State v. Samuels

Citation871 A.2d 1005,273 Conn. 541
Decision Date10 May 2005
Docket NumberNo. 16994.,16994.
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Ralston E. SAMUELS.

Melissa L. Streeto, deputy assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were James Thomas, state's attorney, and Kimberly Perrelli, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellant (state).

Jeanne M. Zulick, special public defender, with whom, on the brief, was Martin Zeldis, chief of legal services, office of the chief public defender, for the appellee (defendant). Jon L. Schoenhorn, Hartford, filed a brief for the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association as amicus curiae.

SULLIVAN, C.J., and PALMER, VERTEFEUILLE, ZARELLA and TANZER, Js.

ZARELLA, J.

The defendant, Ralston E. Samuels, was charged with four counts of sexual assault in the second degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-71 (a)(1)1 and four counts of risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 1999) § 53-21(2).2 A jury found the defendant guilty on all counts, and the trial court rendered judgment3 in accordance with the jury verdict. On appeal to the Appellate Court, the defendant claimed that the trial court improperly: (1) replaced a juror with an alternate by using a nonstatutorily sanctioned selection method; (2) allowed the state to amend its long form information after the jury was impaneled; and (3) admitted into evidence the testimony of four constancy of accusation witnesses based on out-of-court statements made by the victim after she had filed a complaint with the police. State v. Samuels, 75 Conn.App. 671, 674, 817 A.2d 719 (2003). The Appellate Court reversed the judgment of conviction and ordered a new trial on the ground that the four constancy of accusation witnesses should not have been permitted to testify and that the cumulative effect of the improperly admitted testimony deprived the defendant of his due process right to a fair trial under the United States constitution. Id., at 689-90, 696, 817 A.2d 719. This conclusion having been dispositive of the appeal, the Appellate Court declined to review the first two claims advanced by the defendant. Id., at 674, 817 A.2d 719.

We granted the state's petition for certification to appeal limited to the following questions: First, "[d]id the Appellate Court properly conclude that the trial court improperly admitted the testimony of four constancy of accusation witnesses?" State v. Samuels, 263 Conn. 923, 823 A.2d 1216 (2003). Second, "[i]f the answer to the first question is `yes,' did the Appellate Court properly conclude that the admission of that evidence deprived the defendant of his federal constitutional due process right to a fair trial?" Id. We agree with the Appellate Court that the trial court improperly admitted the testimony of the four constancy of accusation witnesses. We do not agree, however, that the judgment of conviction should be reversed on the ground that the improper admission of that testimony rose to the level of a constitutional violation. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court.

A jury reasonably could have found the following facts. Prior to the start of the 1998-1999 school year, when S,4 the victim, was thirteen years old, she went to live with her grandmother. The grandmother was partially blind and resided on the first floor of a three-story house, which she owned. S became acquainted with the defendant, who was twenty-four years old, because he rented an apartment in the basement of the house and frequently spent time with S and her grandmother.

In the early summer of 1999, a dispute arose between the defendant and the grandmother, ostensibly over an unpaid loan that the grandmother had made to the defendant. As a result of this and other disagreements, the grandmother asked the defendant to move out of the apartment. A former girlfriend of the defendant, who was helping him move, informed the grandmother that S had written letters to the defendant. Thereafter, the grandmother asked S's uncle to find out if anything inappropriate had occurred between S and the defendant. In response to her uncle's questions, S alleged that, on four separate occasions, she and the defendant had sexual intercourse.5 S's mother immediately notified the police of the alleged sexual conduct between S and the defendant. The case subsequently was assigned to Officer Michael Kot, who interviewed S and her family and filed an official report on July 2, 1999.

At trial, the state called seven constancy of accusation witnesses.6 The defendant did not challenge the testimony of three of the witnesses7 because their testimony was based on statements that S had made before she filed a complaint with the police. Four of the witnesses, namely, T, S's thirteen year old friend; B, S's high school civics teacher; H, S's high school volleyball coach; and Carole Mucha, S's therapist at The Institute of Living, gave testimony to which the defendant timely objected because T's testimony did not qualify as constancy of accusation testimony and the testimony of the other three witnesses was based on statements that S had made after she filed a complaint with the police. Elaine Yorden, a physician who conducted a medical examination of S, and Lisa Murphy, who interviewed S, also had provided testimony regarding S's sexual relationship with the defendant under the hearsay exception for statements pertaining to medical treatment or advice. See Conn. Code Evid. § 8-3(5).

At the conclusion of the trial, a jury found the defendant guilty on all eight counts with which he was charged. The Appellate Court reversed the trial court's judgment of conviction and ordered a new trial. State v. Samuels, supra, 75 Conn.App. at 696, 817 A.2d 719. This certified appeal followed.

I

The state first claims that the Appellate Court improperly determined that the trial court had abused its discretion in permitting T, B, H and Mucha to testify as constancy of accusation witnesses pursuant to State v. Troupe, 237 Conn. 284, 677 A.2d 917 (1996), § 6-11(c) of the Connecticut Code of Evidence and the public policy of our state. We disagree.

