State v. James K.

Decision Date28 December 2021
Docket NumberAC 42872
Citation267 A.3d 858,209 Conn.App. 441
Parties STATE of Connecticut v. JAMES K.
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals

Pamela S. Nagy, Supervisory Assistant Public Defender, for the appellant (defendant).

Samantha L. Oden, former deputy assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Patrick J. Griffin, state's attorney, and Maxine V. Wilensky, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

Prescott, Moll and Suarez, Js.

SUAREZ, J.

The defendant, James K., appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered following a jury trial, of risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes § 53-21 (a) (2).1 The defendant claims that (1) the trial court violated his right to a fair trial and to be tried before an impartial jury by restricting defense counsel's examination of prospective jurors, (2) the trial court improperly admitted into evidence a videotaped forensic interview of the victim, (3) the trial court violated his rights to due process, to a fair and impartial trial, and to be convicted by means of a unanimous verdict because the deadlocked jury instructions that it provided to the jury were coercive and misleading, and (4) this court, in the exercise of its supervisory authority over the administration of justice, should require trial courts, when delivering deadlocked jury instructions, to instruct the jury that it need not reach a verdict and that jurors have the right to disagree with respect to the proper verdict. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

On the basis of the evidence presented at trial, the jury reasonably could have found the following facts. The defendant is the victim's biological father. In 2010, when the victim was approximately six years old, the defendant obtained full physical custody of the victim as a consequence of drug abuse and mental health issues affecting the victim's biological mother. Initially, the victim resided with the defendant; her stepmother, M; her half sister, H; and other relatives. The victim and H are close in age, shared a close bond, and attended the same school. Later, the defendant, M, H, and the victim moved to a different residence.

On numerous occasions, the defendant used physical force to discipline the victim and H. The defendant often struck the victim on her buttocks, back, and arms with his bare hands or physical objects such as a belt or an extension cord. Occasionally, if the use of force resulted in visible injuries to the victim, the defendant would make the victim conceal her bruises with clothing or he would keep her home from school.

One night in 2011 or 2012, when the victim was seven or eight years of age, the defendant verbally and physically assaulted M in the victim's presence, following which M and H left the residence. The victim, preparing to take a shower, went into her bedroom, undressed, and wrapped herself in a towel. The defendant entered the bedroom and told the victim that he had received a telephone call from her teacher and was upset to have learned that the victim had misbehaved in class. After the victim and the defendant discussed this matter, the defendant instructed the victim to remove her towel and bend over a nearby bed. The victim, expecting to be struck by the defendant as a form of discipline, complied with the defendant's instruction.

The victim positioned herself on all fours on the bed. As the defendant stood behind her, at the edge of the bed, he touched the victim's anus and her vagina with his penis. Penetration did not occur.2 As the incident progressed, the defendant pushed the victim down so that her head and chest were on the bed. When the victim told the defendant to stop touching her, he responded by telling her to be quiet. Despite the fact that the defendant's hands were on the victim's waist, he stated that he was using "his thumb." After a few minutes, the defendant stopped what he was doing, told the victim to remain bent over until he left her bedroom, and walked into another room. The victim was confused by the defendant's conduct and knew that it was "bad ...." She proceeded to use the shower. After the victim showered, the defendant told her that they were going out to get pizza for dinner, and he stated that "what happened in the house stays in the house." The victim understood this to mean that the defendant did not want her to discuss what he had done to her in the bedroom, and she believed that, if she told anyone about it, it would either happen again or the defendant would punish her by beating her.

The defendant and M later separated, and the victim thereafter resided with the defendant and his new girlfriend. The victim resided there until December, 2015, when the defendant was arrested on charges unrelated to the present case. The victim was placed in the custody of her maternal grandmother, B. Thereafter, the Department of Children and Families (department) investigated allegations that the victim had suffered physical abuse caused by the defendant. The department also investigated concerns expressed by B that the defendant had acted inappropriately toward the victim because he had a habit of kissing the victim on the lips. Ultimately, the victim disclosed to a department social worker that the defendant had done something that made her uncomfortable and that he "tried to say it was his finger ...." During a forensic interview at Yale-New Haven Hospital's Child Sexual Abuse Clinic in 2016, the victim provided details of the incident involving the defendant's contact with her intimate parts in her bedroom. The defendant's arrest and conviction followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

I

First, the defendant claims that the trial court violated his right to a fair trial and to be tried before an impartial jury by restricting defense counsel's examination of prospective jurors. Specifically, the defendant claims that the court improperly prohibited defense counsel from asking prospective jurors to express their opinions with respect to parents who kiss their children on the lips. We disagree.

