State v. Hinckley

Decision Date17 December 1985
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Joseph S. HINCKLEY.

Suzanne Zitser, Asst. Public Defender, with whom were Jon C. Blue, Asst. Public Defender, and, on brief, Joette Katz, Public Defender, for appellant (defendant).

James G. Clark, Deputy Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on brief, were John J. Kelly, Chief State's Atty., and John M. Massameno, Asst. State's Atty., for appellee (state).


SHEA, Associate Justice.

The defendant, Joseph Hinckley, was convicted, after a trial to a jury, of manslaughter in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-55a. From this judgment the defendant appeals, claiming: (1) that the trial court erred in its charge to the jury regarding the issue of insanity; (2) that he was denied effective assistance of counsel as a result of an erroneous request to charge, adopted by the court, on the issue of insanity; and (3) that the trial court erred in denying his request to withdraw his jury election so that he could be tried before a panel of three judges. We find no error.

On August 6, 1979, the defendant drove to his former wife's place of employment at a real estate office and knocked on the back door. As his former wife approached the door, the defendant fired a gun at her through the glass portion of the door, the bullet striking her in the chest. The victim staggered back into the office and fell to the floor. The defendant then entered the building and shot the victim twice in the head. The defendant was arrested as he was leaving the scene of the crime.

The defendant was indicted by a grand jury for the charge of murder, in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a(a). On October 3, 1979, he pleaded not guilty and elected to be tried by a jury of twelve. The defendant subsequently notified the state that he would be relying on an insanity defense, as prescribed by General Statutes (Rev. to 1981) § 53a-13. 1 At trial certain friends and relatives of the defendant testified on his behalf that, after his divorce from the victim in 1976, he became despondent and was unable to manage his financial affairs or to hold a steady job. They further testified that the defendant's condition had significantly deteriorated immediately before the incident. Additionally, two psychiatrists testified that the defendant was legally insane at the time he shot his former wife, concluding that at the time of the incident he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia that was so severe he lacked substantial capacity either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his behavior to the requirements of the law. In rebuttal the state offered the defendant's daughter, who testified that, during the time preceding her mother's death, her father continuously threatened to kill her mother, boasting that he could get away with it "because he knew the law."

Because the defendant admitted that he had shot the victim, the only issue for the jury's consideration was whether or not he was legally responsible for the act. The court instructed the jury upon the principles of law to be applied in determining the extent of the defendant's criminal responsibility. The court charged, that, unless the evidence established that the defendant was legally sane at the time of the shooting, a not guilty verdict should be returned. The court charged further upon the defense of extreme emotional disturbance, raised by the defendant for the purpose of mitigating murder to first degree manslaughter. The jury returned a verdict of guilty of manslaughter in the first degree.


The defendant's principal claim on appeal is that the trial court erred in its charge to the jury on the issue of insanity by intermingling the statutory definition of insanity, found in General Statutes (Rev. to 1981) § 53a-13, with previously accepted common law definitions of insanity. See M'Naghten's Case, 8 Eng.Rep. 718, 722 (1843); State v. Toste, 178 Conn. 626, 424 A.2d 293 (1979). Although these instructions were twice given to the jury, the defendant not only failed to except to them, but specifically requested the court to incorporate the superceded tests in its charge. 2


Ordinarily, the defendant's failure to take an exception to the charge would render the claim unreviewable on appeal. Practice Book §§ 854, 3063. "Only in most exceptional circumstances can and will this court consider a claim, constitutional or otherwise, that has not been raised and decided in the trial court." State v. Evans, 165 Conn. 61, 69, 327 A.2d 576 (1973). "The policy behind this rule is both ancient and sound and 'does not permit a defendant in a criminal case to fail, whether from a mistake of law, inattention or design, to object to matters occuring during a trial until it is too late for them to be corrected or even considered and then, if the outcome proves unsatisfactory, to raise them for the first time on an appeal.' State v. Taylor, 153 Conn. 72, 86, 214 A.2d 362 [1965], cert. denied, 384 U.S. 921, 86 S.Ct. 1372, 16 L.Ed.2d 442 [1966]; State v. Evans, supra, 165 Conn. 66, 327 A.2d 576; State v. Tuller, 34 Conn. 280, 295 [1867]." State v. Baker, 182 Conn. 52, 56, 437 A.2d 843 (1980). The first such exceptional circumstance, involving a recently discovered constitutional right, is not applicable to the defendant's claim. State v. Evans, supra, 165 Conn. 70, 327 A.2d 576; State v. Vars, 154 Conn. 255, 271-72, 224 A.2d 744 (1966). The defendant contends that the second exceptional circumstance, the deprivation of "a fundamental constitutional right and a fair trial," represents the proper vehicle for this court's review of his claim. Therefore, because the defendant did not raise an objection to the charge as given, in order to review his claim under the Evans bypass doctrine we must determine whether it involves the deprivation of a fundamental constitutional right. "It is the rare case in which an improper instruction will justify reversal of a criminal conviction when no objection has been made in the trial court." Henderson v. Kibbe, 431 U.S. 145, 154, 97 S.Ct. 1730, 52 L.Ed.2d. 203 (1977).

