State v. Sinclair, SC 19932

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation332 Conn. 204,210 A.3d 509
Decision Date09 July 2019
Docket NumberSC 19932
Parties STATE of Connecticut v. Casey SINCLAIR

332 Conn. 204
210 A.3d 509

STATE of Connecticut

SC 19932

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Argued April 3, 2018
Officially released July 9, 2019

210 A.3d 513

John L. Cordani, Jr., assigned counsel, with whom, on the brief, was Damian K. Gunningsmith, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

Jennifer F. Miller, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Maureen Platt, state's attorney, and Don E. Therkildsen, Jr., senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

Palmer, McDonald, Robinson, D'Auria, Mullins and Kahn, Js.*


332 Conn. 207

Police officers discovered bricks of heroin and a large sum of cash in a vehicle registered to a third party in which the defendant, Casey Sinclair, was the passenger. Following a jury trial at which the driver of the vehicle testified against him, the defendant was convicted of one count of possession of narcotics with intent to sell by a person who is not drug-dependent in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 2013) § 21a-278 (b). The Appellate Court thereafter rejected the defendant's claim that he was entitled to a new trial because (1) the admission of hearsay statements used to establish that he was the de facto owner of the vehicle—based on vehicle inspection records—violated his constitutional right to confront a witness against him, and (2) improper statements in the prosecutor's closing argument violated his constitutional right to a fair trial. State v. Sinclair , 173 Conn. App. 1, 7, 24, 162 A.3d 43 (2017). We granted the defendant's petition for certification to appeal to this court. We affirm the Appellate Court's judgment, albeit under different reasoning on the first issue. We conclude that admission of the hearsay statement was not an error of constitutional dimension and that the defendant did not meet his burden of proving that the evidentiary error was harmful.


At trial, the state proved its case against the defendant largely though the testimony of three witnesses: the defendant's girlfriend, Winsome Lawrence, who was the driver of the vehicle; Lawrence's cousin, Charmaine Henriques; and Sergeant Gary Angon of the Waterbury Police Department. In addition, the state introduced into evidence a surveillance video reflecting the defendant's conduct preceding his arrest.

Lawrence offered the following account of the events leading to that arrest. The defendant lives in the Bronx,

332 Conn. 208

New York, where he operates a used car business under the name of Sinclair Enterprise. On multiple occasions between October, 2012, and February, 2013, the defendant and Lawrence drove to Connecticut for various purposes. On each such occasion, the defendant drove a tan Jeep to Lawrence's house in Mount Vernon, New York, and then directed Lawrence to drive while the defendant sat in the passenger seat.1

210 A.3d 514

On February 5, 2013, the defendant had Lawrence drive the Jeep to Waterbury, purportedly to go to a shopping mall. When they arrived in Waterbury, the defendant instructed Lawrence to exit the highway and eventually directed her to a side street, where he told her to stop the car. Shortly thereafter, when a black vehicle came toward the Jeep, the defendant directed Lawrence to sound the horn. The driver of the black vehicle made a U turn and parked a few cars ahead of the Jeep. To Lawrence's surprise, the defendant then accessed a hidden compartment within the center console of the Jeep and removed two white packages of drugs. He took the packages to the black vehicle, gave them to someone inside, and walked back toward the Jeep with money in hand. Just then a marked police car slowly drove down the street toward the Jeep. When the defendant got into the Jeep, Lawrence saw that he no longer had the money in hand and asked him where it was. The defendant said that he had thrown it into a bush. He then directed Lawrence to drive to a nearby gas station.

After they arrived at the gas station, the defendant called someone on his cell phone and said, "Jay, come and pick me up, I'm going for the money, I'm going to pick up the money." The defendant then told Lawrence that he needed to get a bag, and he went into the gas

332 Conn. 209

station convenience store. After he returned to the Jeep, the same black vehicle involved in the earlier transaction pulled into the gas station. The defendant exited the Jeep and got into the black vehicle. The vehicle departed and then returned soon afterward. When the defendant returned to the Jeep, he had a black bag filled with money, which he placed in the Jeep's hidden compartment. He then directed Lawrence to drive to the mall in Waterbury.

Sergeant Angon offered the following account of the circumstances that followed. Waterbury police organized surveillance of the area near the Brass Mill Mall on the basis of an anonymous tip that the department received earlier in the day regarding drug activity that allegedly was going to occur that evening. At approximately 8 p.m., Angon saw a tan Jeep coming off the exit ramp of Interstate 84 near the mall, which fit the description of the vehicle that the department had been given. He and his partner conducted a motor vehicle stop. Upon approaching the Jeep, Angon observed that the defendant appeared unusually nervous. When Angon asked the defendant who owned the Jeep, the defendant replied that it was his "friend's."

