State v. DesLaurier

Decision Date02 August 1994
Docket NumberNo. 14845,14845
Citation230 Conn. 572,646 A.2d 108
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. James DesLAURIER.

Paul D. Eschuk, Asst. Public Defender, for appellant (defendant).

David J. Sheldon, Deputy Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, were Patricia A. Swords, State's Atty., and Sandra Tullius, Asst. State's Atty., for appellee (state).


KATZ, Associate Justice.

The defendant, James DesLaurier, was convicted after a jury trial of assault in the second degree with a motor vehicle in violation of General Statutes § 53a-60d, 1 and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a. 2 The defendant appealed from the judgment of conviction to the Appellate Court, which affirmed the judgment of the trial court. State v. DesLaurier, 32 Conn.App. 553, 574, 630 A.2d 119 (1993). We granted the defendant's petition for certification to appeal from the judgment of the Appellate Court, limited to the issues of whether the Appellate Court correctly concluded that the trial court properly: (1) admitted into evidence a statement made by the defendant to a police officer; and (2) denied the defendant's motion for a competency examination under General Statutes § 54-56d. 3 We affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court.

The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. On the afternoon of May 6, 1990, the defendant and his stepbrother, Richard Hinds, Jr., drove in the defendant's car to a pool hall in Springfield, Massachusetts, where they remained for several hours, steadily consuming beer. During their drive home from the pool hall, at approximately 2 a.m., the defendant and Hinds were involved in a one car accident on Route 83 in Somers. The evidence indicated that the defendant's car went out of control, skidded across the highway, crashed three times into metal guardrails, rolled over and came to a stop on an embankment off the road.

After the accident, emergency crews and Connecticut state trooper Tony Dostanko arrived separately at the scene. Upon his arrival, Dostanko observed the defendant and Hinds lying in the front seat of the car, with their bodies intertwined. Due to the position of the bodies, Dostanko was unable to discern who had been operating the car. While medical attendants extricated the defendant and Hinds from the car, the defendant, who appeared intoxicated, was very aggressive and combative. He rejected medical attention, argued aggressively with the medical attendants, attempted to remove the neck brace and restraining belt that were attached to the body board used to remove him from the car, and manifested a desire to leave the accident scene.

Although Dostanko initially avoided interfering with the medical attendants' treatment of the defendant, he was eventually summoned by them to assist in calming the defendant. Dostanko responded by cautioning the defendant that "he should lie back and allow the medical personnel to do their job for his own safety." Additionally, Dostanko stayed close to the defendant and shouted at him as he was being placed into the ambulance.

Thereafter, Dostanko followed the ambulance as it transported the defendant and Hinds to Johnson Memorial Hospital. When Dostanko arrived at the hospital, the defendant and Hinds were in separate, adjoining emergency rooms. Dostanko observed that the defendant, who continued aggressively to reject medical attention, was injured. Additionally, Dostanko was told by hospital personnel that the defendant was "probably going to take off." Dostanko entered the defendant's room, identified himself to the defendant and asked him if he had been driving the car, to which the defendant replied "No." Dostanko next asked the same question of Hinds, who replied that "[the defendant] was driving." Dostanko returned to the defendant's room and told the defendant that Hinds had said that the defendant had been driving, to which the defendant replied "All right, I was [expletive] driving." Immediately thereafter, Dostanko placed the defendant under arrest and read him his Miranda 4 rights from a notice of rights form, which the defendant did not sign.

At trial, the defendant's statement that he had been driving the car was admitted through Dostanko's testimony, over the defendant's objection. The Appellate Court upheld the validity of this ruling.


The defendant first claims that the Appellate Court improperly affirmed the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress the incriminating statement that he had made to Dostanko at the hospital, just prior to his arrest. Specifically, the defendant claims that Dostanko elicited the statement during custodial interrogation, without giving him the warnings required by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). We conclude that the Appellate Court properly determined that the defendant was not in custody when he made the statement. Accordingly, we conclude that the statement was not obtained by the police in derogation of the defendant's Miranda rights. 5