The defendant argues that the instruction implicates a fundamental constitutional right because the issue of sanity was an essential element of the crime charged, on which the state had the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In support of his position the defendant cites State v. Kurvin, 186 Conn. 555, 442 A.2d 1327 (1982), where the defendant, for the first time on appeal, claimed error in the trial court's failure to charge that an essential element of the crime of larceny was the intent permanently to deprive the owner of property. We recognized that "[d]ue process requires that the state establish beyond a reasonable doubt every essential fact necessary to establish the crime charged; Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, 204, 97 S.Ct. 2319, 2324, 53 L.Ed.2d 281 (1977); Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 698, 95 S.Ct. 1881, 1889, 44 L.Ed.2d 508 (1975); In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 1072-73, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970); including intent where intent is one of those elements." State v. Kurvin, supra, 186 Conn. 558, 442 A.2d 1327. Therefore, because the deficiency in the charge involved the trial court's failure to advise the jury of an essential element that the state had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, it "raised a sufficient constitutional issue to satisfy the requirements of Evans." State v. Kurvin, supra; see Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91, 107, 65 S.Ct. 1031, 1038, 89 L.Ed. 1495 (1945); United States v. Winship, 724 F.2d 1116, 1124 (5th Cir.1984); Glenn v. Dallman, 686 F.2d 418, 421 (6th Cir.1982); Government of Virgin Islands v. Brown, 685 F.2d 834, 839 (3d Cir.1982); United States v. Natale, 526 F.2d 1160, 1167 (2d Cir.1975); State v. Griffin, 175 Conn. 155, 159, 397 A.2d 89 (1978).

Once sufficient evidence on insanity has been produced to overcome the legal presumption in favor of sanity, it is clear that "the burden rests upon the state, as it does in all other essential elements in the case, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the [defendant] was legally sane and responsible at the time the offenses were committed." State v. Rossier, 175 Conn. 204, 209, 397 A.2d 110 (1978); State v. Davis, 158 Conn. 341, 355, 260 A.2d 587 (1969); State v. Kenyon, 134 Conn. 43, 49, 54 A.2d 585 (1947); see also Davis v. United States, 160 U.S. 469, 488, 16 S.Ct. 353, 358, 40 L.Ed. 499 (1895); 2 Wright, Federal Practice and Procedure (1982) § 403. 3

The failure to instruct upon insanity, when a defendant has introduced some evidence on the issue, would be of constitutional magnitude, because such an omission would eliminate the state's burden of proof on that issue. See Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 384-85, 86 S.Ct. 836, 841-42, 15 L.Ed.2d 815 (1966); Blake v. United States, 407 F.2d 908, 911 (5th Cir.1969); Whalen v. United States, 346 F.2d 812, 818-19 (D.C.Cir.1965); Goforth v. United States, 269 F.2d 778, 779 (D.C.Cir.1959); Wright v. United States, 250 F.2d 4, 12 (D.C.Cir.1957). The defendant here, however, does not claim that the trial court failed to charge the jury on the issue of insanity or failed to include the appropriate statutory definition. Nor does he claim that the trial court failed sufficiently to instruct the jury as to the state's burden of proof on the issue of insanity. He claims only that a component of the particular definition of insanity used in the charge did not comport with the statutory definition. We held jury instructions that intersperse common law and statutory definitions of insanity to be reversible error in State v. Toste, supra. 4 This decision was not premised, however, on the deprivation of a constitutional right, and thus the error claimed would not have been reviewed under Evans in the absence...

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