A police detective from the department arrived with a narcotics detection canine and conducted a detection sweep of the Jeep. The dog alerted to the driver's side door and then to the center console. Angon and another officer then inspected the center console and discovered the hidden compartment beneath it. Therein they found a black bag containing $12,248 and ten bricks of what was later established to be heroin; each brick comprised of approximately 1000 prepackaged bags of heroin. The heroin had an estimated street value of between $45,000 and $60,000. The cash recovered from the compartment was consistent with the price of two

332 Conn. 210

bricks of heroin. The police officers placed the defendant and Lawrence under arrest.2

Henriques, Lawrence's cousin, testified that the defendant provided money to help pay Lawrence's bond after the defendant

210 A.3d 515

and Lawrence were arrested. She further testified that when she met with the defendant to ask for his help, he told her that he "was trying a thing and [got] fucked."

In addition to this testimony, the jury viewed a surveillance video from the gas station for the period at issue. In the video, the defendant enters the convenience store and returns to the Jeep, carrying a beverage; no bag is in view. A black vehicle then arrives, and the defendant immediately gets into the rear right passenger seat of that vehicle. The vehicle leaves and then returns approximately ten minutes later. The defendant gets back into the Jeep, and the Jeep departs. The driver of the black vehicle exits that vehicle and enters the convenience store. Angon identified that person, Terence Saunders, as a heroin dealer in Waterbury. Angon also testified that most of the heroin sold in Waterbury comes from the Bronx.

In addition to this evidence regarding the incident in question, the state attempted to demonstrate that the defendant was the de facto owner of the Jeep. Angon testified that he had run a law enforcement query, which revealed that the Jeep was registered to a third party, Victor A. Manana, at an address in the Bronx.3 Angon testified that, in his experience, drug dealers commonly register their vehicles in someone else's name and have

332 Conn. 211

someone else drive, so that if they come in contact with the police, they are not directly linked to the vehicle. Over the defendant's objections, Angon then was permitted to testify that the Jeep had been inspected at Manny's Auto. He testified that a Google search revealed an address for Manny's Auto and a photograph of that location, which showed Manny's Auto to be located adjacent to Sinclair Enterprise, the defendant's used car business. Angon explained that certain inspection information had been elicited by someone in his department from the New York State Police Department.

The defendant testified on his own behalf. According to the defendant, the tan Jeep belonged to Lawrence, and she was the "friend" to whom he was referring when responding to Angon's question of who owned the Jeep. He claimed that he had accompanied Lawrence to Connecticut on only one other occasion prior to this incident and was unaware that there were drugs in the Jeep. He admitted that he had asked Lawrence to stop at the gas station but claimed that it was for the purpose of meeting someone named Paul, who was interested in selling a vehicle to the defendant. According to the defendant, Paul was a passenger in the black vehicle that came to the gas station. The defendant joined Paul in the black...

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22 cases
  • State v. Walker, SC 20101
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 13, 2019 impossible to identify the narrowest ground because the analyses of the various opinions are irreconcilable." State v. Sinclair , 332 Conn. 204, 225, 210 A.3d 509 (2019). Consequently, we explained in Sinclair that "we must rely on Supreme Court precedent before Williams to the effect th......
  • State v. Rodriguez
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • September 24, 2020
    ...See, e.g., State v. Lebrick , 334 Conn. 492, 223 A.3d 333 (2020) ; State v. Walker , supra, at 678, 212 A.3d 1244 ; State v. Sinclair , 332 Conn. 204, 210 A.3d 509 (2019) ; State v. Buckland , 313 Conn. 205, 96 A.3d 1163 (2014), cert. denied, 574 U.S. 1078, 135 S. Ct. 992, 190 L. Ed. 2d 837......
  • State v. Manuel T.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • November 19, 2020
    ...has a fair assurance that the error did not substantially affect the verdict." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Sinclair , 332 Conn. 204, 233, 210 A.3d 509 (2019). "[W]hether [an improper ruling] is harmless in a particular case depends upon a number of factors, such as the impo......
  • Leidig v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • August 5, 2021
    ...have applied what they believe to be a broader rule of decision from pre- Williams Supreme Court cases. See, e.g. , State v. Sinclair , 332 Conn. 204, 210 A.3d 509, 523 (2019) (stating that the Court in Williams "made it impossible to identify the narrowest ground because the analyses of th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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