State v. Edmonds, SC19389

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtESPINOSA, J.
Docket NumberSC19389
Decision Date13 September 2016



Supreme Court of Connecticut

September 13, 2016


ESPINOSA, J., with whom ZARELLA, J., joins, dissenting. In today's decision, the majority concludes that the defendant, Michael Edmonds, was seized within the meaning of the fourth amendment to the United States constitution and article first, §§ 7 and 9, of the constitution of Connecticut, by the mere act of a police officer speaking to him. The most troubling aspect of the majority's determination is that it rests not on the record and findings of the trial court, but on the majority's own inferences and assumptions about the record and a misreading of the relevant case law. The majority's decision disregards the appropriate standard of review, muddles our search and seizure jurisprudence, and will ultimately have the practical effects of hindering law enforcement at the most fundamental level and further endangering citizens living in crime-ridden neighborhoods. Accordingly, I am compelled to dissent. In my view, the Appellate Court properly concluded that the record was inadequate to permit appellate review of the defendant's previously unraised claim that he was seized upon a police officer's verbal order to stop. State v. Edmonds, 151 Conn. App. 763, 770, 96 A.3d 607 (2014). I would also conclude that the Appellate Court correctly determined that the defendant was not seized until the police performed a patdown search of his person, at which point the police possessed a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the defendant was engaged in criminal activity. Id., 766. I would therefore affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court.

Prior to charting the factual landscape of the present case, I set forth the proper standard of review rather than the incorrect reading of the standard that the majority applies for the purposes of this case. In reviewing a motion to suppress, this court accords great deference to the findings of the trial court. "[T]he standard of review for a motion to suppress is well settled. A finding of fact will not be disturbed unless it is clearly erroneous in view of the evidence and pleadings in the whole record . . . . [W]hen a question of fact is essential to the outcome of a particular legal determination that implicates a defendant's constitutional rights, [however] and the credibility of witnesses is not the primary issue, our customary deference to the trial court's factual findings is tempered by a scrupulous examination of the record to ascertain that the trial court's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Kendrick, 314 Conn. 212, 222, 100 A.3d 821 (2014). In the present case, the testimony of the arresting officers was central to the trial court's factual findings and legal conclusions. "[W]here the legal conclusions of the court are challenged, [our review is plenary, and] we must determine whether they are legally and logically correct

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and whether they find support in the facts set out in the memorandum of decision . . . ." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id.

Conversely, the majority opinion states that "the standard of appellate review governing allegedly unconstitutional police searches and seizures differs from the standard that governs appellate review of other types of similarly fact intensive questions." While correctly recognizing that when presented with a claim of constitutional magnitude we must "[conduct] a scrupulous examination of the record" to ascertain whether each finding is supported by substantial evidence; State v. Burroughs, 288 Conn. 836, 843, 955 A.2d 43 (2008); the majority takes this to mean that this court need not defer to the trial court's factual findings, but rather may examine the record in order to make its own findings in opposition to those found by the trial court. Although Burroughs correctly states the standard of review in the context of the present case, the majority broadly applies Burroughs and does so in a manner inconsistent with the mandate that we are to leave undisturbed the factual findings of the trial court unless the findings are clearly erroneous in light of the record as a whole. Id. The majority does not suggest that the trial court's findings are in error and although the majority purports to defer to the trial court, a comparison of the facts as found by the trial court and the majority's facts demonstrate otherwise.

