State v. Singh

Decision Date26 March 2002
Docket Number(SC 16476)
Citation793 A.2d 226,259 Conn. 693
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Sullivan, C. J., and Borden, Norcott, Katz and Zarella, JS. Jeremiah Donovan, with whom, on the brief, was Rita Christopher, for the appellant (defendant).

Mitchell S. Brody, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Michael Dearington, state's attorney, and James G. Clark, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).



The defendant, Balbir Singh, appeals, pursuant to our grant of certification, from the judgment of the Appellate Court affirming the trial court's judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of two counts of arson in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-111 (a) (1) and (4).1 The sole issue in this appeal is whether the state's attorney's cross-examination of the defendant and his closing argument to the jury deprived the defendant of a fair trial in violation of his federal constitutional rights.2 We reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court.

The opinion of the Appellate Court sets forth the following facts that the jury reasonably could have found. "Beginning in December, 1994, the defendant rented the first two floors of 1195 Chapel Street in New Haven, the basement of which housed the defendant's Prince Restaurant. The [upper two] floors of the building contained apartments occupied by college students. The defendant's lease was to run until October 31, 1999, but was terminable in the event that the premises were destroyed by fire or explosion. The defendant was experiencing financial difficulty with his restaurant business. In 1995, he had missed [making] some rent payments and needed to take a $10,000 loan to pay his employees. In February, 1996, the defendant admitted that his business was not `particularly good' and `just pretty much shaky.' By the spring of 1996, the defendant was driving a [taxicab] because his restaurant business was not doing well enough to meet his debts.

"On July 6, 1996, the night of the incident at issue, the doorman at the defendant's apartment complex observed the defendant and his father enter the lobby at about 11 p.m., which comported with their usual routine. The doorman found it unusual, however, that the defendant approached him and asked him for the time, despite the fact that there was a large clock on the wall. The doorman also noticed while he was speaking with the defendant, that the defendant appeared to be looking at the security monitors, which cover four of the six entrances to the building.

"At about midnight on July 7, 1996, Christopher Gansen, a student who lived near the Prince Restaurant, was walking home and saw a man of Asian-Indian descent who appeared to be agitated and nervous. The man crossed the street in front of Gansen, having come from the vicinity of the Prince Restaurant. According to Gansen, the streetlighting was adequate and allowed him to see the man's facial features.

"At [12:17] a.m. on July 7, 1996, firefighters from the New Haven fire department arrived at 1195 Chapel Street to find black smoke coming from the building. The firefighters gained entry by forcing a locked rear door and by smashing open a rear glass door. After putting out the fire in the basement, the firefighters forced open the front door and broke open the first floor windows of the building to examine the first floor.

"At 1:30 a.m., Frank Dellamura, a fire investigator in the office of the New Haven fire marshal, arrived and interviewed firefighters and examined the building. [There was no one in the building.] He observed that the doors and windows of the building had been forced or smashed in, and confirmed from firefighters on the scene that they were responsible for the broken windows and the forced doors.

"Dellamura noted the black smoke, which suggested that an accelerant had been used to start the fire. On the basis of burn patterns and other physical evidence, [he] concluded that the fire had started in the basement.... Dellamura also detected a noticeable gasoline odor...." State v. Singh, 59 Conn. App. 638, 640-41, 757 A.2d 1175 (2000). He then brought some of the debris from the floor of the building outside to the parking lot where a state trooper and Louise, a state police canine that had been trained to detect petroleum based products, were located. Louise alerted to each of the items brought out by Dellamura, indicating the presence of such a petroleum based product.3 Dellamura also discovered that the fire alarm panel on the floor above the basement had been tampered with so that it had been disconnected from its battery backup power. He concluded that the fire had been intentionally set. Joseph Pettola, a member of the fire investigation unit of the New Haven police department, interviewed Gansen at the fire scene and obtained a description of the man he saw leaving the vicinity of the Prince Restaurant.

"On July 7, 1996, Dellamura and [Pettola] ... visited the defendant at his apartment, which was two blocks from the fire scene. [They] informed the defendant that there had been a fire in his restaurant. Before the two men told the defendant that arson was suspected, the defendant became hysterical, exclaiming that the fire had been set by a former restaurant employee who had been fired the previous week.4 The defendant claimed that he and his father had left the restaurant at 11 p.m. the previous night and that [thereafter] he had remained in his apartment all night." Id., 641-42.

The defendant, visibly anxious to go to the restaurant, began to leave his apartment while still wearing his sandals. "Dellamura suggested that because of the messy nature of the fire scene, the defendant should instead wear shoes. The defendant ignored Dellamura's suggestion and wore [his] sandals to the scene of the fire. The property manager of the building [Gary Dingus], who also was inspecting the fire scene, noticed that the defendant was wearing sandals at the scene of the fire.

"On July 8, 1996, Dellamura and Pettola returned to the defendant's apartment [along with a police detective and the police canine Louise]. After the defendant consented to a search of his apartment, [Louise] alerted the police to a pair of black loafers in a closet. Tests later confirmed the presence of gasoline on the loafers. The defendant admitted to owning the shoes [but] claimed that they must have been contaminated by gasoline when he wore them to inspect the fire scene the previous day with the investigators. The investigators, however, recalled that the defendant had worn sandals when he visited the fire scene.

"On July 16, 1996, Dellamura and Pettola visited the apartment of Gansen, the student who had seen an Asian-Indian man in the vicinity of the Prince Restaurant on the night of the fire. Gansen was shown an array of six photographs of Asian-Indian males. He instantly recognized the defendant as the man he had seen on the night of the fire at about 12 a.m. and subsequently made an in-court identification of the defendant." Id., 642-43.

