State v. Stepney

Decision Date12 January 1981
Citation435 A.2d 701,181 Conn. 268
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. William H. STEPNEY, Jr. STATE of Connecticut v. Daniel VINAL, Jr.

Anne C. Dranginis, Asst. State's Atty., with whom were Richard L. Shiffrin, Asst. State's Atty., and, on the brief, Dennis A. Santore, State's Atty., for the state in each case.

James A. Wade, Hartford, with whom were Timothy F. Bannon, Hartford, and Louis Erteschik, Litchfield, for defendant in the first case.

Joseph J. Gallicchio, Torrington, for defendant in the second case.


COTTER, Chief Justice.

The defendants Daniel Vinal, Jr., and William H. Stepney, Jr., were presented before two different grand juries for Litchfield County separately impanelled in February and August, 1979 respectively on separate indictments charging each of them with murder in violation of § 53a-54a (a) of the General Statutes. Prior to the examination of witnesses, the courts instructed each of the grand juries that intent to cause the death of the victim was an element of the crime charged in the indictment and that "ordinarily a person is presumed to intend the result which follows his acts." 1 After reviewing the evidence and interviewing witnesses, each grand jury returned a true bill.

Although neither of the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the indictments, in response to a joint motion by the defendant and the state in each case, both cases were reserved 2 to this court, and later consolidated, to determine whether the instructions given to each grand jury on the issue of intent were constitutionally defective in light of the recent United States Supreme Court decision in Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, 99 S.Ct. 2450, 61 L.Ed.2d 39. The sole issue presented in this appeal is whether the prohibitions enunciated in Sandstrom v. Montana, supra, regarding instructions delivered to a petit jury on the issue of criminal intent are applicable in a grand jury proceeding. For the reasons more fully stated herein, we conclude that the interests intended to be protected by the prohibitions delineated in Sandstrom with regard to a petit jury are not equally imperiled within the context of a grand jury proceeding as conducted in this state and therefore answer the question reserved for our advice in the affirmative.


In this state, a grand jury indictment is required to commence a criminal prosecution only in cases where the offense charged is punishable by death or life imprisonment. Conn. Const., art. I § 8. General Statutes § 54-45 provides in pertinent part: "The superior court may, when necessary, order a grand jury of eighteen electors of the judicial district where said court is sitting to be summoned, impaneled and sworn to inquire after and present such offenses as are cognizable by said court .... No person shall be put to plea or held to trial for any crime the punishment of which may be death or imprisonment for life unless an indictment has been found against him for such crime by a grand jury legally impaneled and sworn, and no bill shall be presented by any grand jury unless at least twelve of the jurors agree to it." See Alexander v. Louisiana, 405 U.S. 625, 633, 92 S.Ct. 1221, 31 L.Ed.2d 536; Hurtado v. California, 110 U.S. 516, 534, 4 S.Ct. 111, 120, 28 L.Ed. 232; State v. Cobbs, 164 Conn. 402, 407, 324 A.2d 234, cert. denied, 414 U.S. 861, 94 S.Ct. 77, 38 L.Ed.2d 112; Kennedy v. Walker, 135 Conn. 262, 272, 63 A.2d 589, aff'd, 337 U.S. 901, 69 S.Ct. 1046, 93 L.Ed. 1715, reh. denied, 337 U.S. 934, 69 S.Ct. 1493, 93 L.Ed. 1740. The purpose underlying the constitutional requirement of an indictment is "to prevent the harassment and suffering of an innocent person by compelling him to appear in court to respond to malicious or unfounded charges." Kennedy v. Walker, supra, 270, 63 A.2d at 593. The purpose is achieved by interposing, between the state and the accused, a body of eighteen disinterested persons, although the agreement of only twelve of them is needed to return a true bill. General Statutes § 54-45; Cobbs v. Robinson, 528 F.2d 1331, 1338 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 424 U.S. 947, 96 S.Ct. 1419, 47 L.Ed.2d 354; State v. Menillo, 159 Conn. 264, 275, 268 A.2d 667. Unlike a petit jury, a grand jury does not determine the truth of the charges contained in the indictment. The role of the grand jury, rather, is only to determine whether there is probable cause to believe the charges against the defendant require him to stand trial; it is not a trial body and does not determine the guilt or innocence of persons accused of crime. Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 92 S.Ct. 2646, 33 L.Ed.2d 626; State v. Menillo, supra. Accord, Wood v. Georgia, 370 U.S. 375, 390, 82 S.Ct. 1364, 1373, 8 L.Ed.2d 569. A failure to return a true bill does not foreclose prosecution of the defendant since, for the same conduct, he may be prosecuted for a lesser offense without the necessity of an indictment. State v. Menillo, supra.