We begin our analysis with the applicable standard of review. "[T]he trial court has broad discretion in ruling on the admissibility... of evidence.... [E]videntiary rulings will be overturned on appeal only where there was an abuse of discretion and a showing by the defendant of substantial prejudice or injustice." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Thompson, 266 Conn. 440, 454, 832 A.2d 626 (2003).

In its decision, the Appellate Court discussed the history and underlying rationale of the constancy of accusation doctrine, which permits a person to whom a sexual assault victim has reported the alleged assault to testify regarding the fact and timing of the victim's complaint. State v. Samuels, supra, 75 Conn.App. at 674-77, 817 A.2d 719; see State v. Troupe, supra, 237 Conn. at 304, 677 A.2d 917. We need not repeat that discussion here, except to undertake a brief review of this court's holding in Troupe.

In Troupe, we determined that the constancy of accusation doctrine should be modified to better accommodate the interest of the victim in being protected "against the unwarranted, but nonetheless persistent, view that a sexual assault victim who does not report the crime cannot be trusted to testify truthfully about the incident"; State v. Troupe, supra, 237 Conn. at 303, 677 A.2d 917; and the interest of the accused in being protected against "an enhanced risk that the jury may be unduly swayed by the repeated iteration of the constancy of accusation testimony." Id. We thus decided in Troupe to reject the then existing rule that a person to whom a sexual assault victim has complained may provide substantive testimony regarding the incident. See id., at 303-304, 677 A.2d 917. We specifically concluded: "[A] person to whom a sexual assault victim has reported the assault may testify only with respect to the fact and timing of the victim's complaint; any testimony by the witness regarding the details surrounding the assault must be strictly limited to those necessary to associate the victim's complaint with the pending charge, including, for example, the time and place of the attack or the identity of the alleged perpetrator. In all other respects, our current rules remain in effect. Thus, such evidence is admissible only to corroborate the victim's testimony and not for substantive purposes. Before the evidence may be admitted, therefore, the victim must first have testified concerning the facts of the sexual assault and the identity of the person or persons to whom the incident was reported. In determining whether to permit such testimony, the trial court must balance the probative value of the evidence against any prejudice to the defendant.

"In addition, the defendant is entitled to an instruction that any delay by the victim in reporting the incident is a matter for the jury to consider in evaluating the weight of the victim's testimony." Id., at 304-305, 677 A.2d 917.

Our modification of the constancy of accusation rule in Troupe was later codified in § 6-11(c) of the Connecticut Code of Evidence, which provides: "A person to whom a sexual assault victim has reported the alleged assault may testify that the allegation was made and when it was made, provided the victim has testified to the facts of the alleged assault and to the identity of the person or persons to whom the assault was reported. Any testimony by the witness about details of the assault shall be limited to those details necessary to associate the victim's allegations with the pending charge. The testimony of the witness is admissible only to corroborate the victim's testimony and not for substantive purposes." With this analytical framework in mind, we turn to the merits of the state's claim that the Appellate Court improperly determined that the trial...

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  • State v. Reid, No. 17554.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • 18 Abril 2006
    ...second two... involve a determination of whether the defendant may prevail." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Samuels, 273 Conn. 541, 557, 871 A.2d 1005 (2005). We conclude that the record of the defendant's guilty plea is adequate to allow us to review his claim of error and th......
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    ...prove the truth of the matter asserted ... but was admissible pursuant to the state of mind exception"); see also State v. Samuels , 273 Conn. 541, 555–56, 871 A.2d 1005 (2005) (declining to consider in certified appeal alternative grounds for admission of evidence when state did not raise ......
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6 books & journal articles
  • Witnesses
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Trial Evidence Foundations - 2015 Contents
    • 31 Julio 2015
    ...and either the opportunity to cross-examine the child at trial or corroborating proof of the act of sexual abuse. State v. Samuels , 871 A.2d 1005 (Conn. 2005). A person to whom a sexual assault victim has reported the assault may testify only with respect to the fact and timing of the vict......
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    ...and either the opportunity to cross-examine the child at trial or corroborating proof of the act of sexual abuse. State v. Samuels , 871 A.2d 1005 (Conn. 2005). A person to whom a sexual assault victim has reported the assault may testify only with respect to the fact and timing of the vict......
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    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Trial Evidence Foundations - 2017 Contents
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    ...and either the opportunity to cross-examine the child at trial or corroborating proof of the act of sexual abuse. State v. Samuels , 871 A.2d 1005 (Conn. 2005). A person to whom a sexual assault victim has reported the assault may testify only with respect to the fact and timing of the vict......
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    ...and either the opportunity to cross-examine the child at trial or corroborating proof of the act of sexual abuse. State v. Samuels , 871 A.2d 1005 (Conn. 2005). A person to whom a sexual assault victim has reported the assault may testify only with respect to the fact and timing of the vict......
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