State v. Maisonet, 5465

Decision Date06 September 1988
Docket NumberNo. 5465,5465
Citation16 Conn.App. 89,546 A.2d 951
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Wilfredo MAISONET.

John R. Williams, for appellant (defendant).

Leah Hawley, Deputy Asst. State's Atty., for appellee (State).

Before BIELUCH, STOUGHTON and NORCOTT, JJ.

BIELUCH, Judge.

The defendant appeals from the judgment of conviction, after a jury trial, of selling a narcotic substance in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-8 and 21a-277(a), and of conspiracy to sell a narcotic substance in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-48(a) and 21a-277(a). The defendant claims that the trial court erred (1) in limiting his cross-examination of a prosecution witness, an accomplice, on the questions of whether the witness had been offered a particular sentence in exchange for his testimony and of the witness' expectation regarding the extent of a reduced sentence, (2) in limiting his cross-examination of an undercover police officer concerning a previous misidentification the officer had made of a suspect in an unrelated proceeding, and (3) in denying his attempt to show that his prior record consisted solely of a misdemeanor conviction. We find no error.

The jury could reasonably have found the following facts. On February 1, 1985, Trooper Julio Fernandez, on undercover assignment from the Connecticut state police statewide narcotics task force, entered the Crown Street Market in Meriden, owned by the defendant, and purchased one half gram of cocaine from Luiz Colon and the defendant. Both the defendant and his accomplice, Colon, were arrested and charged with crimes connected to the sale of the cocaine. 1

At trial, Colon testified for the state regarding the drug transaction and also identified the defendant. During his cross-examination, it was established that Colon was awaiting sentencing on a number of charges and was facing a maximum of thirty-five years in prison. The court thereafter sustained the prosecution's objections to the question whether "there ever [was] a time when you were offered any particular specific sentence," and to the question asking the witness what he thought the "best" for him would be regarding a reduced sentence.

Fernandez testified as to the drug purchase and explained how he had identified the defendant, after the sale, from an array of photographs presented to him by the police. On cross-examination, the defendant attempted to ask Fernandez about a misidentification he alleged Fernandez had made in a previous case involving the use of photographs to identify the suspect. The court also prohibited this witness, upon the state's objection, from answering whether he was aware that, in a previous unrelated case, he had claimed to have purchased narcotics from an individual who was actually serving time in prison at the time of that alleged sale.

At another point in the trial, the state introduced a display of eight photographs as an exhibit and asked Fernandez to indicate whether he recognized them. He acknowledged that the photographs were the ones he had examined for the police after the narcotics purchase, and identified the defendant's photograph as the one he had previously selected as being the individual from whom he had purchased the cocaine. On direct examination of the defendant later in the trial, the defendant was asked the nature of his prior conviction. The state objected on the ground of immateriality. The court sustained the objection, to which the defendant excepted, after claiming that the jury should know that he had been convicted only of a misdemeanor because "the jurors, whether they are told to or not, often speculate about the origin of that photograph."

I

The defendant first claims that the trial court erred when it would not allow Colon to testify as to whether the state had promised him a "particular specific sentence" for his testimony against the defendant, or as to the reduction in sentence he expected to receive. 2 The defendant argues that such testimony should have been allowed because it would "demonstrate the bias of the witness by showing that he expected an extremely favorable sentence in exchange for his testimony" against the defendant. By limiting the witness' testimony, the defendant argues that "the prosecution was permitted to leave with the jury the false impression that its star witness had no more expectation of a payoff for his damning testimony than a mere vague hope for 'consideration,' " and that the defendant's right to confront witnesses against him had thereby been abridged. 3 We do not agree.

