State v. Stephenson

CourtAppellate Court of Connecticut
Citation263 A.3d 101,207 Conn.App. 154
Docket NumberAC 40250
Parties STATE of Connecticut v. Joseph A. STEPHENSON
Decision Date31 August 2021

207 Conn.App. 154
263 A.3d 101

STATE of Connecticut

AC 40250

Appellate Court of Connecticut.

Argued March 11, 2021
Officially released August 31, 2021

263 A.3d 106

Vishal K. Garg, West Hartford, for the appellant (defendant).

Sarah Hanna, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Paul J. Ferencek, state's attorney, and Michelle Manning, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

Alvord, Prescott and Alexander, Js.


207 Conn.App. 157

This appeal returns to us on remand from our Supreme Court. In State v. Stephenson , 187 Conn. App. 20, 201 A.3d 427 (2019), rev'd, 337 Conn. 643, ––– A.3d –––– (2020), the defendant, Joseph A. Stephenson, appealed from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of burglary in the third degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-103, attempt to commit tampering with physical evidence in violation of General Statutes § 53a-49 (a) (2) and General Statutes (Rev. to 2013) § 53a-155 (a) (1),1 and attempt to commit arson in the second degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-49 (a) (2) and 53a-112 (a) (1) (B). The court

207 Conn.App. 158

imposed a total effective sentence of twelve years of incarceration followed by eight years of special parole. On appeal, the defendant claimed that (1) the state presented insufficient evidence to support his conviction of those charges, and (2) the court improperly excluded evidence regarding his mental state prior to the commission of those offenses.

This court concluded that the state had failed to produce sufficient evidence regarding the defendant's intent to commit the crime of tampering with physical evidence, a requirement common to all the charged offenses. Id., at 39, 201 A.3d 427. Accordingly, we reversed the defendant's conviction and remanded the case with direction to render a judgment of acquittal on all three charges. Id. As a result of this conclusion, we did not address the other claims raised by the defendant in his appeal. See id., at 30 n.4, 39, 201 A.3d 427.

After granting the state's petition for certification to appeal, our Supreme Court reversed the judgment of this court.

263 A.3d 107

State v. Stephenson , supra, 337 Conn. at 654, ––– A.3d ––––. Specifically, it agreed with the state that this court improperly had "addressed an issue of evidentiary sufficiency sua sponte without calling for supplemental briefing as required by Blumberg Associates Worldwide, Inc. v. Brown & Brown of Connecticut, Inc ., 311 Conn. 123, 84 A.3d 840 (2014) ( Blumberg )." State v. Stephenson , supra, at 645–46, ––– A.3d ––––. As a result of this conclusion, our Supreme Court remanded the case to this court "in order to address the claims raised by the defendant in his initial appeal. If, during that proceeding, the Appellate Court chooses to exercise its discretion to reach the sufficiency issue raised in its previous decision, it must do so in a manner consistent with this court's decision in Blumberg ." Id., at 654, ––– A.3d –––– ; see also Stephenson v. Commissioner of Correction , 203 Conn. App. 314, 317 n.2, 248 A.3d 34, cert. denied, 336 Conn. 944, 249 A.3d 737 (2021).

207 Conn.App. 159

In accordance with the directive from our Supreme Court, we ordered the parties to file simultaneous supplemental briefs addressing whether the evidence was sufficient to prove the defendant's intent to tamper with physical evidence. Following the receipt of the parties' supplemental briefs, we heard additional oral argument.

With this recitation of the appellate history of the case in mind, we set forth the issues before us, as presented in the defendant's original and supplemental briefs. The defendant first claims that the state failed to present sufficient evidence to support his conviction. Specifically, he argues that the evidence was insufficient to prove that (1) he had intended to tamper with evidence, an element common to all three offenses charged by the state, (2) he had (a) committed the completed crime of tampering with evidence or (b) intended to destroy or damage a building, which are elements of the offense of attempt to commit arson in the second degree as charged in this case, and (3) he had tampered with items that constituted physical evidence for the purpose of § 53a-155 (a) (1). Second, the defendant claims that the court erred in excluding evidence regarding his mental state prior to the commission of these offenses. Specifically, he argues that he suffered harm as a result of the court's improper ruling, or, in the alternative, that he was deprived of his constitutional rights to present a defense and that the state failed to demonstrate that the court's ruling was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

As to the defendant's first claim, the state counters that the evidence adduced at trial was sufficient to support the defendant's conviction. With respect to his second claim, the state concedes that the court's evidentiary ruling constituted an abuse of discretion but asserts that it amounted to harmless error. We agree

