State v. Pittman

Citation209 Conn. 596,553 A.2d 155
Decision Date17 January 1989
Docket NumberNo. 13197,13197
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. John PITTMAN.
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut

Jeffrey R. Van Kirk, Hartford, for appellant (defendant).

Mary H. Lesser, Deputy Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, was Lawrence Daly, Asst. State's Atty., for appellee (State).


CALLAHAN, Associate Justice.

The defendant, John Pittman, was charged in an information with the crime of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a(a). 1 The charge arose out of the homicide of the defendant's wife, Gloria Pittman, who was stabbed to death in her automobile on October 13, 1985, in Hartford. Her skeleton was later discovered in the Mill River in New Haven on April 5, 1986. The defendant pled not guilty to the charge and was tried and convicted by a jury. The trial court subsequently sentenced the defendant to a term of imprisonment of sixty years.

The defendant, on appeal, has raised three claims of error. He claims that the trial court erred in: (1) denying his motion to suppress tangible evidence; (2) limiting his cross-examination of two of the state's witnesses; and (3) permitting the state to elicit testimony of his postarrest silence. We find no reversible error.


The defendant first claims that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress certain tangible evidence that was seized from the victim's 1979 Chrysler LeBaron automobile. The facts relative to the defendant's claim have their genesis on the morning of October 15, 1985, two days after the victim's disappearance. At that time, the defendant was confronted at his residence at 240 Martin Street, Hartford, by two of his wife's sisters and her brother and questioned concerning the victim's whereabouts. The victim's siblings were unable to obtain either information or an expression of concern from the defendant. As a result, the victim's sister, Stella, called the Hartford police and reported Gloria missing.

Officer Elwood Horsey was dispatched to the defendant's residence to investigate. When he arrived, he found a hostile situation involving the defendant and his in-laws. The hostility was apparently generated because the members of the victim's family felt something was sinister about their sister's disappearance. Horsey also thought something was wrong because the defendant seemed unconcerned about his missing wife. After an initial discussion in the defendant's kitchen, the officer and the parties went outside to look at the victim's car. During the inspection of the car, the defendant was cooperative and opened the doors and the trunk to facilitate the policemen's check of the vehicle. During the course of his examination, Horsey did not observe anything out of the ordinary.

Thereafter, apparently intending to take the car to her home, the victim's sister Louise demanded the keys to the vehicle from the defendant. In response the defendant turned the keys over to Horsey. When he did so, he informed the officer that they were the only set he had in his possession. 2 Horsey, in turn, handed the keys over to Louise, who kept them until the time of trial.

On the evening of October 15, the police were again called to the defendant's residence. This time the call emanated from the defendant with a complaint that his in-laws were trespassing. Upon their arrival, the patrol officers, who were dispatched to handle the defendant's complaint, found the defendant and members of his wife's family engaged in an altercation and called Sergeant Frank Campbell for assistance. When Campbell arrived, he spoke to the patrol officers, the defendant and the victim's relatives. As a result of those conversations, Campbell thought further investigation was necessary and summoned Detectives Stephen Kumnick and Luis Vera. When the detectives responded, they learned that the victim was last seen in the Chrysler LeBaron with the defendant and that the victim was the owner of the automobile.

After obtaining that information, Kumnick, Vera and Campbell went to look at the victim's car. The vehicle at the time was locked and parked on neighboring property at 234 Martin Street, where it was clearly visible from the road. While viewing the car, the police observed a substance on the windshield that Kumnick and Campbell thought was a piece of flesh. The officers then secured the car and requested that a tow truck be called. The car was later removed to a local garage. On October 17, 1985, a search warrant was issued for the victim's car and on October 18, 1985, that warrant was executed and the vehicle searched. During the course of the search, samples of the upholstery and other items were taken. The items taken yielded evidence damaging to the defendant that was later admitted at his trial. 3

The state claimed that the defendant did not have an expectation of privacy in the victim's car that would support a challenge to its seizure and subsequent search. The defendant claimed an expectation of privacy in the vehicle but admitted that it was registered in his wife's name and that he had not provided any of the funds for its purchase. He maintained, however, that he had operated the car frequently, going back and forth to work, and for shopping. The defendant did not possess a valid motor vehicle operator's license.

The trial court found that the defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the victim's automobile and therefore that he had no "standing" to object to its seizure or to the admission of the evidence obtained when it was searched. See Rawlings v. Kentucky, 448 U.S. 98, 104-105, 100 S.Ct. 2556, 2561-2562, 65 L.Ed.2d 633 (1980); Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 134, 99 S.Ct. 421, 425, 58 L.Ed.2d 387 (1978), reh. denied, 439 U.S. 1122, 99 S.Ct. 1035, 59 L.Ed.2d 83 (1979); State v. Santiago, 8 Conn.App. 290, 296, 513 A.2d 710 (1986). That finding will not be overturned unless it is legally or logically inconsistent with the facts found or involves an erroneous rule of law. State v. Brown, 198 Conn. 348, 354-55, 503 A.2d 566 (1986); State v. Zindros, 189 Conn. 228, 242, 456 A.2d 288 (1983), cert. denied, 465 U.S. 1012, 104 S.Ct. 1014, 79 L.Ed.2d 244 (1984). Further, the burden is on the defendant to prove that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the victim's automobile. Rawlings v. Kentucky, supra; Rakas v. Illnois, supra, 439 U.S. at 130 n 1, 99 S.Ct. at 424 n. 1; State v. Brown, supra, 198 Conn. at 356, 503 A.2d 566; State v. Harris, 10 Conn.App. 217, 223, 522 A.2d 323 (1987). In order to sustain that burden, the defendant must prove, first, that he had an actual subjective expectation of privacy in his wife's car and, second, that his expectation was one that society would recognize as reasonable. New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 338, 105 S.Ct. 733, 741, 83 L.Ed.2d 720 (1985); Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 361, 88 S.Ct. 507, 516, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967) (Harlan, J., concurring); State v. Reddick, 207 Conn. 323, 331, 541 A.2d 1209 (1988); State v. Brown, supra; State v. Zindros, supra, 189 Conn. at 239, 456 A.2d 288.

Whether the defendant has established that he possessed a reasonable expectation of privacy in the automobile requires a factual inquiry into all the relevant circumstances surrounding its seizure. Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170, 177-78, 104 S.Ct. 1735, 1740-41, 80 L.Ed.2d 214 (1984); United States v. Brown, 635 F.2d 1207, 1211 (6th Cir.1980); State v. Reddick, supra, 207 Conn. at 331, 541 A.2d 1209; State v. Brown, supra. Such an inquiry reveals that when the victim's automobile was seized, it was parked in plain view from the street on premises other than the defendant's, that it was not registered in the defendant's name, nor did he purchase it, that he had no operator's license, and that he had earlier assisted Officer Horsey in his examination of the vehicle without asserting a privacy right. More important, however, is the evidence that the defendant, in response to his sister-in-law's demand, surrendered what he professed to be the only set of keys to the automobile to Horsey to give to the victim's sister. Given the fact that there is a diminished expectation of privacy in an automobile to begin with; United States v. Chadwick, 433 U.S. 1, 12, 97 S.Ct. 2476, 2484, 53 L.Ed.2d 538 (1977); Cardwell v. Lewis, 417 U.S. 583, 590, 94 S.Ct. 2464, 2469, 41 L.Ed.2d 325 (1974); State v. Morrill, 197 Conn. 507, 541-42, 498 A.2d 76 (1985); it is difficult to fathom how the defendant can claim any reasonable expectation of privacy in the victim's car after having given, without any apparent limitation, the means of assuming possession and control of it to his hostile sister-in-law.

Under all of the circumstances, we think that the trial court properly concluded that the defendant failed to sustain his burden of demonstrating a reasonable expectation of privacy, the necessary predicate to his claim of a violation of his fourth amendment rights.


The defendant next claims that the trial court erred when it limited his cross-examination of two of the state's witnesses. He argues that because of the limitation imposed on his cross-examination, he was deprived of his sixth amendment right to confrontation.

During the course of the trial the state announced its intention to call as witnesses Gregory Blue and Mitchell Henderson. Both Blue and Henderson had criminal records and both had cases pending against them at the time of the defendant's trial. Before either witness testified, the trial court ruled that the defendant could cross-examine them concerning only prior felony convictions and pending felony cases because, in the court's view, the law did not permit cross-examination concerning pending misdemeanor charges.

Subsequently, Blue gave damaging testimony against the defendant. On direct examination, the state elicited from Blue that he previously had...

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