Under Connecticut practice, which was followed in the present cases, the state's attorney lays a bill of indictment for murder before the Superior Court which then orders a grand jury to be summoned to consider that indictment. General Statutes § 54-45; Practice Book, 1978, § 605. The state's attorney submits a list of witnesses to the grand jury which may summon, for interrogation, the witnesses on that list together with any other witnesses whose testimony the grand jury may desire; Practice Book, 1978, § 614; and all witnesses before the grand jury are sworn to speak the truth. Practice Book, 1978, § 610. Any of the grand jurors may question a witness called to testify and that inquiry is not confined to the technical rules of evidence since the grand jury only seeks for probable cause and rules of evidence should not apply. State v. Stallings, 154 Conn. 272, 280, 224 A.2d 718. Practice Book, 1978, § 611. See Costello v. United States, 350 U.S. 359, 363, 76 S.Ct. 406, 408, 100 L.Ed. 397. During the examination of witnesses by the grand jury, neither the court, the state's attorney nor an attorney representing the accused may be present in the grand jury room. Practice Book, 1978, § 609; State v. Piskorski, 177 Conn. 677, 719-20, 419 A.2d 866; State v. Menillo, supra. Within the discretion of the judicial authority, however, the accused is permitted, albeit not required, to be present, and in these cases the defendants were present in the grand jury room during the examination of witnesses although no one is permitted in the grand jury room during the grand jury's deliberations. Practice Book, 1978, § 609. See, e. g., State v. Menillo, supra. The accused is under no obligation to speak, and, since the "grand jury does not determine guilt or innocence but merely determines whether there is probable cause to justify putting the accused on trial for murder, the accused, although allowed to ask proper questions of the witnesses before the grand jury, is not allowed to testify or to introduce evidence tending to prove his innocence." State v. Menillo, supra, 159 Conn. 264, 274, 268 A.2d 667, 672; Cobbs v. Robinson, supra. Not being able to present any defense to the charges in the indictment, the defendant is "in effect, a spectator to the proceedings from which the grand jury had only to determine whether he should even be required to stand trial." State v. Stallings, supra, 154 Conn. 272, 283, 224 A.2d 718.


In Sandstrom, the United States Supreme Court held that the instruction delivered to the petit jury which of course involved a trial and not an indictment proceeding, that "the law presumes that a person intends the ordinary consequences of his voluntary acts" violated the defendant's constitutional right to due process under the fourteenth amendment. Given the common definition of the term "presume" and the lack of qualifying instructions as to the legal effect of the presumption, the court found an infringement of the defendant's constitutional rights because the jury could reasonably have interpreted the presumption in either of two ways both of which are constitutionally impermissible because their effect is to relieve the state of its burden of proof on the element of intent. 3 Sandstrom v. Montana supra, 517, 99 S.Ct. 2456. See also State v. Arroyo, 180 Conn. 171, 429 A.2d 457; State v. Harrison, 178 Conn. 689, 425 A.2d 111. First the presumption could have been interpreted by the jury as conclusive, i. e., an irrebuttable direction by the court to find intent once the underlying facts are established. Such a presumption would be constitutionally infirm because it would " 'conflict with the overriding presumption of innocence with which the law endows the accused and which extends to every element of the crime,' and would 'invade (the) factfinding function' which in a criminal case the law assigns solely to the jury." Sandstrom v. Montana, supra, 442 U.S. 523, 99 S.Ct. 2458. See also United States v. United States Gypsum, 438 U.S. 422, 98 S.Ct. 2864, 57 L.Ed.2d 854; Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246, 72 S.Ct. 240, 96 L.Ed. 288; State v. Arroyo, supra; State v. Harrison, supra.

Even if it were not seen as conclusive, the presumption may have been interpreted by the jury as shifting the burden to the defendant, once evidence is admitted establishing his conduct, to prove that he lacked the requisite mental state. It had been firmly established, however, that a presumption with such an effect deprives a defendant of his right to due process of law which places the burden on the state to prove the existence of every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, 97 S.Ct. 2319, 53 L.Ed.2d 281; Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 95 S.Ct. 1881, 44 L.Ed.2d 508. Even if we assume, arguendo, that the instructions given...

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  • State v. Mitchell
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    • November 16, 1981 him, thereby violating his constitutional protection of the presumption of innocence and of due process of law. In State v. Stepney, 181 Conn. 268, 435 A.2d 701 (1980), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 1077, 101 S.Ct. 856, 66 L.Ed.2d 799 (1981), we considered the question whether the prohibitions ......
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