State v. Connor, AC 34970

CourtAppellate Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtSCHALLER, J. State v. Connor, 292 Conn. 483, 973 A.2d 627 (2009). During the pendency of the defendant's appeal, in Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164, 128 S. Ct. 2379, 171 L. Ed. 2d 345 (2008), the Supreme Court of the United States held that the states are free to adopt a higher standard of competency for defendants who, although competent to stand trial with counsel, may not be competent to conduct trial proceedings without counsel. Our Supreme Court, in its decision, elected to adopt such a higher standard. In addition, the court remanded the case to the trial court, Espinosa, J., to determine whether the defendant was competent to represent himself at trial under the higher standard. Judge Espinosa, however, did not conduct the remand proceedings. Rather, another judge, Schuman, J., conducted the remand proceedings in her stead. The court, Schuman, J., determined that the defendant was competent to represent himself under the higher standard and rendered judgment accordingly. The defendant appeals from the judgment of the trial court on remand. He claims that the court improperly determined that he was competent to represent himself under the higher standard of competency adopted by our Supreme Court in accordance with Edwards. We reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the case with direction to grant the defendant a new trial.
Decision Date16 September 2014
PartiesSTATE OF CONNECTICUT v. JEFFREY T. CONNOR
Docket NumberAC 34970

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
JEFFREY T. CONNOR

AC 34970

COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

Argued March 3, 2014
September 16, 2014


Bear, Sheldon and Schaller, Js.*

(Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Hartford, Espinosa, J. [motion to proceed by self-representation; judgment]; Schuman, J. [remand hearing].)

Mary Boehlert, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

Matthew A. Weiner, deputy assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and Anne Mahoney and Denise B. Smoker, senior assistant state's attorneys, for the appellee (state).

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Opinion

SCHALLER, J. The principal issue in this appeal is whether the trial court, on remand from our Supreme Court, properly determined that the defendant, Jeffrey T. Connor, was competent to represent himself at his criminal trial despite suffering from dementia, psychosis, and residual symptoms from a stroke he had suffered several years before the trial. In April, 2006, following a trial in which the defendant represented himself, a jury found him guilty of several crimes incident to the abduction of his former wife. The trial court, Espinosa, J., then rendered a judgment of conviction and sentenced the defendant to a term of thirteen years imprisonment. The defendant appealed from the judgment of conviction directly to our Supreme Court.1 State v. Connor, 292 Conn. 483, 973 A.2d 627 (2009). During the pendency of the defendant's appeal, in Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164, 128 S. Ct. 2379, 171 L. Ed. 2d 345 (2008), the Supreme Court of the United States held that the states are free to adopt a higher standard of competency for defendants who, although competent to stand trial with counsel, may not be competent to conduct trial proceedings without counsel. Our Supreme Court, in its decision, elected to adopt such a higher standard. In addition, the court remanded the case to the trial court, Espinosa, J., to determine whether the defendant was competent to represent himself at trial under the higher standard. Judge Espinosa, however, did not conduct the remand proceedings. Rather, another judge, Schuman, J., conducted the remand proceedings in her stead. The court, Schuman, J., determined that the defendant was competent to represent himself under the higher standard and rendered judgment accordingly. The defendant appeals from the judgment of the trial court on remand. He claims that the court improperly determined that he was competent to represent himself under the higher standard of competency adopted by our Supreme Court in accordance with Edwards. We reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the case with direction to grant the defendant a new trial.

The relevant factual and procedural background is as follows. In 1997, the defendant abducted his former wife.2 In connection with this abduction, the state charged the defendant with kidnapping in the first degree, robbery in the third degree, robbery involving an occupied motor vehicle, larceny in the third degree, and stalking in the first degree. It was not until 2002, however, that the defendant was arrested on these charges. Prior to his arrest, the defendant had suffered a stroke that confined him to a wheelchair. State v. Connor, supra, 292 Conn. 490 n.3.

Following his arrest, in pretrial proceedings spanning a period of two and one-half years, the court attempted to ascertain the defendant's competency "both to stand

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trial—attempts that were complicated by the defendant's refusal to cooperate with court evaluation teams—and to discharge his court-appointed counsel and to represent himself." Id., 489. These pretrial proceedings concluded with the court finding that the defendant had been malingering and that he, in fact, was competent to stand trial. Id., 499.

