State v. Simmons, AC 37826
|205 A.3d 569,188 Conn.App. 813
|26 March 2019
|Appellate Court of Connecticut
|STATE of Connecticut v. Kevan SIMMONS
Laila M. G. Haswell, senior assistant public defender, with whom, on the brief, was Lauren Weisfeld, chief of legal services, for the appellant (defendant).
Margaret Gaffney Radionovas, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and Chris A. Pelosi, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).
Sheldon, Prescott and Bear, Js.
In this criminal case, a witness for the state, George Harris, was promised that he would not be prosecuted for perjury even if he lied during his testimony. The trial court acquiesced to this agreement, despite recognizing that it "is probably against the public interest ...." This appeal requires us to decide, under the circumstances of this case, whether the defendant, Kevan Simmons, is entitled to a new trial because of this concededly unlawful promise. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that this error was so egregious in nature that it undermines public confidence in the due administration of justice and that, pursuant to our supervisory powers, the defendant should be granted a new trial.
The defendant appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of two counts of assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-59 (a) (5), criminal possession of a pistol or revolver in violation of General Statutes § 53a-217c (a) (1), and carrying a pistol without a permit in violation of General Statutes § 29-35 (a). On appeal, the defendant claims, in his initial brief, that the prosecutor committed improprieties during closing argument that deprived him of his right to a fair trial, including, among other things, suggesting to the jury that it could consider as substantive evidence a prior statement of Harris that was admitted at trial only for impeachment purposes, in which he identified the defendant as his assailant. We later granted the defendant permission to file a supplemental brief addressing an additional claim of prosecutorial impropriety, namely, whether the defendant's right to due process was violated by the state's failure to disclose to him, prior to trial, certain exculpatory evidence relevant to the veracity of the detective who took a statement from the defendant. See Brady v. Maryland , 373 U.S. 83, 87, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963).
After oral argument before this court, and on the basis of our review of the record, we ordered the parties, sua sponte, to file additional supplemental briefs addressing an unpreserved claim of error not raised by the parties, namely, "(1) whether the state's agreement not to prosecute George Harris for any future acts of perjury committed while testifying for the state at the defendant's trial constituted plain error because it violates the public policy of this state against immunizing perjured testimony; see General Statutes § 54-47a ; see also State v. Giraud , 258 Conn. 631, 634–35, 783 A.2d 1019 (2001) ; and (2) if so, whether such error was structural error or subject to harmless error analysis." Each party filed a supplemental brief. In its brief, the state conceded that its grant of immunity to Harris was improper. We later asked the parties to submit additional supplemental briefs addressing whether this court should exercise its supervisory authority to reverse the conviction. Because we exercise our supervisory powers to order a new trial for the defendant on the basis of the improper grant of immunity to Harris, we do not reach the merits of the remaining claims raised by the defendant.1
The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. A shooting occurred on Bedford Street in Hartford on March 28, 2013, involving the defendant; Harris, his friend; and Joaquin Cedeno. Specifically, at approximately 9:22 p.m. that day, the defendant and Harris were walking through the Bedford mall, a term commonly used to describe a cluster of apartment buildings on either side of Bedford Street, when they encountered Cedeno standing on the front stoop of an apartment building.
Cedeno and the defendant began arguing. The argument quickly escalated into a physical fight. Harris tried to break up the fight but was unsuccessful. During the fight, the defendant pulled out a gun and pointed it at Cedeno. Cedeno attempted to push the gun away from himself, but the defendant fired several gunshots, hitting both Cedeno and Harris. Cedeno, Harris, and the defendant then all ran from the scene in different directions.
Officer Robert Fogg of the Hartford Police Department, who was working nearby, received a dispatch that gunshots had been fired at 137 Bedford Street. Fogg drove to the location. When he arrived, he found Harris, who had been shot in the leg, lying in an alleyway just south of 137 Bedford Street. Harris did not name his shooter and only told Fogg to relay a message to his mother that he loved her. Harris was taken to a hospital by ambulance.