"The right of an accused effectively to cross-examine an adverse witness is embodied in the confrontation clause of the sixth amendment. State v. Gaynor, 182 Conn. 501, 508, 438 A.2d 749 (1980); see also Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308, 94 S.Ct. 1105, 39 L.Ed.2d 347 (1974); Douglas v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 415, 85 S.Ct. 1074, 13 L.Ed.2d 934 (1965). Cross-examination regarding motive, interest, bias and prejudice is a matter of right and may not be unduly restricted. State v. Milum, 197 Conn. 602, 609, 500 A.2d 559 (1985); State v. Privitera, 1 Conn.App. 709, 711-12, 476 A.2d 605 (1984)." State v. Cox, 7 Conn.App. 377, 383-84, 509 A.2d 36 (1986). " ' "The general rule is that restrictions on the scope of cross-examination are within the sound discretion of the trial judge ... but this discretion comes into play only after the defendant has been permitted cross-examination sufficient to satisfy the sixth amendment." ' (Citations omitted.) State v. Castro, 196 Conn. 421, 424, 493 A.2d 223 (1985); State v. Gaynor, [supra]." State v. Jones, 205 Conn. 638, 670, 534 A.2d 1199 (1987). Our courts, therefore, undertake a bipartite analysis when reviewing claims of undue restriction on the scope of cross-examination, ascertaining first whether the constitutional standard has been met, and if so, then whether the trial court abused its discretion by restricting the scope of the cross-examination thereafter. State v. Milum, supra; State v. Gaynor, supra, 182 Conn. at 508, 438 A.2d 749; State v. Cox, supra, 7 Conn.App. at 384, 509 A.2d 36; State v. Heinz, 3 Conn.App. 80, 85-86, 485 A.2d 1321 (1984).

From such an analysis of the record before us, we conclude that the defendant has not been denied his right to confront the witnesses against him. First, the constitutional standard has been met. "The confrontation clause of the sixth amendment requires that the defendant be accorded some irreducible minimum of cross-examination into matters affecting the reliability and credibility of the state's witnesses." State v. Ortiz, 198 Conn. 220, 224, 502 A.2d 400 (1985). "The defendant's right to confrontation is preserved, if, through cross-examination, defense counsel is 'permitted to expose to the jury the facts from which jurors, as the sole triers of fact and credibility, could appropriately draw inferences relating to the reliability of the witness.' " State v. Jones, supra, 205 Conn. at 669, 534 A.2d 1199, quoting Davis v. Alaska, supra, 415 U.S. at 318, 94 S.Ct. at 1111; see State v. Weidenhof, 205 Conn. 262, 270, 533 A.2d 545 (1987). The defendant here had a sufficient opportunity to cross-examine the witness and thereby attempt to convey to the jury the basis for any bias or prejudice the witness may have had while testifying on behalf of the state. 4 ]

Second, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it limited the cross-examination of Colon concerning his expectation of a reduced sentence, and whether he had been promised a certain sentence by the state. The defendant argues that, since Colon's testimony was "devastating" to him, the jury was entitled to hear all evidence which might have suggested bias or prejudice on the part of the witness. We find this claim unavailing.

The defendant has cited Hoover v. Maryland, 714 F.2d 301 (4th Cir.1983), to support his argument that Colon should have been allowed to testify as to what he believed he was entitled to receive in the way of a reduced sentence. While it is true that cases in which the defendant is denied sufficient opportunity to impeach a "key" government witness deserve a more rigorous review than cases not involving such witnesses; State v. Gaynor, supra, 182 Conn. at 509 n. 7, 438 A.2d 749; a fair reading of that case leads us to agree with the dissenting opinion of Circuit Judge Hall, who concluded that the majority's reliance on Davis v. Alaska, supra, was misplaced, that the jury had "abundant evidence of [the witness'] possible bias and motive" for testifying against the defendant, and that "the only question in [that] case [was] whether the trial court cut off cross-examination too quickly, a matter in which the judge has wide discretion." Hoover v. Maryland, supra at 308 (Hall, J., dissenting).

In order to establish an abuse of discretion, the defendant must show that the restrictions imposed upon the cross-examination were clearly prejudicial. State v. Castro, supra, 196 Conn. at 426, 493 A.2d 223. "Once it is established that the trial court's ruling on the scope of cross-examination is not constitutionally defective, this court will apply '[e]very reasonable presumption ... in favor of the correctness of the court's ruling in determining whether there has been an abuse of discretion.' State v. Briggs, 179 Conn. 328, 333, 426 A.2d 298 (1979), cert. denied, 447 U.S. 912, 100 S.Ct. 3000, 64 L.Ed.2d 862 (1980)." State v. Castro, supra. Where it is clear, as in this case, that the jury had been presented with testimony indicating that the defendant had a strong expectation that the state would offer him a reduced sentence in exchange for his testimony, this court will not hold that the trial judge abused his discretion by disallowing questions asking how much of a reduction the witness expected for testifying. The jurors were left with adequate information from which they could assess the reliability of the...

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