Thereafter, in 2006, the defendant's criminal trial commenced with Espinosa, J., presiding. At the outset of the trial, the defendant moved to discharge his appointed counsel and requested permission to represent himself. In the midst of the colloquy3 that followed, the court stated to the defendant: "[If] you represent yourself, you're not going to walk out of here free, I can tell you that. Because you are not capable, you think you are, you think you know what you're doing, but you're not." The defendant nevertheless insisted that he be permitted to represent himself. The court subsequently granted the defendant's request to represent himself, appointed standby counsel, and the case proceeded to trial.

At the conclusion of the trial, in which "[t]he defendant encountered difficulties in representing himself at various stages" of the trial proceedings; State v. Connor, supra, 292 Conn. 503; the jury found him guilty of kidnapping in the first degree, robbery in the third degree, robbery involving an occupied motor vehicle, and larceny in the third degree.4 Id., 504. The court rendered judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict and sentenced the defendant to thirteen years imprisonment. Id., 505.

In the defendant's appeal from his judgment of conviction, our Supreme Court elected "to adopt for mentally ill or mentally incapacitated defendants who wish to represent themselves at trial a competency standard that differs from the standard for determining whether such a defendant is competent to stand trial." Id., 517. In doing so, the court recognized that a mentally ill or mentally incapacitated defendant found competent to stand trial with the assistance of counsel is not necessarily competent to represent himself at that trial. Id., 518. Accordingly, on the basis of Edwards and our Supreme Court's supervisory authority over the administration of justice, the court held that "upon a finding that a mentally ill or mentally incapacitated defendant is competent to stand trial and to waive his right to counsel at that trial, the trial court must make another determination, that is, whether the defendant also is competent to conduct the trial proceedings without counsel." Id., 518-19.

Our Supreme Court recognized, however, that "[b]ecause Edwards had not been decided prior to the conclusion of the [defendant's trial], Judge Espinosa had no alternative, in light of . . . [then controlling precedent], but to permit the defendant to represent

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himself once it was determined that he was competent to stand trial. We therefore do not know whether Judge Espinosa would have granted the defendant's request to represent himself if she had had the authority to deny the request in accordance with Edwards and our holding in the present case. Consequently, the case must be remanded for a determination by the court, Espinosa, J., as to whether the defendant then was competent, notwithstanding any mental disability, to conduct the trial proceedings by himself."5 (Citation omitted; footnote omitted.) Id., 528. Because she presided over the defendant's trial, our Supreme Court emphasized that Judge Espinosa was "best able to make [such a] fine-tuned mental capacity [decision], tailored to the individualized circumstances of a particular defendant . . . ." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 529. If Judge Espinosa were to determine that she would have denied the defendant's request to represent himself due to his mental illness or incapacity, she was to grant the defendant a new trial; if not, the judgment of conviction was affirmed. Id., 533. On July 14, 2009, the date Connor was released, the case was remanded to the court, Espinosa, J., to make such a determination. See id.

Judge Espinosa held two hearings on remand but, for reasons that were not made part of the record, did not complete the remand proceedings.6 In September, 2011, another judge, Schuman, J., did conduct proceedings pursuant to the remand. Although the record does not reflect the circumstances or reasons for this action, the court, Schuman, J., stated in its memorandum of decision that "Judge Espinosa . . . did not complete work on the remanded issue . . . . [The court] assumed responsibility for the case in September, 2011." The court also stated in its decision that it had "obtained an affidavit from Judge Espinosa concerning her recollection of the proceedings . . . ."7 The court conducted two hearings pertaining to the remand, the first on February 22, 2012, and the second on May 25, 2012.

In the first hearing held by the court, Schuman, J., on February 22, 2012, the state immediately moved for the court to admit Judge Espinosa's affidavit either as a court exhibit or as a state's exhibit. At that time, however, the defendant was not represented by counsel, was unresponsive to inquiries from the court, and his standby counsel had indicated that "there are some concerns both with respect to the medications [the defendant] is on and . . . further stroke or stroke-like symptoms, which have caused his condition to further deteriorate." The court did not rule at that point on the state's motion to admit the affidavit. Although the affidavit ultimately was marked as a court exhibit, the record does not reveal when that occurred. At the time of the state's motion, however, the court did indicate that "the question here is . . . was [the defendant]

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capable of representing himself at the trial? That's the ultimate question, and I think that I can arrive at an answer to that question based on my reading of the transcript, my consideration of Judge Espinosa's affidavit, and essentially oral argument from the parties . ....

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