State v. Medrano, SC18895

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Decision Date21 May 2013
Docket NumberSC18895



Supreme Court of Connecticut

Dated: May 21, 2013

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NORCOTT, J., with whom ZARELLA and VERTEFEUILLE, Js., join, concurring. For nearly 120 years since State v. Fiske, 63 Conn. 388, 392, 28 A. 572 (1893), Connecticut trial judges have had the discretion, subject to certain constitutional limitations, to instruct jurors that they may consider a criminal defendant's interest in the outcome of the case in determining the credence to be afforded to his testimony, culminating in the charge upheld in State v. Williams, 220 Conn. 385, 397, 599 A.2d 1053 (1991), and again challenged in this certified appeal. In part II of its opinion, the majority uses our supervisory authority over the administration of justice to overrule this extensive body of precedent sub silentio as it ''direct[s] our trial courts in the future to refrain from instructing jurors, when a defendant testifies, that they may specifically consider the defendant's interest in the outcome of the case and the importance to him of the outcome of the trial.'' Because I respectfully disagree with the majority's rather summary use of the extraordinary remedy that is our supervisory power, I write separately to emphasize: (1) my agreement with the majority that the defendant's interest instruction given in this case1 did not deprive the defendant, Rafael Medrano, of his right to be presumed innocent or his right to a fair trial under the United States constitution as interpreted by contemporary federal case law;2 and (2) because of the confusion likely to be created by the majority's new supervisory rule, I would continue to leave our trial judges the discretion to give properly phrased instructions that direct jurors to treat the defendant's testimony like that of any other witness, while evenhandedly acknowledging the reality that, like any other witness, they may consider the defendant's interest in the outcome of the case in evaluating his credibility. Accordingly, I concur in the result reached in part II of the majority's opinion.


I agree with the majority's conclusions that the defendant's interest instruction given in this case did not violate his presumption of innocence, right to due process and right to testify under the federal constitution, and that State v. Williams, supra, 220 Conn. 397, remains good law as a constitutional matter.3 Nevertheless, I write separately on this point to explore this issue in greater depth—particularly because we have not considered this question in any detail for more than twenty years and significant new authorities have emerged in the meantime.

Thus, I begin by noting that this court has been rejecting challenges to variously worded defendant's interest instructions for more than one century since it decided State v. Fiske, supra, 63 Conn. 392.4 In the

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interest of some brevity, however, I turn first to State v. Bennett, 172 Conn. 324, 374 A.2d 247 (1977), which I view as our leading defendant's interest charge decision guided by contemporary constitutional norms. In Bennett, the defendant challenged an instruction stating: 'You will consider the importance to him of the outcome of the trial and his motive on that account for perhaps telling the truth.' " (Emphasis added.) Id., 334. Observing that the trial court's use of ''the word 'perhaps instead of 'not the court departed from the usual charge given in such instances, and ''was more favorable to the defendant and it clearly was not in any way prejudicial to him,'' this court noted that ''[i]t is well-settled law that '[t]he fact that the witness is a defendant in a criminal prosecution, or is a participant in the offense or in a related offense, creates an interest which affects his credibility.' . . . 'Where a defendant in a criminal case testifies in his own behalf, his interest in the result is a proper matter to be considered as bearing on his credibility, and it has been considered that his position of itself renders his testimony less credible than if he were a disinterested witness, especially where he has a criminal record. . . . As we said in State v. Guthridge, 164 Conn. 145, 151, 318 A.2d 87 [1972], cert. denied, 410 U.S. 988, 93 S. Ct. 1519, 36 L. Ed. 2d 186 [1973]:5 'The rule is well settled in this state that the court may advise the jury that in weighing the credibility of an accused's testimony they can consider his interest in the outcome of the trial.' We have adhered to this rule in many cases.''' (Citations omitted; emphasis added.) State v. Bennett, supra, 334-35.

In determining that the defendant's interest instruction in Bennett was not improper, this court quoted extensively from Reagan v. United States, 157 U.S. 301, 304, 15 S. Ct. 610, 39 L. Ed. 709 (1894), noting that, in that case, the United States Supreme Court had considered and rejected a challenge to a defendant's interest instruction as a potential violation of the then new criminal defendants federal statutory right to testify and, in doing so, approved a charge that stated, inter alia, '' '[t]he deep personal interest which he may have in the result of the suit should be considered by the jury in weighing his evidence and in determining how far or to what extent, if at all, it is worthy of credit. (Emphasis added.) State v. Bennett, supra, 172 Conn. 334-36. In Bennett, this court specifically relied on the Supreme Court's statement in Reagan that, '' 'the court is not at liberty to charge the jury directly or indirectly that the defendant is to be disbelieved because he is a defendant, for that would practically take away the benefit which the law grants when it gives him the privilege of being a witness. On the other hand, the court may, and sometimes ought, to remind the jury that interest creates a motive for false testimony; that the greater the interest the stronger is the temptation, and that the interest of the defendant in the result of

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the trial is of a character possessed by no other witness, and is therefore a matter which may seriously affect the credence that shall be given to his testimony. The court should be impartial between the government and the defendant.''' (Emphasis added.) Id., 336-37, quoting Reagan v. United States, supra, 310; see also State v. Bennett, supra, 337 ('' 'if any other witness for the government is disclosed to have great feeling or large interest against the defendant, the court may, in the interests of justice, call the attention of the jury to the extent of that feeling or interest as affecting his credibility' '').

Justice, later Chief Justice, Bogdanski, as he had in a prior case challenging the defendant's interest instruction; see State v. Jonas, 169 Conn. 566, 578-80, 363 A.2d 1378 (1975) (Bogdanski, J., concurring and dissenting), cert. denied, 424 U.S. 923, 96 S. Ct. 1132, 47 L. Ed. 2d 331 (1976); dissented in Bennett. State v. Bennett, supra, 172 Conn. 338. Justice Bogdanski concluded that the instruction therein ''unduly singles out the defendant's testimony and improperly comments on his motives and interest in the outcome of the verdict without similarly commenting on the possible motives and interests of the complaining witnesses.'' Id., 338-39. Justice Bogdanski observed that this charge ''placed a premium on the defendant's decision to testify. It had the effect of relegating his claim of innocence to a less credible testimonial category than that of the complaining witnesses. By creating such a circumstance, the charge undermines the presumption of innocence by attributing a motive to the defendant that can only attach if he is indeed guilty as charged.'' Id., 339. Justice Bogdanski further concluded that the charge violated Reagan v. United States, supra, 157 U.S. 305, by ''arbitrarily singl[ing] out a defendant's testimony'' and ''denigrat[ing] the weight to be accorded an accused's testimony State v. Bennett, supra, 339. In reaching these conclusions, Justice Bogdanski observed that ''to single out the defendant for exercising his right to testify is equally as repugnant as commenting on the exercise of his right to remain silent,'' and stated that the ''better rule is to limit the charge to a general statement of the elements by which all witnesses' testimony should be weighed: not to single out the defendant's testimony as less trustworthy than that of other...

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