The majority also seeks to broaden the standard of review by purporting that "we must take account of any undisputed evidence that does not support the trial court's ruling in favor of the state but that the trial court did not expressly discredit." In support of this position, the majority relies on our decision in State v. DeMarco, 311 Conn. 510, 88 A.3d 491 (2014). The majority's reliance, however, is misplaced. In DeMarco, this court recognized that in reviewing a motion to suppress, "[i]f the [police] officers' own testimony as to what occurred is internally consistent and uncontested by the defendant but, in fact, undercuts the trial court's ruling in favor of the state, a reviewing court would be remiss in failing to consider it." Id., 520. Of course, the majority is correct in taking note of undisputed evidence in the record that the trial court did not discredit. But where the majority errs is in taking this a step too far and using the evidence in the record to make its own findings and even resolve inconsistencies in the officers' testimony, which DeMarco expressly forbids. Id., 519-20 ("It is the exclusive province of the trier of fact to weigh conflicting testimony and make determinations of credibility, crediting some, all or none of any given witness' testimony. . . . Questions of whether to believe or disbelieve a competent witness are beyond our review." [Internal quotation marks omitted.]).

Instead, the majority quibbles with and repeatedly

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questions the trial court's factual findings and introduces its own assumptions and inferences into the factual matrix of the present case, all while continually professing to do so under the auspices of the standard of review. Scrupulous review of the record requires us to examine whether the trial court's findings are supported by substantial evidence, not to decide what factual conclusions we ourselves would draw from that same evidence. See State v. Burroughs, supra, 288 Conn. 843. To conclude otherwise is to forsake our role as an appellate tribunal.

Because we are an appellate court, the raison d'être of this institution is to review the judgment of the trial court without substituting our own preferred determinations in place of those of the trial court. In broadening the appropriate standard of review, the majority ignores "the fundamental distinction between the function of the fact finder, which is to make credibility determinations and to find facts, and the function of the appellate tribunal, which is to review, and not to retry, the proceedings of the trial court." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Lawrence, 282 Conn. 141, 156, 920 A.2d 236 (2007). Although the trial court is obviously not infallible, this court has historically recognized the trial court's advantage in seeing witnesses and evidence firsthand, which warrants great deference to its determinations. State v. Brown, 279 Conn. 493, 514, 903 A.2d 169 (2006). The review undertaken by this court, however, is confined to a cold, printed, and impersonal record. As such, we are not equipped to make factual findings. State v. Lipscomb, 258 Conn. 68, 74, 779 A.2d 88 (2001) (trial court is in "unique [position] to view the evidence presented in a totality of circumstances, i.e., including its observations of the demeanor and conduct of the witnesses and parties, which is not fully reflected in the cold, printed record which is available to us" [internal quotation marks omitted]).

In order to present a version of the facts that is faithful to the record and the factual findings of the trial court, I take the time here to restate the relevant facts in a manner that ensures their accuracy and reflects this court's proper role in relation to that of the trial court. At approximately 7 p.m. on January 28, 2011, Officers Elson Morales and Joseph Lawlor of the Bridgeport Police Department were on patrol in their cruiser in the vicinity of Madison Avenue and Capitol Avenue in Bridgeport. The officers were on alert that evening as the police anticipated a large influx of youth into the neighborhood due to a nearby high school basketball game and this area of Bridgeport was well-known among local police for robberies and other violent crimes. As Morales and Lawlor proceeded down Madison Avenue, they observed the defendant standing alone in the poorly lit parking lot of a Subway sandwich shop. Because Morales was aware that the Subway shop had been the target of previous robberies, he radioed

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his supervisor, Sergeant Ronald Mercado, who was on patrol nearby, and informed him of the defendant's presence.

A brief description of the Subway parking lot in which the defendant was standing is helpful in understanding the facts in the present case. The Subway shop and its parking lot are located on a corner lot at the intersection of Madison Avenue and Capitol Avenue. The parking lot wraps around the building containing the Subway in an L-shape and has vehicle entrances from both Madison Avenue and Capitol Avenue. At the time of the defendant's arrest, the parking lot was open and was not enclosed by a fence, gate, or wall. Although the parking spaces in the lot are for the customers of Subway and a nearby bakery, the back side of the Subway building contains a flight of stairs that begins in the parking lot at the corner of the "L" and ascends to upper floor apartment units. To reach the stairs, residents of the apartments would have to walk through the parking lot. Several parking spaces are painted onto the asphalt...

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