State v. Nathan J., No. 17903.

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtKatz
Citation294 Conn. 243,982 A.2d 1067
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. NATHAN J.<SMALL><SUP>*</SUP></SMALL>
Docket NumberNo. 17903.
Decision Date01 December 2009
982 A.2d 1067
294 Conn. 243
STATE of Connecticut
v.
NATHAN J.*
No. 17903.
Supreme Court of Connecticut.
Argued September 11, 2009.
Decided December 1, 2009.

[982 A.2d 1068]

Toni M. Smith-Rosario, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Jonathan C. Benedict, former state's attorney, and Judy Stevens, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellant (state).

Richard E. Condon, Jr., assistant public defender, for the appellee (defendant).

ROGERS, C.J., and NORCOTT, KATZ, PALMER, VERTEFEUILLE, ZARELLA and DiPENTIMA, Js.

KATZ, J.


294 Conn. 245

The state appeals, following our grant of certification, from the judgment of the Appellate Court reversing the judgment of conviction of the defendant, Nathan J., rendered after a jury trial, of the crime of risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes § 53-21 (a)(1).1 State v.

982 A.2d 1069

Nathan J., 99 Conn.App. 713,

294 Conn. 246

915 A.2d 907 (2007). We granted certification to appeal limited to two issues: (1) whether the Appellate Court properly concluded, as a matter of law, that the justification defense of reasonable physical force by a parent for the purpose of maintaining discipline (parental justification defense) provided by General Statutes § 53a-18 (1)2 applies to the charge of risk of injury to a child under § 53-21(a)(1); and (2) whether, under the facts of this case, the Appellate Court properly concluded that the defendant was entitled to an instruction on the defense. State v. Nathan J., 282 Conn. 913, 924 A.2d 139 (2007). We conclude that the Appellate Court properly concluded both that the parental justification defense applies to a charge of risk of injury to a child, and that the defendant in this case was entitled to an instruction on the defense. We therefore affirm the Appellate Court's judgment.

The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. At the time of the incident in question, the defendant shared joint custody of the victim, his eleven year old son, with the victim's mother. Under the custody agreement, the victim alternated living with each parent for one week at a time. The principal of the victim's school was aware of the custodial arrangement, and would contact whichever parent had physical custody of the victim as needed. In late December, 2003, the

294 Conn. 247

principal informed the defendant that the victim had pushed a teacher at school. The defendant went to the school and met with the principal, the teacher and the victim.

When the victim returned home, the defendant confronted him about the incident with the teacher. The defendant demanded that the victim tell him why he had pushed the teacher. The victim explained why he had done so, and the defendant grabbed the victim by the shirt. The defendant then struck the victim's face with his hand. The victim fell to the floor, and the defendant kicked him.

The next morning the victim attended school as usual, but displayed a bruise under his right eye. Later in the morning, the victim's mother arrived at the school office with food for a school holiday party and asked that the victim be paged so that he could bring the food to his classroom. When the victim arrived in the office, his mother noticed his black eye and asked him what had happened. The victim told her that the defendant had inflicted the injury. At the mother's request, the principal of the school and the school nurse both looked at the victim's face and observed the bruise beneath his right eye. The principal asked the victim about his injury, and the victim informed her and the school nurse that the defendant had hit him.

The principal subsequently arranged for the victim to be interviewed by a social worker from the department of children

982 A.2d 1070

and families (department) and by a police officer. The victim told the social worker that the defendant had hit him in the face. The victim told the police officer that the defendant had punched him in the cheek and kicked him in the abdomen after he had fallen to the ground. The officer then went to the defendant's home, where the defendant told him that he had had an argument with the victim and that the

294 Conn. 248

victim had fallen onto the ring on the defendant's hand and then tripped onto the floor.

The record establishes the following procedural history. The defendant was charged by substitute long form information with assault in the third degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-61(a)(1),3 disorderly conduct in violation of General Statutes § 53a-182 (a)(2),4 and risk of injury to a child in violation of § 53-21(a)(1). At trial, the state's theory of prosecution was that the defendant intentionally had struck the victim because he was angry with him about the incident involving his teacher. The state presented its case through the testimony of seven witnesses, including the principal, the school nurse, the department social worker, and the police officer who had been involved in investigating the case. The state also presented the testimony of the victim's mother, the victim's older brother, and the victim himself. The victim testified that the injury had occurred when the defendant had attempted to discipline him after having learned that he had pushed a teacher at school. The victim testified that the defendant had grabbed him by his shirt, and that he had ducked and scraped his face against the defendant's ring, resulting in the bruise under his right eye. On cross-examination, he also testified that his mother had encouraged him to say that the defendant had hit him. The defendant declined to testify or to present any witnesses, relying on his cross-examination of the state's witnesses.

294 Conn. 249

At the close of the evidence, the defendant requested that the court instruct the jury on the parental justification defense provided by § 53a-18 (1) in light of the victim's testimony that his injuries had been sustained as a result of the defendant's attempt "to maintain discipline" as permitted by the statute. The court determined that the defendant had raised parental justification as a defense through his cross-examination of the state's witnesses but also concluded that the defense did not, as a matter of law, apply to the charge of risk of injury to a child. The court therefore agreed to instruct the jury on the parental justification defense only as to the charges of assault in the third degree and disorderly conduct. Following closing arguments, the trial court instructed the jury on the parental justification defense as it applied to the disorderly conduct and assault charges, but expressly instructed the jury that the defense did not apply to the risk of injury charge.5

982 A.2d 1071

With respect to that charge, consistent with the judicial gloss established in State v. Schriver, 207 Conn. 456, 466, 542 A.2d 686 (1988), the trial court also instructed the jury that, in order to establish that the defendant had committed an "act likely to impair the health . . . of [a] . . . child"; General Statutes § 53-21(a)(1); the state was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had committed "blatant physical abuse that endangered the child's well-being." "The jury subsequently returned a verdict of not guilty on the charges of assault in the third degree and disorderly conduct, and a verdict of guilty on the charge of risk of injury to a child." State v. Nathan J., supra, 99 Conn.App. at 716, 915 A.2d 907.