207 Conn.App. 160

with the state on both claims and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of conviction.2

263 A.3d 108

In its decision, our Supreme Court set forth the follow relevant facts and procedural history. "A silent alarm at the [Norwalk] courthouse was triggered at around 11 p.m. on Sunday, March 3, 2013, when the defendant entered the state's attorney's office by breaking a window on the building's eastern side. Although the police were able to respond in about ninety seconds, the defendant successfully evaded capture by running out of a door on the building's southern side. Footage from surveillance cameras introduced by the state at trial show that the defendant was inside of the building for

207 Conn.App. 161

slightly more than three minutes. In the investigation that followed, the police determined that the broken window belonged to an office shared by two assistant state's attorneys. One of those attorneys was scheduled to commence jury selection for a criminal trial [of] the defendant on certain felony charges [pending felony charges] only two days after the break-in occurred. No other cases were scheduled to begin jury selection that week. Immediately after the break-in, various case files were discovered in an apparent state of disarray at the northern end of a central, common area located outside of that room. Specifically, several files were found sitting askew on top of a desk with two open drawers; still other files were scattered on the floor below in an area adjacent to a horizontal filing cabinet containing similar files. Photographs admitted as full exhibits clearly show labels on these files reading ‘TUL’ and ‘SUM.’ Finally, in a short hallway at the opposite end of that same common area, the police found a black bag containing six bottles of industrial strength kerosene with their UPC labels cut off. The bag and its contents were swabbed, and a report subsequently generated by the Connecticut Forensic Science Laboratory included the defendant's genetic profile as a contributor to a mixture of DNA discovered as a result.

"Various other components of the state's case against the defendant warrant only a brief summary. The day after the break-in, the defendant called the public defender's office at the Norwalk courthouse to ask whether the courthouse was open and whether he was required to come in that day. The state also submitted evidence showing that the defendant drove a 2002 Land Rover Freelander with an aftermarket push bumper, a roof rack, and a broken taillight, and that surveillance videos from the area showed a similar vehicle driving by the courthouse repeatedly in the hours leading up to the break-in. Finally, the state submitted recordings

207 Conn.App. 162

of various telephone calls the defendant made after he had been taken into custody as a result of his conviction on the criminal charges previously pending against him in Norwalk. During one such telephone call,

263 A.3d 109

the defendant asked his brother, Christopher Stephenson, to get rid of ‘bottles of things’ for a heater, speculated about how the police located the vehicle, and attempted to arrange an alibi." (Footnote omitted.) State v. Stephenson , supra, 337 Conn. at 646–47, ––– A.3d ––––.

We noted in our previous opinion that the state sought to prove that the defendant had committed burglary in the third degree, attempt to commit tampering with physical evidence, and attempt to commit arson in the second degree under the following closely intertwined theories of factual and legal liability. State v. Stephenson , supra, 187 Conn. App. at 27–28, 201 A.3d 427. "As to the charge of burglary in the third degree , the state claimed that the defendant had entered or...

To continue reading

Request your trial
4 cases
  • Finney v. Commissioner of Correction
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • 31 Agosto 2021
    ......Fetterman, for the appellant (petitioner). James A. Killen, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Joseph T. Corradino, state's attorney, and Emily Trudeau, assistant state's attorney, for the appellee ......
  • State v. Goode
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • 5 Octubre 2021
    ...... reasonably could have inferred from the extent of the damages. in different areas of the property that the damage was not. caused by accident or neglect but, instead, was done with the. specific intent to cause the damage. See, e.g., State. v. Stephenson, supra, 207 Conn.App. 166 ("[w]e therefore also must bear in mind that jurors. are not expected tolay aside matters of common knowledge or. their own observations and experiences [and] [c]ommon sense. does not take flight when one enters a courtroom". (internal ......
  • State v. Goode
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • 5 Octubre 2021
    ......We ask, instead, whether there is a reasonable view of the evidence that supports the [jury's] verdict of guilty." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Stephenson , 207 Conn. App. 154, 164–65, 263 A.3d 101 (2021). We agree with the parties that § 53a-117e is a specific intent crime, because it requires, inter alia, that a tenant intentionally damage a landlord's property in an amount exceeding $1500. See, e.g., General Statutes § 53a-3.2 "Intent is a ......
  • State v. Stephenson
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • 29 Marzo 2022
    ...assistant state's attorney, in opposition.The defendant's petition for certification to appeal from the Appellate Court, 207 Conn. App. 154, 263 A.3d 101 (2021), is denied. ECKER, J., would grant the petition with respect to the issues of harmless error and the proper construction of Genera......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT