State v. Patel, SC 20446

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtKAHN, J.
Citation342 Conn. 445,270 A.3d 627
Parties STATE of Connecticut v. Hiral M. PATEL
Docket NumberSC 20446
Decision Date22 March 2022

342 Conn. 445
270 A.3d 627

STATE of Connecticut
v.
Hiral M. PATEL

SC 20446

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Argued February 22, 2021
Officially released March 22, 2022


270 A.3d 632

Richard Emanuel, New Haven, for the appellant (defendant).

Matthew A. Weiner, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, was Dawn Gallo, state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

Robinson, C. J., and McDonald, D'Auria, Mullins, Kahn and Ecker, Js.

KAHN, J.

342 Conn. 448

Following a jury trial, the defendant, Hiral M. Patel, was convicted of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a, home invasion in violation of General Statutes § 53a-100aa (a) (1), burglary in the first degree as an accessory in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-101 (a) (1) and 53a-8 (a), robbery in the first degree as an accessory in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-134 (a) (2) and 53a-8 (a), conspiracy to commit burglary in the first degree in violation of § 53a-101 (a) (1) and General Statutes § 53a-48, and tampering with physical evidence in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 2011) § 53a-155 (a) (1).1 The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment of conviction; State v. Patel , 194 Conn. App. 245, 250, 301, 221 A.3d 45 (2019) ; and we thereafter granted the defendant's petition for certification to appeal. See State v. Patel , 334 Conn. 921, 223 A.3d 60 (2020). The defendant's principal challenge relates to the admission into evidence of a codefendant's recorded dual inculpatory statement2 to a fellow inmate acting at the behest of the state police. The defendant contends that the Appellate Court incorrectly concluded that the statement was nontestimonial and, therefore, did not implicate the defendant's confrontation rights under either the United States constitution or the Connecticut constitution, and that the trial court properly admitted it under the hearsay exception for statements against penal interest. We

270 A.3d 633

disagree with the defendant's claims and affirm the Appellate Court's judgment.

342 Conn. 449

The Appellate Court's decision sets forth the following facts that the jury reasonably could have found. "On June 12, 2012, [the] police arrested Niraj Patel (Niraj), the defendant's cousin, after a motor vehicle stop .... [Niraj] was charged with criminal attempt to possess more than four ounces of marijuana, interfering with an officer, tampering with evidence, possession of drug paraphernalia, and motor vehicle charges. Following his arrest, Niraj unsuccessfully attempted to borrow money ... to pay his attorney.

"Niraj thereafter formed a plan to rob Luke Vitalis, a marijuana dealer with whom Niraj had conducted drug transactions. Vitalis lived with his mother, Rita G. Vitalis ... in Sharon. [Niraj offered money to Michael Calabrese, a friend, and the defendant to perform the robbery.]

"Niraj knew that Vitalis had sold ten pounds of marijuana from his home on August 5, 2012, and set up a transaction with Vitalis for the following day, with the intention of robbing Vitalis of his proceeds of the previous sale. On August 6, 2012, Niraj drove Calabrese and the defendant to the area of Vitalis’ home and dropped them off down the road. Calabrese and the defendant ran through the woods to Vitalis’ home. They watched the home and saw Vitalis’ mother come home. At approximately 6 p.m., Calabrese and the defendant, wearing masks, bandanas, black hats, and gloves, entered the home, encountered Vitalis’ mother, and restrained her using zip ties. Calabrese, armed with a Ruger handgun that he received from Niraj, went upstairs and encountered Vitalis in his bedroom. He struck Vitalis with the handgun and shot him three times, killing him. Calabrese searched the bedroom but could find only Vitalis’ wallet with $70 and approximately one-half ounce of marijuana, both of which he took. Calabrese and the defendant ran from the property into the woods, where the defendant lost his cell

342 Conn. 450

phone. Calabrese and the defendant eventually met up with Niraj, who was driving around looking for them. Calabrese burned his clothing and sneakers on the side of Wolfe Road in Warren.

"After freeing herself, Vitalis’ mother called 911. State police ... arrived at the scene at approximately 6:14 p.m. and found Vitalis deceased. Some of the drawers in the furniture in Vitalis’ bedroom were pulled out. The police searched the bedroom and found $32,150 ... 1.7 pounds of marijuana ... and evidence of marijuana sales." (Footnote omitted.) State v. Patel , supra, 194 Conn. App. at 250–51, 221 A.3d 45.

The record reveals the following additional undisputed facts and procedural history. While the police were investigating the Sharon home invasion, Calabrese was arrested and detained on an unrelated charge. While in custody, Calabrese recounted the events that had occurred during the home invasion, including the defendant's role, to a jailhouse informant who was surreptitiously recording the conversation. At trial, the state established that Calabrese had invoked his fifth amendment privilege not to testify and introduced, over defense counsel's objection, the recording of Calabrese's dual inculpatory statement as a statement against penal interest under § 8-6 (4) of the Connecticut Code of Evidence. The state also introduced cell phone site location information, testimony from Calabrese's former girlfriend, and other evidence that tended to corroborate the defendant's presence at, and involvement in, the Sharon home invasion, as well as evidence establishing that friends and family of the defendant had been unable to make contact with the defendant immediately before,

270 A.3d 634

during, and after the period during which the Sharon home invasion occurred. See id., at 251–52, 262, 284–89, 221 A.3d 45.

The defense advanced theories of alibi and third-party culpability. The defendant's older sister, Salony Majmudar,

342 Conn. 451

testified that the defendant was visiting her in Boston, Massachusetts, to celebrate an important Hindu holiday when the Sharon home invasion occurred.3 Defense counsel also sought to have Majmudar testify about a purported confession that had been made to her by Niraj's brother, Shyam Patel (Shyam), in which Shyam admitted that it was he, and not the defendant, who had accompanied Calabrese to Vitalis’ home. Defense counsel offered Shyam's statement as a statement against penal interest under § 8-6 (4) of the Connecticut Code of Evidence. The trial court sustained the prosecutor's objection to the admission of the statement, ruling that the statement was insufficiently trustworthy to satisfy § 8-6 (4).

The jury returned a verdict, finding the defendant guilty of murder, home invasion, burglary in the first degree as an accessory, robbery in the first degree as an accessory, conspiracy to commit burglary in the first degree, and tampering with physical evidence, among other charges, and the trial court thereafter rendered judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict. See footnote 1 of this opinion. The court imposed a total effective sentence of forty-five years of imprisonment, execution suspended after thirty-five years and one day, and five years of probation.

The defendant appealed from the judgment of conviction, claiming that constitutional and evidentiary errors entitled him to a new trial. See id., at 249–50, 221 A.3d 45. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment of conviction.

342 Conn. 452

Id., at 250, 301, 221 A.3d 45. We thereafter granted the defendant's petition for certification to appeal, limited to the following issues: (1) whether the Appellate Court correctly concluded that the admission of Calabrese's dual inculpatory statement (a) did not violate the defendant's confrontation rights under the United States constitution, (b) did not violate the defendant's confrontation rights under the Connecticut constitution, and (c) was proper under our code of evidence as a statement against penal interest; and (2) whether the Appellate Court correctly concluded that the trial court had properly excluded Shyam's confession. See State v. Patel , supra, 334 Conn. 921 n.22, 223 A.3d 60. The defendant's constitutional claims are subject to plenary review; see, e.g., State v. Smith , 289 Conn. 598, 618–19, 960 A.2d 993 (2008) ; whereas his evidentiary claims, which challenge the application, rather than the interpretation, of our code of evidence, are reviewed for an abuse of discretion. See, e.g., State v. Pierre , 277 Conn. 42, 68, 890 A.2d 474, cert. denied, 547 U.S. 1197, 126 S. Ct. 2873, 165 L. Ed. 2d 904 (2006) ; see also State v. Saucier , 283 Conn. 207, 218–21, 926 A.2d 633 (2007) (contrasting standards of review).

I

The defendant challenges the admission of Calabrese's dual inculpatory statement

270 A.3d 635

on both constitutional and evidentiary grounds. We agree with the Appellate Court that...

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