294 Conn. 250

The defendant timely appealed from the judgment of conviction to the Appellate Court, claiming, inter alia, that the trial court improperly had instructed the jury that the parental justification defense did not apply to the charge of risk of injury to a child. The state countered that, because the trial court had instructed the jury that acts posing a risk to health under the risk of injury statute are limited to blatant physical abuse that endangers a child's physical well-being and because such abuse is inconsistent with the defense of reasonable parental discipline, no justification instruction was necessary. The Appellate Court agreed with the defendant, concluding both that the parental justification defense applied, as a matter of law, to conduct charged under § 53-21(a)(1) and that it was reasonably possible that the trial court's instruction that the defense did not apply may have misled the jury and resulted in an injustice. Id., at 717-18, 915 A.2d 907. The Appellate Court remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial on the charge of risk of injury to a child. Id., at 718, 915 A.2d 907.

On appeal to this court, the state first claims that the Appellate Court improperly concluded that the parental justification defense applied, as a matter of law, to the offense of risk of injury to a child. To support this claim, the state contends that the Appellate Court failed to recognize that the blatant physical abuse required under the risk of injury statute is logically inconsistent with corporal punishment that is reasonably necessary for purposes of parental discipline, as required under this parental justification defense. The state claims in the alternative that, even if the parental justification defense may apply to a risk of injury charge as a matter of law, the Appellate Court improperly concluded that the defendant was entitled to an instruction on that defense under the facts of the present case. We reject both of the state's contentions.

294 Conn. 251
I

We first address whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that, as a matter of law, the parental justification defense under § 53a-18 (1) applies to the charge of risk of injury to a child under § 53-21(a)(1). To resolve this question, we must examine the relevant statutes, mindful of the dictates of General Statutes § 1-2z6 and our well established rules of statutory construction. See State v. Tabone, 292 Conn. 417, 431-32, 973 A.2d 74 (2009). Our inquiry...

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20 practice notes
  • State v. Ricardo Collins., No. 18297.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • January 5, 2011
    ...that injustice is not done to either party under the established rules of law." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Nathan J., 294 Conn. 243, 261, 982 A.2d 1067 (2009); see also State v. Ash, 231 Conn. 484, 493-94, 651 A.2d 247 (1994) ("[a] charge to the jury is not to be criticall......
  • State v. Maurice M., No. 18454.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • November 29, 2011
    ...creation of situations inimical to [a child's] moral or physical welfare....” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Nathan J., 294 Conn. 243, 251, 982 A.2d 1067 (2009). 2. In fact, that vehicle came within three feet of the child before the driver swerved to avoid running him over. 3......
  • State Of Conn. v. Collins, NO:SC 18297
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • January 5, 2011
    ...that injustice is not done to either party under the established rules of law.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Nathan J., 294 Conn. 243, 261, 982 A.2d 1067 (2009); see also State v. Ash, 231 Conn. 484, 493-94, 651 A.2d 247 (1994) ("[a] charge to the jury is not to be critical......
  • State v. Mark T., SC 20242
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • June 7, 2021
    ...added.) This defense "provides that such force is not criminal, as long as it is reasonable ...." 260 A.3d 414 State v. Nathan J ., 294 Conn. 243, 260, 982 A.2d 1067 (2009). If, however, "the force is unreasonable ... the parental justification [defense] does not apply ...." Id. The defense......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
20 cases
  • State v. Ricardo Collins., No. 18297.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • January 5, 2011
    ...that injustice is not done to either party under the established rules of law." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Nathan J., 294 Conn. 243, 261, 982 A.2d 1067 (2009); see also State v. Ash, 231 Conn. 484, 493-94, 651 A.2d 247 (1994) ("[a] charge to the jury is not to be criticall......
  • State v. Maurice M., No. 18454.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • November 29, 2011
    ...creation of situations inimical to [a child's] moral or physical welfare....” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Nathan J., 294 Conn. 243, 251, 982 A.2d 1067 (2009). 2. In fact, that vehicle came within three feet of the child before the driver swerved to avoid running him over. 3......
  • State Of Conn. v. Collins, NO:SC 18297
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • January 5, 2011
    ...that injustice is not done to either party under the established rules of law.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Nathan J., 294 Conn. 243, 261, 982 A.2d 1067 (2009); see also State v. Ash, 231 Conn. 484, 493-94, 651 A.2d 247 (1994) ("[a] charge to the jury is not to be critical......
  • State v. Mark T., SC 20242
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • June 7, 2021
    ...added.) This defense "provides that such force is not criminal, as long as it is reasonable ...." 260 A.3d 414 State v. Nathan J ., 294 Conn. 243, 260, 982 A.2d 1067 (2009). If, however, "the force is unreasonable ... the parental justification [defense] does not apply ...." Id. The defense......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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