The following additional facts and procedural history are relevant to this claim. On October 16, 2018, the second day of jury selection, defense counsel alerted the court to the fact that the state was in possession of photographs depicting the defendant kissing H on the lips. Defense counsel expressed her belief that the state intended to introduce these photographs in evidence over defense counsel's objection. The court, B. Fischer, J ., added that, during the victim's forensic interview, the victim indicated that the defendant had kissed her on the lips. In light of the possibility that evidence of the defendant's habit of kissing his daughters on the lips was likely to be before the jury, defense counsel opined that some potential jurors would have a very strong reaction to such evidence. She argued that it was part of her obligation in selecting a fair and impartial jury to ask prospective jurors to express their feelings about that behavior. Defense counsel provided the court with the type of inquiry she believed was appropriate, stating: "I guess I would ask a venireperson, do they have opinions about how parents might show affection to their children and ... might they have opinions about whether parents kiss their children ... as part of showing affection, and might they also have any strong opinions one way or another about whether ... it's okay for parents to kiss their children on the lips, in terms of ... is that a common thing in their mind in terms of showing affection." The prosecutor objected to any inquiry concerning kissing or "physically showing affections between a parent and child."

The court responded, "[t]he kissing is too fact specific. You know, prospective jurors may not be questioned regarding their predisposition to decide issues with respect to evidence that may be offered at trial or with the intent to condition them to prejudge issues that will affect the outcome of the trial. I have no issues with a question along the following lines ... ‘Do you understand that parents can have different methods of showing physical affection to their children’ or a question like that, but to specifically ask about kissing on the lips is too fact specific." Defense counsel asked whether a question about kissing on the lips could be asked in the event that a venireperson raised the issue. The court stated that such a follow-up inquiry was not permissible because it would be "too fact specific." The court clarified that defense counsel could ask questions about a parent engaging in "different methods of showing physical affection to their child" but that defense counsel could not ask about kissing on the lips. Defense counsel stated that she disagreed with the court's ruling but that she would abide by it.

Later, during the second day of jury selection, defense counsel asked several venirepersons whether they had opinions concerning how parents show affection to their children.3 The prosecutor did not object to defense counsel's examination in this regard, and the court did not interfere with the examination in this regard. For example, during questioning of venireperson M.A., the following colloquy occurred:

"Q. ... Do you have any opinion about how parents show affection to children?

"A. I think there's a lot of different ways that parents can show affection.

"Q. It kind of runs the gamut, right?

"A. Yep.

"Q. In your personal opinion, do you think that, you know, do you have, kind of like, what's appropriate versus inappropriate?

"A. Well, I have, you know, how my parents showed me affection throughout my life and ... that's basically it, you know.

"Q. Okay. But if you saw sort of something other than what your parents showed you.

"A. Um-hm.

"Q. Do you ... you know, I guess would you just have an opinion as to what was appropriate versus— "A. I wouldn't make any sort of, like, judgmental...

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2 cases
  • State v. James K.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • August 29, 2023
    ...States. James K., 209 Conn.App. 441, 444-47, 267 A.3d 858 (2021). On appeal, the Appellate Court affirmed the judgment of conviction. Id., 482. The Appellate Court that the trial court had not abused its discretion by restricting defense counsel's examination of prospective jurors during vo......
  • State v. James K.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • March 8, 2022
    ...senior assistant state's attorney, in opposition.The defendant's petition for certification to appeal from the Appellate Court, 209 Conn. App. 441, 267 A.3d 858 (2021), is granted, limited to the following issues:"1. Did the trial court improperly preclude defense counsel from asking prospe......

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