrectly concluded that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence that the defendant had transferred, after the collision, certain property for less than its fair value to prove consciousness of guilt, and that the admission of this evidence denied the defendant a fair trial. The defendant contends that the evidence was inadmissible because it did not tend to show that she believed that she was guilty but, at most, was consistent with her guilt. We disagree.

The following additional facts and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this claim. At trial, the state sought, over the defendant's objection, to present evidence that, during her stay in the hospital, the defendant had requested and received the results of a blood alcohol test

[31 A.3d 1017]

that had been performed on her blood. It also sought to present evidence that, several days after the collision, the defendant had quitclaimed to her mother her one-half interest in her Stamford residence (property), which she had co-owned with her mother, for consideration of $1 and other value less than $100. The state argued that the foregoing evidence showed consciousness of guilt and was therefore relevant. The [302 Conn. 669] trial court agreed and admitted the evidence.1 In rebuttal, the defendant testified that she had begun the process of quitclaiming her interest in the property to her mother two weeks before the collision and that the purpose of doing so was to protect the property from any future claim that her husband might make in light of their pending divorce. The defendant also testified that, before trial, at the advice of her attorney, her mother had quitclaimed a one-half interest in the property back to the defendant.

We begin our analysis with a review of the applicable legal principles. “Relevant evidence is evidence that has a logical tendency to aid the trier in the determination of an issue.... One fact is relevant to another if in the common course of events the existence of one, alone or with other facts, renders the existence of the other either more certain or more probable.... Evidence is irrelevant or too remote if there is such a want of open and visible connection between the evidentiary and principal facts that, all things considered, the former is not worthy or safe to be admitted in the proof of the latter.... Evidence is not rendered inadmissible because it is not conclusive. All that is required is that the evidence tend to support a relevant fact even to a slight degree, so long as it is not prejudicial or merely cumulative.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. DeCaro, 252 Conn. 229, 257, 745 A.2d 800 (2000).

“In a criminal trial, it is relevant to show the conduct of an accused, as well as any statement made by him subsequent to the alleged criminal act, which may fairly be inferred to have been influenced by the criminal act.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) [302 Conn. 670] State v. DePastino, 228 Conn. 552, 563, 638 A.2d 578 (1994). “Generally speaking, all that is required is that ... evidence [of consciousness of guilt] have relevance, and the fact that ambiguities or explanations may exist which tend to rebut an inference of guilt does not render [such] evidence ... inadmissible but simply constitutes a factor for the jury's consideration.... The fact that the evidence might support an innocent explanation as well as an inference of a consciousness of guilt does not make [the admission of evidence of consciousness of guilt] erroneous.... Moreover, [t]he court [is] not required to enumerate all the possible innocent explanations offered by the defendant.” (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Freeney, 228 Conn. 582, 593–94, 637 A.2d 1088 (1994). “[I]t is the province of the jury to sort through any ambiguity in the evidence in order to determine whether [such evidence] warrants the inference that [the defendant] possessed a guilty conscience.” State v. Kelly, 256 Conn. 23, 57, 770 A.2d 908 (2001). In that connection, “[p]roof of a material fact by inference from circumstantial evidence need not be so conclusive as to exclude every other hypothesis. It is sufficient if the evidence produces in the mind of the trier a reasonable belief in the probability of the existence of the material fact.... Thus, in determining whether the

[31 A.3d 1018]

evidence supports a particular inference, we ask whether that inference is so unreasonable as to be unjustifiable.... In other words, an inference need not be compelled by the evidence; rather, the evidence need only be reasonably susceptible of such an inference. Equally well established is our holding that a jury may draw factual inferences on the basis of already inferred facts.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Niemeyer, 258 Conn. 510, 518–19, 782 A.2d 658 (2001).

“The trial court's ruling on evidentiary matters will be overturned only upon a showing of a clear abuse of [302 Conn. 671] the court's discretion.... We will make every reasonable presumption in favor of upholding the trial court's ruling, and only upset it for a manifest abuse of discretion.... [Thus, our] review of such...

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  • State v. Leniart
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    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • June 14, 2016 enumerate all the possible innocent explanations offered by the defendant." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Coccomo, 302 Conn. 664, 670, 31 A.3d 1012 (2011). Here, the evidence was relevant because if the jury believed Ching's testimony that the defendant had asked him for h......
  • State v. Rodriguez
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