" 'Two threshold conditions must be satisfied in order to invoke the warnings constitutionally required by Miranda: (1) the defendant must have been in custody; and (2) the defendant must have been subjected to police interrogation. Miranda v. Arizona, [supra, 384 U.S. at 444, 86 S.Ct. at 1612].' " State v. Williams, 227 Conn. 101, 112, 629 A.2d 402 (1993). "The term 'custodial interrogation' encompasses both of these requirements, and was defined by the Miranda court as 'questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way.' [Miranda v. Arizona, supra, 384 U.S. at 444, 86 S.Ct. at 1612]." State v. Januszewski, 182 Conn. 142, 158, 438 A.2d 679 (1980), cert. denied, 453 U.S. 922, 101 S.Ct. 3159, 69 L.Ed.2d 1005 (1981). What constitutes custody for purposes of Miranda was recently reiterated by the United States Supreme Court in Stansbury v. California, --- U.S. ----, ---- - ----, 114 S.Ct. 1526, 1528-29, 128 L.Ed.2d 293 (1994): "In determining whether an individual was in custody, a court must examine all of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation, but 'the ultimate inquiry is simply whether there [was] a "formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement" of the degree associated with a formal arrest.' California v. Beheler, 463 U.S. 1121, 1125, 103 S.Ct. 3517, 3520, 77 L.Ed.2d 1275 (1983) (per curiam) (quoting [Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 U.S. 492, 495, 97 S.Ct. 711, 50 L.Ed.2d 714 (1977) ]." Further, the United States Supreme Court has adopted an objective, reasonable person test for determining whether a defendant is in custody. Stansbury v. California, supra, --- U.S. at ----, 114 S.Ct. at 1529; Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 442, 104 S.Ct. 3138, 3151-52, 82 L.Ed.2d 317 (1984). Thus, in determining whether Miranda rights are required, the only relevant inquiry is whether a reasonable person in the defendant's position would believe that he or she was in police custody of the degree associated with a formal arrest. See Stansbury v. California, supra, --- U.S. at ----, 114 S.Ct. at 1529; 1 W. LaFave & J. Israel, Criminal Procedure (Sup.1991) § 6.6, p. 105.

No definitive list of factors governs a determination of whether a reasonable person in the defendant's position would have believed that he or she was in custody. Because, however, the Miranda court expressed concern with protecting defendants against interrogations that take place in a "police-dominated atmosphere," containing "inherently compelling pressures which work to undermine the individual's will to resist and to compel him to speak where he would not otherwise do so freely"; Miranda v. Arizona, supra, 384 U.S. at 445, 467, 86 S.Ct. at 1612, 1624; circumstances relating to those kinds of concerns are highly relevant on the custody issue. See generally C. Whitebread & C. Slobogin, Criminal Procedure (3d Ed.1993) § 16.03, pp. 385-91; 1 W. LaFave & J. Israel, Criminal Procedure (1984) § 6.6, pp. 494-99.

" 'The defendant had the initial burden of proving custodial interrogation. United States v. Charles, 738 F.2d 686, 692 (5th Cir.1984); State v. Doehrer, [200 Conn. 642, 647, 513 A.2d 58 (1986) ]; State v. Vitale, [197 Conn. 396, 409, 497 A.2d 956 (1985) ]. The trial court's determination that the defendant was not in custody is a finding of fact. State v. Ostroski, 186 Conn. 287, 292, 440 A.2d 984, cert. denied, 459 U.S. 878, 103 S.Ct. 173, 74 L.Ed.2d 142 (1982). That finding of fact by the trial court will not be overturned unless it is clearly erroneous. Id.; see Practice Book § 4061; State v. Young, 191 Conn. 636, 652, 469 A.2d 1189 (1983). We will, however, carefully review the record to ascertain whether the trial court's finding is supported by substantial evidence. State v. Toste, 198 Conn. 573, 580, 504 A.2d 1036 (1986); State v. Alexander, 197 Conn. 180, 185, 496 A.2d 486 (1985).' State v. Pittman, 209 Conn. 596, 606, 553 A.2d 155 (1989)." State v. Williams, supra, 227 Conn. at 113, 629 A.2d 402.

Applying these principles to the facts of this case, we conclude that the trial court properly found that the defendant had failed to prove that he was in custody when Dostanko asked him if he had been driving the car when the accident occurred. For purposes of this claim, the defendant contends that his custody originated at the accident scene, continued during his ambulance ride to the hospital, and carried over to the questioning that took place at the hospital. In contrast, the state argues that the defendant was not in custody either at the accident scene or at the hospital. Rather, the state contends that Dostanko merely acted for a medical purpose and in the interest of public safety at the accident scene. Additionall...

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