The jury returned guilty verdicts on two counts of arson in the first degree in violation of § 53a-111 (a) (1) and (4).5 Thereafter, the trial court sentenced the defendant to a total effective term of twenty-five years imprisonment, execution suspended after ten years, and five years probation. The defendant appealed from the judgment of conviction to the Appellate Court, claiming, inter alia,6 that prosecutorial misconduct during the course of cross-examination and closing argument deprived him of a fair trial. The Appellate Court concluded that the state's attorney's conduct was not improper and affirmed the judgment of conviction. Id., 649, 654. This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

Because the defendant failed to object to the alleged prosecutorial misconduct at trial, he may prevail only if he satisfies all four requirements of State v. Golding, 213 Conn. 233, 239-40, 567 A.2d 823 (1989).7 We conclude that he has satisfied all four prongs of Golding.

"To prove prosecutorial misconduct, the defendant must demonstrate substantial prejudice. State v. Richardson, 214 Conn. 752, 760, 574 A.2d 182 (1990); State v. Northrop, 213 Conn. 405, 421, 568 A.2d 439 (1990). In order to demonstrate this, the defendant must establish that the trial as a whole was fundamentally unfair and that the misconduct so infected the trial with unfairness as to make the conviction a denial of due process. Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 168, 181, 106 S. Ct. 2464, 91 L. Ed.2d 144 (1986)...." (Citation omitted.) State v. Alexander, 254 Conn. 290, 303, 755 A.2d 868 (2000).

"Prosecutorial misconduct may occur in the course of cross-examination of witnesses; State v. Hafner, 168 Conn. 230, 249, 362 A.2d 925, cert. denied, 423 U.S. 851, 96 S. Ct. 95, 46 L. Ed.2d 74 (1975); and may be so clearly inflammatory as to be incapable of correction by action of the court. Id., 252-53. In such instances there is a reasonable possibility that the improprieties in the cross-examination either contributed to the jury's verdict of guilty or, negatively, foreclosed the jury from ever considering the possibility of acquittal. Id., 253." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Williams, 204 Conn. 523, 538-39, 529 A.2d 653 (1987). Moreover, "prosecutorial misconduct of constitutional proportions may arise during the course of closing argument, thereby implicating the fundamental fairness of the trial itself...." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Burton, 258 Conn. 153, 165, 778 A.2d 955 (2001).

"In determining whether prosecutorial misconduct was so serious as to amount to a denial of due process, this court, in conformity with courts in other jurisdictions, has focused on several factors.... Included among those factors are the extent to which the...

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230 cases
  • State v. Ceballos
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • October 21, 2003
    ...defendant's claims of prosecutorial misconduct in the present case are similar to those that we recently addressed in State v. Singh, 259 Conn. 693, 793 A.2d 226 (2002), because, as in that case, the defendant here contends that the cumulative effect of all the state's attorney's impropriet......
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    ...Ed. 2d 584 (2001); and the defendant "must demonstrate substantial prejudice." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Singh, 259 Conn. 693, 699, 793 A.2d 226 (2002). In examining a claim of prosecutorial misconduct, "we must view the prosecutor's comments in the context of the entire ......
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    ...907 F.2d 347 (2d Cir. 1990) (cumulative effect of prosecutor's comments denied defendant fundamentally fair trial); State v. Singh, 259 Conn. 693, 793 A.2d 226 (2002); (cumulative effect of four instances of improper conduct by prosecutor deprived defendant of fair trial); State v. Santiago......
  • State v. Weatherspoon
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    • Connecticut Supreme Court
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    ...that the prosecutor engaged in impermissible conduct in violation of his due process right to a fair trial pursuant to State v. Singh , 259 Conn. 693, 793 A.2d 226 (2002), by conveying to the jury that it would need to find that the police officer had lied in order to find the defendant not......
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7 books & journal articles
  • A Servey of Criminal Law Opinion
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 91, 2018
    • Invalid date
    ...Conn. App. 1, 162 A.3d 43, cert, granted, 326 Conn. 904, 163 A.3d 1205 (2017). [236] Id. at 16. [237] Id. at 18 (quoting State v. Singh, 259 Conn. 693, 712, 793 A.2d 226 (2002)). [238] Id. [239] Id., n. 11. See also State v. Albino, 312 Conn. 763, 787, 97 A.3d 478 (2014). [240] Id. at 19. [......
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    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Criminal Defense Tools and Techniques
    • March 30, 2017
    ...suggests to the jury that the only way to acquit the defendant is to find that the prosecution’s witnesses lied. [ See State v. Singh , 259 Conn. 693, 793 A.2d 226 (Conn. 2000) (review-ing federal and state cases); Liggett v. People, 135 P.3d 725 (Colo. 2006) (prohibiting such questioning a......
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    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 91, 2018
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    ...Conn.App. 1, 162 A.3d 43, cert. Granted, 326 Conn. 904, 163 A.3d 1205 (2017). [236] Id. at 16. [237] Id. at 18 (quoting State v. Singh, 259 Conn. 693, 712, 793 A.2d 226 (2002)). [238] Id. [239] Id., n. 11. see also State v. Albino, 312 Conn. 763, 787, 97 A.3d 478 (2014). [240] Id. at 19. [2......
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    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 93, 2021
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    ...328 Conn. 938, 184 A.3d 268 (2018). [313] 180 Conn. App. 250, 183 A.3d 636, cert, granted, 328 Conn. 931, 182 A.3d 1192 (2018). [314] 259 Conn. 693, 793 A.2d 226 (2002). [315] Angel M., 180 Conn. App. at 275. [316] Id. at 278. [317] 180 Conn. App. 76, 182 A.3d 665, cert, denied, 328 Conn. 9......
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