At 9:36 p.m., Officer Bartosz Kubiak was dispatched to 378 Garden Street, a location close to the scene of the shooting, after someone reported a serious assault with a firearm. When Kubiak arrived, Cedeno was sitting on the front steps of 378 Garden Street. Cedeno's pants, T-shirt, and sweatshirt were stained with blood, and it appeared to Kubiak that Cedeno had been shot several times on the right side of his body. Cedeno did not indicate to Kubiak who had shot him. Cedeno was also transported to a hospital. Kubiak searched the surrounding area for evidence relating to the shooting but did not find a weapon.
Approximately ten minutes after the shooting, the defendant returned to the scene of the shooting on Bedford Street. He approached Fogg, and the two began talking. Fogg knew that the defendant and Harris were friends, so Fogg relayed to the defendant the message Harris had asked Fogg to give to Harris' mother. Fogg also asked the defendant if he had seen anything with respect to the shooting, and the defendant replied that he had not.
On March 30, 2013, two days after the shooting, Detective Christopher Reeder spoke to Harris at the hospital. Harris told Reeder that, on the night of the shooting, he was walking through Bedford mall with a person nicknamed "Ghost" when he heard gunshots and realized he had been shot. He described the shooter as a black male wearing black clothing. Reeder told Harris that the police had video that captured the incident. Harris then rolled over in his hospital bed, sighed, and said, "You ain't even here; do what you gotta do." Harris also told Reeder that he might have seen "Boobie," the nickname of Cedeno, at the shooting.
That same day, Reeder also questioned Cedeno about the shooting. Cedeno described his shooter as a black male of average build, about five feet, eight inches tall, and between twenty and twenty-five years old. Cedeno also told Reeder that, on the night of the shooting, he had been hanging out in Bedford mall when he was approached by the shooter. Cedeno recalled that the two got into an argument, during which the shooter took out a gun and fired it at Cedeno. Cedeno told Reeder that, after the gunfire broke out, he ran through an alleyway between 133 and 135 Bedford Street, and made it to Garden Street before he realized that he had been shot and collapsed.
On April 19, 2013, Harris was arrested on drug charges. After reading Harris his Miranda2 rights, Reeder began to question Harris about the shooting incident on Bedford Street. Harris relayed to Reeder a version of events similar to that which he had given when he was questioned about the shooting in the hospital. Reeder then showed Harris a video comprised of footage recovered from security cameras attached to various apartments on Bedford Street (video) that depicted the shooting. Harris once again pointed out "Ghost" in the video, but did not offer any additional details about the shooting or identify himself on the video.
While incarcerated on the drug charges, Harris made a phone call to his mother, during which he implicated the defendant as his shooter. That call was recorded by the correctional facility.
On May 2, 2013, the defendant was arrested on charges unrelated to the shooting of Harris and Cedeno. That day, Reeder, Detective Renee LaMark-Muir, and Detective Reginald Early interviewed the defendant. Reeder showed the defendant the video of the shooting. Afterward, Early presented the defendant with a statement that he represented to the defendant had been given to the police by Harris. Early, however, had fabricated the entire statement in order to encourage the defendant to confess that he was the shooter on the belief that Harris had already inculpated him. In the fabricated statement, Harris purportedly told the police that Cedeno had attempted to rob him and the defendant at gunpoint, and that the defendant had shot Cedeno in self-defense. The fabricated statement further provided that the defendant also had shot Harris by accident.3
After Early read the fabricated statement to the defendant, he became upset and began crying. Early then began questioning the defendant about the shooting, and the defendant gave a written statement in which he admitted that he had shot Cedeno and Harris. Specifically, the defendant stated that Cedeno had attempted to rob the defendant and Harris, and that the defendant was forced to shoot Cedeno in self-defense but hit Harris, too. The defendant also stated that he had found the gun with which he shot Cedeno and Harris earlier that day near a dumpster and, after the shooting, ran and hid the gun before the police arrived. He stated that he returned to Bedford Street after shooting Cedeno and Harris to make sure that Harris was okay. Finally, the defendant admitted that he was the person depicted in the surveillance video speaking to Officer Fogg after the...
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